City Council gives initial green light to allow bicycle safety stop
In a 4-3 vote, Steamboat Springs City Council members approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stoplights as stop signs when there are no cars at an intersection, a maneuver known as a “safety stop.”
Council will still have to approve the new law on a second reading, but City Manager Gary Suiter and Police Department Chief Cory Christensen said decriminalizing the already-common behavior will make bicyclists safer. Christensen said the city saw 27 car-on-bike crashes in the past five years, and data from communities that have already implemented the measure shows crashes were reduced.
Routt County Riders, a bicycle advocacy group, first brought the safety stop idea to council in March. Members of the group said the ordinance benefits both bicyclists and drivers, and will not cost the city any money.
“It’s been implemented effectively other places, and the data from other places shows it has fully improved safety,” said City Council President Jason Lacy.
However, council members Kathi Meyer, Robin Crossan and Heather Sloop voted against the ordinance, citing concerns over cars potentially hitting children who choose to follow the practice.
“This is something that’s going to be instilled in kids as they’e going to see this modeled in adults,” Sloop said. “Kids learn by seeing, and when they see this, they’re going to do this.”
Laraine Martin, executive director of Routt County Riders, said many bicyclists have been practicing the safety stop for years and the onus to teach children otherwise should fall on parents.
“The behavior that kids are witnessing out on the roads with stop signs and lights is going to already bring some things into questions,” Martin said. “This makes the rules of the road simpler by decriminalizing a common behavior.”
Because Steamboat is such a bike-friendly community, Martin said children are taught bicycle safety in schools, and most bicyclists know to use common sense when riding on busy roads with cars.
“People’s behavior on bikes is going to be inherently self-preserving,” Martin said. “There’s not a penalty for a rider who’s going to continue to use a traditional stop.”
Council members in support of the measure — Lisel Petis, Michael Buccino, Sonja Macys and Lacy — all said they believed the research surrounding safety presented by Routt County Riders and city staff was compelling enough to make them support the ordinance.
“From my perspective, just because we allow a policy like this to exist doesn’t mean all of a sudden bikers will throw common sense to the wind and just go in front of cars,” Petis said. “This is only allowing them to commute to and from places faster, which I think is in support of our goals around environmental sustainability and making biking a more accessible opportunity for people in our town.”
Other council members said they thought the city should wait and see if the state adopts a statewide ordinance, though several other Colorado cities have already passed an ordinance allowing the practice.
“Why not wait until the state adopts a full safety stop?” Meyer said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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