Dead red and the Idaho stop

On May 3, Bugman and I headed to the Scottsbluff Y for the start of the Y Not Ride – a great kickoff to the cycling season, no matter your level of fitness (routes include 3, 9, 28, 54, and 91 miles).

Wheeling to the start. We weren't the only tandem!

Wheeling to the start. We weren’t the only tandem!

On the way to the Y, we headed south on Broadway and attempted to turn left onto Beltline. I say “attempted” because the stinking traffic light did not register our presence as we sat there, patiently waiting though more than one light cycle.


Had to dismount, walk to the corner, and push the pedestrian crossing button. Why is it that some traffic lights will register a bike, and others won’t? (I’m sure I can research that and write another post at some point.)

A short time later, I read an eye-opening article that has me reciting the phrases “Idaho stop” and “dead red” on my cycle journeys: “Why cyclists should be able to roll through stop signs and ride through red lights“.

According to this article, in 13 states, the “dead red” maneuver is legal.; i.e. – cyclists can legally ride through a red light if they have stopped, waited an appropriate period, and there is no traffic. (There are several other caveats in many of the states, like “only applies to an inoperative/malfunctioning light” or “must have reasonable belief that signal is controlled by vehicle detection device.”)

Mind = blown.

I have always awkwardly dismounted and walked over to a pedestrian crossing, or pulled abnormally far into the intersection to encourage a car behind me to move up and trigger the light. It never dawned on me that it might be LEGAL to ignore the signal.

I’m not sure I would feel entirely comfortable blowing a red traffic light. I’d be expecting law enforcement to come after me. Or, as pointed out in the Vox article, drivers might view me as a lawbreaking biker. A lot of drivers already view cyclists in a highly unfavorable light. I don’t want to add to that impression.

Still, what do you do when you get stuck by a stupid light that won’t turn?

Then there are stop signs.

I will admit – if there is nearby traffic, I come to a full and conscientious stop, so as not to cause vehicular confusion. But if there is no one around, I roll those neighborhood stop signs, baby. Now I know there is a name for that practice.

“Idaho stop,” I say to myself as I roll through a deserted residential intersection.

In the state of Idaho, as the name implies, cyclists do not have to stop at stop signs but may treat them as yield signs.

As the Vox article and a linked video from Oregon point out, cyclists spend a lot of energy getting back up to speed after a full stop and tend to, as a matter of course, prefer the rolling stop.

The article has an interesting argument for the Idaho stop rule:

There are even a few reasons why the Idaho stop might even make the roads safer than the status quo. In many cities, the low-traffic routes that are safer for bikes are the kinds of roads with many stop signs. Currently, some cyclists avoid these routes and take faster, higher-traffic streets. If the Idaho stop were legalized, it’d get cyclists off these faster streets and funnel the bikes on to safer, slower roads.

I’d buy that.

However, in instances where there was nearby traffic, I would always treat a stop sign as a stop. After all, I have seen plenty of cars blow stop signs, and if we both did that, I, the puny bicyclist, would lose.

Readers – what are your thoughts on the dead read and Idaho stop? What are the common practices in your area?

Copyright 2014 by Katie Bradshaw


One thought on “Dead red and the Idaho stop

  1. I’ve run into the same issue at the Broadway and Beltline intersection, and after waiting two light rounds, I made my left turn when the regular light was green and there was no oncoming traffic. However, in general I am not an advocate for cyclists riding through red lights. It’s not safe much of the time and it does piss off motorists. My opinion is that if we want to share the road with motorized vehicles, we need to obey the same traffic laws.

    For stop signs though I definitely utilize the rolling stop if no one else is coming. Otherwise I’m constantly clipping in and out which is as annoying as stop and go traffic in a manual transmission car. As for why some lights register your bike and others don’t, that is determined by whether the light has a motion sensor, usually mounted on the arm of the traffic light, or a weight sensor under the street, close to the crosswalk. Weight sensors won’t register bikes, motion sensors will. Or maybe they’re cameras…they operate visually at any rate. 🙂

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