In the two miles between my home and office in downtown Boise, there are five stop signs and 10 traffic lights. On a good day, I can make the journey without coming to a complete stop.
That doesn’t happen in my car because, of course, I’m a law-abiding driver. Yet on my bicycle, it’s possible for me to cruise through all five stop signs and effortlessly cruise right on through the downtown corridor without once touching my feet to the pavement.
And in Idaho, it’s completely legal.
Although cycling commuters here often bemoan the city’s ineffective bike lane system and criticize the lack of public bicycle parking, nary a word is spoken about the state’s progressive bicycle traffic laws. Thanks to some forward-thinking state legislators a couple of decades ago, Idaho’s bike laws are the envy of cyclists throughout the country.
The concept is a simple one that allows bicyclists to keep their momentum without ever taking the right-of-way from motorists: basically, stop signs are treated a yield signs, and stop lights as stop signs. Bicycles can legally blow through stop signs as long as it isn’t another driver’s turn. And at red lights, bicycles must stop, but can proceed if the intersection is clear
"There are lots of good reasons for it," said attorney Kurt Holzer, who specializes in bicycle accidents. Aside from the fact that a waiting cyclist won’t trip a traffic light changing mechanism, Holzer said the laws are in place for safety reasons. "If you have a bike on the right side and a car wants to turn right, the law allows the bike through the intersection, through the area of conflict, so the biker can get out of the way."
Newcomers to Boise often muse that people are less defined by what they drive than what’s hanging from their bike racks. Boise’s mayor endorses the bicycle and is a regular bike commuter. Mayor Dave Bieter is often seen pedaling to City Hall on his red 1969 Schwinn Typhoon the bike he got for his 10th birthday.
Rather than each faction exerting ownership over the pavement, cyclists should know and follow all the laws, while drivers should concede that bicycles are different from cars and should therefore be subject to different laws. Stopping at empty intersections is cumbersome for drivers and cyclists alike but cyclists aren’t likely to kill pedestrians with their carelessness.
By drawing a legal line in the sand between cars and bikes, allowing them different rules in the same environment, Idaho’s bike laws ultimately foster a mutual respect between drivers and cyclists. In Boise it’s common to see road signs instructing drivers and cyclists to "share the road." It may be common sense advice for cyclists, but to motorists, it’s a subtle reminder that bigger shouldn’t mean better.
Rachael Daigle is a staff writer for Boise Weekly.