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Oregon Bicyclists Could Treat Stop Signs As Yields Under Low-Key Proposal

Bradley W. Parks

Cyclists around Oregon could treat stop signs and blinking red lights as yield signs, under a bill that looks likely to pass a legislative committee. For what appears to be the first time in a decade, the “ Idaho stop” is back up for consideration in Salem.

The proposal, modeled after a policy passed in Idaho in the '80s, would allow bicycles leeway to keep rolling when approaching a stop sign or blinking red light. If there are no other vehicles with the right of way, cyclists could legally proceed without coming to a complete stop.

“When you're on a bicycle coming to a complete stop and then you're trying to start, there's this lack of fluid motion,” said state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, an avid cyclist who’s pushing the idea for what appears to be the third time in his legislative career.

Oregon isn't the only state discussing the issue. Arkansas just passeda stronger version of the law, and Utah lawmakers are considering a similar proposal.

Rather than introducing a bill to implement the Idaho stop at the outset of session, Prozanksi is using what’s known as a “gut-and-stuff” — amending a placeholder bill to serve as a vessel for his idea.

He introduced the proposal as an amendment to Senate Bill 998 on April 5. The idea received a public hearing on Monday, and is scheduled for a work session where the amendment could be adopted on Tuesday. That’s also the last day the bill can be voted out of committee, under Senate rules.

In Monday’s brief hearing, the bill got pushback from a man who works as a road flagger for utility companies. He said cyclists already disobey him when he holds up a stop sign during construction projects, and he was concerned the bill would only intensify that.

“I’ve had problems on various occasions where a lot of bicyclists go right on through,” he said. “I see a safety issue as a flagger.”

The comment spurred concern from state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who said the man made a “really good point.” But Prozanski contended after the hearing that road flaggers still have authority to stop bicyclists under the bill.

“It doesn’t call out flaggers per se, but it does require you to follow the orders of a police officer and I would assume that would be extrapolated to anyone who's authorized to direct traffic,” he said.

Prozanski first proposed the Idaho stop in 2003, when he was a member of the House of Representatives. The bill passed out of the House by a wide margin, 47-9, before dying in the Senate.

“I think everyone got it and understood it's not that big of a deal,” he said Monday. “In fact, a lot of people say, 'Oh they're already doing that.'”

Prozanski was also a chief sponsor of a 2009 bill that would have implemented the law. It died in a House committee, after receiving a single hearing.

This year, though, Prozanski is the chair of the committee where the bill is up for consideration. That likely gives it enough momentum to roll through at least one of the legislative process’s many stop signs.

“I just think it will do well if we move it forward,” Prozanski said.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.