Students thought they were biking safely on Wednesday, Feb. 6, before a troop of Stanford cops ticketed them at one of Stanford’s tamest intersections outside Arrillaga Dining Hall. The road ends in a cul-de-sac where the right of way was so clear that the students, despite the stop sign, quickly scanned for traffic and advanced without coming to a complete stop.
This common biking practice escapes police suppression in many cities, but Stanford cops stick to the strictest reading of the law. Never mind that doing so actually fails to increase safety. And the $200 fines for failing to fully stop fall on students already getting cornswaggled by tuition. Fortunately, we might not have to tolerate this much longer since other students, civilians, and political figures across the country are voting to replace these outdated, pedantic policies with fairer bike safety protocol.
For the past 32 years in Idaho, bikers have legally practiced rolling stops at stop signs. Coined the Idaho Stop, a rolling stop makes a lot of sense; compared to cars, bikers are slow-moving, and their wider field of view allows them to scan for traffic safely without completely stopping.
And Idaho isn’t alone. In 2018, California Assemblymembers Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear) and Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) fought for AB 1103, a bill that would permit cities to launch pilot programs that would legally allow a rolling stop for bikes. The assemblymembers asserted the well-known truth: “Bikes are not cars; they have very different strengths and very different weaknesses,” and that a traffic system so unattuned to common practice is a public disservice. Though the bill died, this debate is just getting started, with four other states keen to legalize biker rolling stops.
In 2015, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputy Allen James told The Daily that stop sign traps promote safety. We trust our officers, but as a proof-based community, we have to question the effectiveness of these traps. In that year, Stanford cops ticketed over a thousand students at stop signs. And after years of continuing this practice, they’ve failed to change the fact that the overwhelming majority of students keep on rolling right through them.
To be sure, safety is a serious subject, and bikers are dangerous when they violate the right of way. Bikers who ride at night without a light should be ticketed, and those who don’t yield to pedestrians deserve citations. But on Wednesday, students were harmlessly biking home when they were ticketed at that stop sign outside Arrillaga.
We thank you officers for your service, but this practice ends now. If your stop sign traps are more than predatory power plays, then prove it. Police around the country are fine with a rolling stop, but when we do it, you fine us. I urge you, Reader, to call the Stanford cops now. Right now! Call their office at: (650) 723-9633 and demand that they permit the rolling stop.
Robbie Harding, MS Civil & Environmental Engineering ’19
Contact Robbie Harding at robbieh ‘at’ stanford.edu.