Cyclists Can Roll Through Stop Signs in Thornton, a First in Denver Metro

A bicyclist at a stop sign.
A bicyclist at a stop sign. Photo: David Sachs.

A Denver suburb just approved a controversial safety plan that will allow cyclists to slow-roll through stops signs — a practice that studies show keeps cyclists safer than coming to a full stop.

The City of Thornton passed the measure in a 6-2 vote on Tuesday night. The so-called Idaho Stop, which earned its nickname after the state that adopted the practice in 1982, legalizes something most cyclists do already. Perhaps counterintuitively for non-cyclists, the Idaho law has been shown to reduce injuries, which is why advocates here call it the “Colorado safety stop.”

Bicycle advocates hope that other cities — including Denver — will soon follow Thornton’s lead. And they say the practice is often safer because when cyclists move into parts of the intersection where they are visible to drivers, they can better assess if they should continue or come to a complete stop.

“It’s safer for bicyclists to be visible and out in front of an intersection when they have the right of way,” said Jack Todd, a spokesman for Bicycle Colorado. He cited a study from the University of California, Berkeley. The researchers found that bicycle injuries declined 15 percent in the first year after Idaho adopted a similar rule statewide.

But not everyone buys the safety argument, including Adam Matkowsky, who is a police officer and one of the Thornton city council members who voted against the ordinance.

“I’m a bicyclist,” he told Streetsblog, adding that he commutes 20 miles from his home in Thornton to his job in Westminster. “I’m out there Zero Dark Thirty in the morning with my little blinking lights all over me and [drivers] still don’t see me. They don’t stop for me. They don’t yield for me.”

A police officer for 21-years, he says that his experience responding to bicycle crashes influences how he bikes. He comes to a complete stop at every stop sign, and he thinks others should, too.

“It’s just not worth it to me,” he said. “I just found [the ordinance] one big huge safety concern.”

But the University of California study points out that, compared to drivers, cyclists can see and hear what’s going on at intersections better than motorists.

“Bicycles and motor vehicles are fundamentally different machines,” Todd said. “We need to think about them differently in terms of the way that they’re governed on the road.”  

Cyclists have been able to roll through stops in Idaho for decades, and Delaware adopted a similar rule in 2017. In Colorado, Aspen, Dillon, Breckenridge and all of Summit County had similar laws on the books. Last year, a state law passed that standardized how Colorado municipalities adopt such rules going forward.

For cyclists, forcing them to come to a complete stop kills their momentum. That takes more energy, requires more time and can lead to bikers falling. All of that discourages cycling, said Todd. And safety stop laws make biking more enjoyable, he says, which could help a city like Denver reach its goal of reducing the number road-clogging trips people take alone in private cars.

“Ultimately we view this as a way to get more people riding,” he said. “If people feel safer on their bikes, they’re more likely to do it. And and that is a way for Denver to meet its multi-modal goals.”

Even though riders in Thornton will soon be able to roll through intersections, Matkowsky said he doesn’t want to respond to more bike crashes.

“Just take an extra second to look,” he said. “Just be careful.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Colorado municipalities that had enacted safety stop ordinances were not valid until last year when the state law passed. The story was corrected to reflect that those ordinances were valid.


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  • Aside from the law, I think it’s important for bicyclists come to a complete stop at stop signs where there are other users of the road present (people driving cars) to avoid confusion because people driving expect other people (driving or not to come to a stop). I would also support rolling through a stop sign when there is no other vehicle at the intersection because the sooner a bicyclist can clear that intersection, the safer it is for that cyclist.

    Sharing my personal experience in support of the slow-roll. On a clear and sunny day, I am riding on a small side street and come to a complete stop at an four-way intersection. Shortly after, another vehicle (counter clockwise to my right) approaches the intersection and comes to a stop. I then proceed to cross the intersection (as an extra precautionary measure I would have tried to make eye contact with other driver to confirm that they see me before crossing but on this day I couldn’t see the driver because their window tint was too dark). So I’m riding through the intersection and suddenly the other driver drives through the intersection; they had not seen me and then are startled when I appear next to the driver’s door. Had I been a little faster on my bicycle we would have collided. Reflecting on that near miss, it would have been safer if I had been able to yield, slow ride through and clear the intersection before the other vehicle had gotten there.

