Here’s something you don’t see often: a New York Times columnist praising Idaho.
But when Randy Cohen wrote on Aug. 4 about the need for reasonable, common-sense cycling laws, he used Idaho as an example of best practices. Cohen cited an often misunderstood law that allows cyclists to roll through a stop sign after slowing down and yielding right of way. Idaho cyclists can also proceed through a red light after stopping to yield right of way — something Cohen says he does, even though it’s against New York traffic laws.
“Laws work best when they are voluntarily heeded by people who regard them as reasonable,” he said. “If cycling laws were a wise response to actual cycling rather than a clumsy misapplication of motor vehicle laws, I suspect that compliance, even by me, would rise.”
After writing about Idaho’s cycling laws in a column last week, I received an interesting couple of emails.
One reader argued for consistent, easy-to-understand traffic laws — pointing out, with some reluctance, that this is the way they do it in California. “In California a bicycle is a vehicle and must follow the same rules as all other vehicles.”
Another reader made the case for the rules, since it is safer for cyclists to limit stops and starts. “Starting from a dead stop on a bicycle often causes cyclists to weave a bit until they get going or into their clips.”
A good point, and I’d add another. A cyclist stopped at a red light is a cyclist standing at an intersection or in a turn lane, exposed and in close proximity to cars and trucks. That’s a vulnerable situation; if a cyclist can get out of that tight spot safely, it’s best for everyone involved.
I think Idaho’s cycling laws make sense. The problem with them, though, is that too many people are confused about the laws — and don’t know what to expect. If ever there was an issue in search of a savvy, slick public awareness campaign, this is it.