SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would allow bicyclists in Utah to roll through stop signs and red lights was greenlighted Thursday by the House Transportation Committee.
Bill sponsor Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, emphasized the need for changes to traffic laws that would encourage more people to bike in the state.
She said she has watched a lane near her home for a few years and has seen bicyclists roll through stop signs there when there isn't oncoming traffic. There's also a light on Wasatch Boulevard that "doesn't change" and forces bicyclists to wait.
Idaho has had a law for 32 years that allows cyclists to "cautiously approach" an intersection with stop signs, and then proceed through slowly if there are no cars visible, Moss said.
"Thirty-two years … they've had no increase in cycling accidents despite a larger population," she explained.
The bill, HB161, if approved by the Senate, would allow cyclists to "cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping" at a stop sign if there is no other traffic. Bicyclists would still be required to yield.
As part of the bill, after a cyclist approaches a steady red light and stops, they could then "proceed straight through the steady red signal," or turn left onto a highway if its speed limit is 35 mph or less — if there is no other traffic to yield to.
John Monroe, with the Ogden Bicycle Collective, spoke during Thursday's meeting in support of the bill.
"Cyclists right now are probably really behaving this way anyway, most people, and really, I trust the person that has death as their reward versus a dented fender," Monroe said.
"Cyclists really want to get through those intersections without conflicting traffic around them," he said. He explained he believes the measure will help traffic move more efficiently.
Phil Sarnoff, executive director of Bike Utah, said the biggest issue for bikers is safety.
"The more people that are out there riding the bikes, the safer they are. … We wouldn't be supporting this if we thought it was something that would make cyclists less safe," Sarnoff said.
Some, however, expressed concern about how the bill could impact people's safety.
Jason Davis, Utah Department of Transportation deputy director, said, "The concerns are that if a bicyclist pulls up to a red light … we already have the concerns that the bicyclist has that cars aren't always seeing them. And they aren't even going to be looking for a bicyclist if they have a green light. They're going to proceed through that intersection."
He said the state has already seen its bicycle fatalities drop by half in the past several years.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, a member of the committee, also expressed concern about the bill.
"It seems to me that it's exceedingly dangerous for a bicycle to make a left turn on a red light and it also creates the conflict in fault in accidents, where you have both the bicycle and the car with a green light, both with the right of way. I don't know how you resolve that," he said.
Differing traffic conditions in cities versus rural communities in the state would also create issues, he said, adding that it would be a good idea to let individual cities choose to implement the idea as ordinances if they wish.
The bill passed with a 10-1 majority in the committee.
Last year, a similar bill was approved by the House but did not advance to a vote in the Senate.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly said a similar bill last year was rejected by the Senate. It actually did not advance to a vote in the Senate.