Cycling: Should Denver consider a yield-stop law?

Earlier this month, news broke that Aspen is considering a yield-stop cycling law -- meaning that bicyclists would be legally allowed to yield at a stop sign as opposed to completely halting.

At least two other mountain communities -- Breckenridge and Dillon -- have similar yield-stop laws. But would such an approach work in a major metropolitan community like Denver? One cycling advocate says yes.

"I think the idea is great," says Ryan McCann, policy and outreach manager for the cycling advocacy organization BikeDenver. "If you talk to bike advocates, they think the rule should reflect what is practiced. We crafted street rules for motor vehicles, but now we're adding bicyclists to it -- and it makes sense that we have laws that reflect cycling in ways that promote ridership and help people ride safely."

Ryan McCann.
Ryan McCann.
Courtesy of BikeDenver

The yield-stop law isn't a new concept. As outlined in this post on, the State of Idaho enacted it in the early 1980s, and it's been in continuous effect, with only minor tweaks in 1988 and 2005, ever since.

The notion took a while to spread, but as pointed out in this Summit County public notice, it was embraced by both Breckenridge and Dillon in 2011. And the Aspen Times reports that the city council there is investigating the concept with an eye toward a vote in the near future.

That's all to the good, in McCann's view. "The yield-stop law puts more onus on bicyclists," he believes. "Now, bicyclists will say it's not practical to stop all the way. But if you have a law that says cyclists can treat stop signs as yields, it eliminates that problem without decreasing safety."

McCann stresses that a yield-stop law doesn't necessarily mean cyclists will be allowed to cruise through stop lights, too -- rules in some communities allow that, but isn't lobbying for something similar in Denver. And neither would it put cyclists in a preeminent position on the roadways.

"There seems to be some confusion -- things we've seen on the Twitterverse and on Facebook, and heard talking to our members -- that with a yield-stop law in place, cyclists would have the right of way no matter what, and that if you rode on through an intersection, cars have to stop for you," he says. "But that's not the case. If there's someone else in the intersection and they got there before you, you have to yield the right of way and come to a complete stop before you proceed after they've gone on through.

"This law doesn't give cyclists special rights," he emphasizes. "It gives them the rights they need."

Continue for more about the cycling yield-stop concept.   Granted, there's no guarantee Denver officials would be receptive to such a change. As evidence, consider our June 2012 post about former Denver City Councilman Doug Linkhart being involved in an accident on Bike to Work Day. Linkhart needed several stitches to address his injuries.

The mishap was a subject of conversation at a subsequent council retreat, with councilwoman Susan Shepherd telling Mayor Michael Hancock, "I'm particularly disturbed by the fact that...Doug Linkhart was hit on the way down to meet us today. And that is just appalling to me.... If we really want to focus on multi-modal, which is one of my top priorities, it's got to be safe. We've got to pursue everything, including educating drivers."

In response, reported our Sam Levin, other council members suggested that cyclists need to be educated, too, since they often run through stop signs.

Mayor Michael Hancock at a June Denver City Council retreat.
Mayor Michael Hancock at a June Denver City Council retreat.

"And you can get a ticket for that and should get a ticket for that," Hancock chimed in. "It's about the safety of you and the motorist."

As for Linkhart, he favors "the kind of regulation where cyclists can treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs" -- which, as Levin noted, "is how a lot of bikers...treat those signs."

Even if Denver doesn't enact its own stop-yield law, such a measure might be applied more broadly. McCann has heard rumors that various legislators are looking into proposing such a bill for the entire state over the next two or three years. Should one be signed into law, it would eliminate potential problems stemming from a Black Hawk bicycle ban ruling. A week or so back, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned Black Hawk's prohibition, determining that home rule didn't apply in this instance. If this philosophy is extended, McCann thinks it might endanger yield-stop laws passed by specific communities -- but that wouldn't be the case with a state law.

In any event, McCann thinks the time has come for yield-stop laws here and beyond. In his words, "if we're going to get Denver's ridership to 15 percent by 2020 -- if that's the direction we're heading -- then we have to craft legislation that's more suited to cyclists."

More from our Politics archive: "Doug Linkhart, ex-councilman, hit while cycling to Bike To Work Day event."

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