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Should I stay or should I go? Council discusses 'Idaho Stops' for bikes

Last Updated May 22, 2019 at 5:44 pm MDT

(Tom Ross - 660NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — For some, it’s a great way to get around the city, but for others, they are two-wheeled menaces.

Bicycles get a lot of discussion at Calgary City Hall, with a special rule change for bikers getting the latest attention at a Transportation and Transit committee meeting on Wednesday.

This concerns the so-called “Idaho stop”, which allows bikers to treat a stop sign like a yield when it is safe.

As per its name, it is something that has been observed in the American state of Idaho for several years.

But here in Calgary, it conjures up thoughts of bikers wreaking havoc on the streets, tearing through intersections and endangering the poor drivers.

“That is one thing I am not worried about,” said Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell, with a laugh. “I know that we all need to obey the rules of the road. There’s been really interesting studies showing that drivers are more apt to break the rules of the road than people on bikes.”

It sparked a heated debate in the council chambers, with voices raised at some points.

Farrell understands why some people may be opposed, but adds we cannot paint every commuter with the same safety brush.

“We should be doing whatever we can to ensure the safety of our citizens. So for pedestrians, bicyclists, people in cars, they all require different methods, and we also want them to be comfortable,” said Farrell. “It’s a constant balancing act.”

But despite the lively discussion, the only recommendation from committee was to ask the provincial government to consider amending the Traffic Safety Act in order to permit Idaho stops.

It passed by a vote of 7-3 and will be forwarded to the rest of council for another debate.

One of the dissenting voices was a common foil for bike tracks in Calgary — Ward 4’s Sean Chu.

“Idaho can do whatever Idaho does. We are Calgary. We need a Calgary solution,” said Chu.

Chu thinks this creates a slippery slope, which he believes can pave the way for the Idaho stop’s more dangerous cousin: the California roll — where cars go through stop signs without coming to a complete halt.

He also believes this is another instance of the city prioritizing biking over driving.

Citing his police background, the former officer said it’s a matter of the rule of law — and nobody is above that law.

Chu disputes the belief that it is not very dangerous.

“The reasoning, in part, was that the bicycle doesn’t hurt anybody. When you hit something, it doesn’t hurt. Well, if that’s the reason, and it’s good for one mode it should be good for the others, too. It has to be applied equally.”

The councillor is also not too keen on city officials managing safety on an individual level as Farrell suggested.

“We should issue everyone a sumo suit — you know the big sumo suits with the helmets. Everybody gets that and you’re not allowed to do anything. You can only stay home, so no more getting injured. Save money. Save lives,” Chu said sarcastically.

Now that the matter will likely be forwarded to the province Chu is also hopeful the new government will toss it away in favour of more pressing topics.

Committee chair Shane Keating also voted against the motion, but he’s not necessarily opposed to Idaho stops.

“My view on the Idaho stop is, why make something legal that is happening without consequence today?” he said. “As I stated, I believe the question was, how many tickets have been given out? And I think the answer was, we don’t know of any.”

Keating said bikers already push the rules a bit with these rolling stops, and opening up this law may encourage them to push rules even more.

“Those who are using the Idaho stop are using it today, whether it’s a stop sign or a yield sign. If you legalize it, all of a sudden a stop signs becomes, you’re not sure,” Keating added. “I just think it’s an unnecessary step at this time.”