New bike law could make stop sign intersections safer, Sonoma County cycling advocates say

A bill awaiting the governor’s signature would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields.|

Bicycle advocates say a new bill awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature could make stop sign intersections safer for cyclists by ushering in a new era that legalizes an already common practice among many bike riders.

The “safety stop“ bill, or Assembly Bill 122, would allow cyclists to slow down when approaching a stop sign intersection and proceed through the intersection without coming to a complete stop so long as there is no other traffic.

With its winding county roads, diverse topography and scenic views, Sonoma County is a worldwide cycling destination. The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and other groups are dedicated to making the county’s infrastructure more bicycle-friendly with improvements including more bike lanes and separated bike paths.

Legalizing so-called safety stops would be another step forward for cyclist well-being in the county and across the state, according to advocates with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and California Bicycle Coalition.

“It’s easier for drivers, and for any of us really, to see something that’s moving than something that’s stopped,” said Eris Weaver, executive director of Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

States that have adopted similar laws have seen a reduction in bicycle-involved crashes at stop sign intersections, Weaver said. Idaho was the first state to allow cyclists to treat stops as yields, giving way to the term “Idaho stop.”

Concerns related to visibility and the effort and risk required for a cyclist to travel through an intersection after coming to a complete stop are at the crux of proponents’ arguments for safety stops.

After coming to a complete stop, which requires putting a foot down to the ground, a cyclist has to build up momentum to get back to traveling speed, extending the amount of time they are in an intersection — a vulnerable place. Because of this many cyclists in California already practice safety stops, proponents of AB122 have said.

When riding through Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square district while heading to and from work, Weaver said, drivers often wave her through the stop sign intersections.

“I’m sitting there and they’re waiting for me to go,” said Weaver. “They want me to go, but technically it’s not legal for me to go.”

If passed, the law would only apply to intersections with stop signs, not traffic lights. That would mainly affect travel through side streets, which cyclists tend to prefer over main roads, Weaver said.

Lt. Dave Boettger, who oversees Santa Rosa Police Department’s traffic division, does not expect passage of the bill would have much of an impact on bike riding in the city.

“Let’s be honest, most of them do that anyways,” Boettger said.

Given bicycling’s popularity in Sonoma County, Boettger said cyclists in the area are good about staying safe. He called AB122 overdue.

“I’m surprised it’s taken this long,” Boettger said.

Boettger added that the law stands to make more of a difference in Sonoma County’s more rural areas where the cars are fewer and stop signs are more prevalent.

If enacted, the bill includes a sunset clause which would allow the law to expire on Jan. 1, 2028.

The Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol will be required to present a report on the effects of safety stops, including data on the frequency and severity of related collisions, by Jan. 1, 2027.

When Weaver first shared information about the proposed safety stops with her coalition members, some balked at the idea of not fully stopping at an intersection. If Newsom does sign AB122, cyclists would still have the option of fully stopping at a stop sign intersection.

“Cyclists are just like anybody else in that we have a wide variety of opinions about things,” Weaver said. “It’s just going to be an education issue and of course people are free to come to a complete stop if they are more comfortable with that.”

Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign the bill, according to Weaver.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

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