    • Devin Quince

      If you read the law, that is what has to happen. One can only perform an Idaho stop when there are no other road users around.

  • Daniel

    Is “roll through” really the most on-brand phrase to be using in a headline? How about Idaho Stop or yield at stop signs

  • jcwconsult

    It is perfectly safe for a cyclist to slow-roll stop signs when decent weather and sight lines permit verifying there are no conflicting pedestrians, cyclists or vehicles. It is ALSO perfectly safe for car drivers to do the same when decent weather and sight lines permit verifying there are no conflicting pedestrians, cyclists or vehicles.

    Stop signs are quite rare in many European countries. The use of Yield or Give Way protocol applies at most intersections that do not have a traffic light or a roundabout. This reduces air pollution, sound pollution, wasted fuel, wear on vehicles, and wasted time.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

    • Sincerely

      Someone using a bicycle has a 360-degree unobstructed view, can hear other road users and their vehicles, and is likely seated higher than most car users. The fact that bicycling is exercise causes people who bike to be significantly more alert than people using automobiles, which — intentionally or not — are practically designed to make the people inside complacent and disconnected from their surroundings.

      If someone using a bicycle does make an error in judgment, lower speed, lower momentum, and more maneuverability means they are less likely to kill or seriously injure another person.

      Traffic control devices like stop signs are placed based on concerns about motor vehicle behavior. They are there for a reason. They are not, however, designed for bicyclists. They are designed for cars, based on the anticipated speed of travel for cars and the numerous limitations of cars.

      I know your fringe group is dedicated to eliminating accountability for people who use automobiles, but use some common sense.

      • jcwconsult

        I rarely respond to Sincerely, but in this case the safety experts in many European countries that use the Give Way or Yield protocol instead of most Stop signs would totally disagree. Most intersections with stop signs should be re-engineered using mostly Yield signs and small roundabouts to improve safety and traffic flow – AFTER of course a serious nationwide educational program.
        James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

        • Sincerely

          If the US had lower speed limits, narrower roads, and stricter rules regarding motor vehicle licensing, I might consider the perspective of your unnamed, uncited “European experts” more relevant.

          Here in the US, stop sign violations account for about 70% percent of automobile crashes. Usually crashes at intersections occur when a motor vehicle operator moves into the intersection without the proper care. Allowing automobile users to legally roll through stop signs seems unlikely to help.

          I do like roundabouts, though.

    • Devin Quince

      What is also quite common in Europe is the idea that you screw up and you get hit hard, unlike here where driving is thought to be along the same lines as the 1A or 2A and treated as a right.

    • mckillio

      No it is not perfectly safe for cars to do the same. Cars have forward blind spots and multiple feet in front of the driver of the car, requiring them to pull forward more to be able to see, and they can’t hear nearly as well, a car is also likely to be going faster than a bike leading up to a stop sign, lastly the consequences of a car doing this and making a mistake are magnitudes more severe than a cyclist.

      Stop pedalling (pun intended) these easily refutable lies.

      • PabloDali

        No Special Rights for Cyclists on PUBLIC roads.

        Obey ALL the laws same as any other vehicle.

        It’s time to start Mandatory Bike Registration, Mandatory Bike Licensing, and Mandatory Bicyclist Liability Insurance.

        • Ricardo Light

          I bet you’re fun at parties

        • Sincerely

          There seems to be a high correlation between random capitalization and bad takes. Why do you think that is?

        • Devin Quince

          Does that also mean we can take the full lane with zero recourse from drivers since that is the law?

          • PabloDali

            If you DO THE SPEED LIMIT, you can take any lane you want, same as motorcycles.

            If you’re too SLOW, then stay in the right lane of low speed streets like mopeds and scooters.

          • Andrew

            FYI: The speed limit is a maximum, not a minimum.

          • PabloDali

            FYI, traveling more than 10 mph under the posted limit — when traffic is otherwise flowing at the posted limits — is Impeding Traffic.

            It’s illegal, and unsafe.

            Which is exactly why low speed mopeds and scooters are limited to roads with posted limits of 35 mph or less.

