Idaho in France

A sign announcing the experimental "right on red" rule for bikes in FranceSome of us have been envious of Idaho, where they passed a law permitting (short version) bikes to treat stop signs and red lights as “Yield” signs. As Mia Birk, at last weekend’s Active Transportation symposium put it, cyclists can stop pretending to stop and do what makes much more sense — keep moving if nobody is coming. I don’t know who did it first, but it turns out that at least Strasbourg, France, and maybe other French communities have been up to the same thing.

The sign in the photo announces it as an experimental arrangement, but the signs have since been removed, it seems. There’s more pictures of locations with the new rule at the bottom of this French forum page. I guess they’ve even added special yellow “bikes can turn right” lights to make the rules clear to cyclists and the possibly envious motorists.

I really feel that one of the important objectives in promoting cycling is to bring cyclists into the community of traffic regulations on a legitimate basis. I regard it as indisputable that sensible cycling practices violate existing traffic laws at a number of points, so that sensible cyclists — the kind we want to become ubiquitous — are committing violations on every trip they take. This makes it very difficult to engage motorists and law enforcement officials in discussions of cyclists’ rights or cycling facilities. Are cyclists legitimate users of the road or not? The most frequent violation I commit is failure to fully stop at stop signs. It’s clearly easier to keep moving. But, in many instances it’s also safer. Like airplanes, bikes are most dangerous when starting or stopping. With even a tiny forward movement, I can remain fully ready to speed up or take evasive measures should something unexpected happen. By contrast, if I’m just starting up, I have only one foot firmly on a pedal; and my speed starts at zero, which means little stability or ability to dodge. I’ve never heard an argument even a little persuasive against the “Idaho law,” and its implementation has apparently not only been satisfying to bicyclists, it has also correlated with sharply reduced accidents. Now, the same practice has been found sound in France.


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2 Responses to “Idaho in France”

  1. I think this is a misunderstanding. As I’m relying on Google translations and my cultural knowledge of Europe, I might be wrong, but the linked discussion is not about the Idaho law. Rather, it is about allowing right turns on red for bicycles. A little background: right turns on red are illegal for all vehicles by default in most European countries. Actually it’s the opposite of the situation in the US: default is no turn on red, and exceptions require signage. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_turn_on_red#Europe

    Now to the stop signs: cars and bikes have to obey stop signs in Europe just like in the US and that hasn’t changed. The crucial difference, however, is that stop signs are very rare. Default are yield signs or, in residential areas, no signs at all, with the person coming from the right having the right of way. Stop signs are limited to intersections which are especially dangerous, have poor sight lines, etc. and have little to no impact on cyclists because they are so rare.

    In the long term, this shift away from stop to yield signs in my opinion would be the preferable option to the Idaho law but that’s probably not going to happen.

  2. No, it’s not about Idaho, of course — the French are unlikely to give any thought to Idaho. But, it is about recognizing that bicycles can do safely some things that cars can not. Permitting bikes to turn right at corners where cars must wait resembles the Idaho “red light as yield sign” policy for bikes. I see no reason to hold out for all stops to be converted to yields; if we can rationalize policy for bikes (as in Idaho), it should be done asap, in my opinion. It’s not a complicated rule change and wouldn’t be difficult to convey to the public. And the benefit would be that cyclists could practice safe riding without breaking the law.

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