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Counter Opinion: No ’Idaho Stop,’ please

Published August 3, 2017

Editor's note: Ray Keener is a long-time contributor to BRAIN and does a lot of other things in the bike industry. The thoughts expressed here are Keener's personal opinions and not those of any organization or entity he represents.

I read Walt Seifert's opinion piece in favor of the Idaho Stop on the BRAIN site this week. Seifert makes an excellent case for why this change in the law would be favorable to cyclists. Individually.

I cede his case. And I'd like to change the conversation to something I consider more important than the convenience or preservation of momentum of any one cyclist. That is, how cyclists are perceived in our culture.

I've always said, with some sadness, that Americans love bicycles, they're just not so crazy about cyclists. I believe that, collectively, we as cyclists can't encourage a change in the law that further erodes the general perception of our ilk.

Americans love bicycles, they're just not so crazy about cyclists

Look, I live in Boulder, Colorado, a place where cyclists are seen in a positive light. Where cycling participation is more than double the national average, drivers are generally considerate, and the city spends a lot of money on great facilities.

On the other side of the coin, nothing we do or say as a group or individually is going to change the minds of talk-show radio hosts and other yahoos who trade off of calling us names, rolling their coal, and threatening to run us off the road.

Let's go through a standard triage process, where we assume the lovers and the haters are reliably stuck in their positions. So we turn our thoughts to the vast middle, people who have mixed feelings about cyclists.

They actually have a lot in common with the ambivalence of "interested but concerned" cyclists we hear so much about. "Yeah, I see how cyclists reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions, but do they have to be so self-righteous about it? And behave so recklessly and unlawfully?"

I'm not going to get into the long-standing debate about whether drivers or cyclists violate traffic laws more often. This is about perception, not statistics. Bottom line, when "we" break the law, it's usually glaring. Running stop signs, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, whatever.

So into this climate of ambivalence about cyclists, you Idaho Stoppers want to add a change in the traffic laws that favors one group, our group, over any other? To me, that very act, whatever the specifics, is a detriment to how we are perceived by The Vast Middle.

I want that group (who, having vast middles, could stand to ride a bike and lose a few pounds, says this Self-Righteous Cyclist) to think more, not less positively about cyclists as a group.

Think more positively about us when they're driving, for sure. Think more positively about us when they're voting. Whether indirectly (for bike-friendly candidates) or directly (city councilors and state legislators need triage, too!)

I've racked my brain to think of ways that changing traffic laws to favor cyclists gives The VM a more positive opinion of us. Nothing comes to mind. I've asked proponents of Idaho Stop the same question, they have nothing either.

So in conclusion, I know many of you out there have intractable opinions for and against Idaho Stop. I hope those of you in the middle might see things a bit differently after suffering through all these words.

Let's each do what we can for the collective good. And that is, first and foremost, ride lawfully and safely and encourage others to do the same. Also, continue to support PeopleForBikes and other groups who are working to create positive images of cyclists. Safe and happy pedaling out there, everyone!

Stop means stop.

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