          • Andrew

            FYI, traveling more than 10 mph under the posted limit — when traffic is otherwise flowing at the posted limits — is Impeding Traffic.

            Citation, please? (Good luck with that.)

          • PabloDali

            (1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on any highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable forward movement of traffic, except when a reduced speed is necessary for safe operation of such vehicle or in compliance with law.

            Colorado Revised Statutes Title 42. Vehicles and Traffic § 42-4-1103

          • TM

            Going 10 mph is not blocking or impeding traffic.It’s just moving a little slower than you feel like you want to go.
            Guess how much I care about your feelings.

          • PabloDali

            “Going 10 mph is not blocking or impeding traffic.”

            Try it in a car as see if the cops don’t give you a ticket for obstructing traffic.

          • TM

            They won’t.

          • Devin Quince

            Nice try, but there is no min limit in roads other than interstates and I never said lane, but that is also my legal right IF I am changing lanes to turn or that is going to my destination in short order. Might want to learn the laws if you spout off about wanting certain groups to obey them.

          • PabloDali

            ” there is no min limit in roads”

            False.

            Look up Obstructing Traffic

            .

          • Devin Quince

            So on a 25 mph road, I am obstructing traffic going 15? What about farm vehicles, etc.?

          • PabloDali

            Farm vehicles require special license plates, registration and insurance, and are limited as to where they can drive.

            Same should be true for slow moving obstructing bicyclists.

          • Devin Quince

            Please enlighten us? I see farm/maintenance vehicles on almost every road other than interstates.

          • PabloDali

            Learn the law, which you seem entirely ignorant of. You weren’t even aware that obstructing traffic was an offense.

          • Devin Quince

            You mean this one that says I can use the right lane and it is not obstructing traffic?
            Any person operating a bicycle or an electrical assisted bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride in the right-hand lane, subject to the following conditions:
            If the right-hand lane then available for traffic is wide enough to be safely shared with overtaking vehicles, a bicyclist shall ride far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of such overtaking vehicles unless other conditions make it unsafe to do so.

          • PabloDali

            “You mean this one that says I can use the right lane and it is not obstructing traffic?”

            You’re still OBSTRUCTING traffic if you’re traveling significantly slower than the normal flow, you just can’t be ticked for it because they gave bike special exceptions that they don’t give other vehicles, such as mopeds and scooters.

            Why are you bikers always whining for special rights?

          • Devin Quince

            Special rights? You mean like dedicated roads such interstates, etc.?
            I am not obstructing traffic, I AM traffic.

          • PabloDali

            Cars, Trucks and Motorcycles pay for those DESIGN built roads and highways via Registration Fees and Fuel Taxes.

            Obstructive freeloading bicycles do not.

          • Devin Quince

            Same old same old lies.
            http://www.copirgfoundation.org/reports/cof/who-pays-roads
            I own vehicles including 4 vehicles and 2 trailers, as do most people who ride and then there is little issue of local sales taxes paying for local roads, which people who cannot even drive like kids pay, so who are the freeloaders again?

          • TM

            Lies.
            Shut up.

          • PabloDali

            Take a bus.

          • TM

            Suck a tailpipe.

      • jcwconsult

        Authorities in the UK, Germany and some other European countries were stop signs are VERY RARE and Give Way or Yield protocol applies at most intersections would find your evaluation to be quite false. Having driven thousands and thousands of miles in the UK where my wife is from, the Give Way protocol works very well and the USA fetish for stop signs in idiotic.
        James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

        • Andrew

          Before rolling through a stop sign, do you look carefully in both directions to make sure that you don’t cut off an approaching pedestrian, for whom you’re required to wait? (If a pedestrian has to wait for you to go first, then you didn’t yield.)

          • jcwconsult

            Of course, that is the proper action for Yield or Give Way protocol. A few years ago the city of Livonia, Michigan studied their stop signs and removed the ones that did not meet their warrants (engineering rules). Many were in residential areas where they had obviously and improperly been installed as speed control devices, in violation of engineering rules. They studied the speeds on the streets before and after the removals and found the average speeds were lower and more even. Drivers were no longer rolling the stop signs (which were gone) and then accelerating harder “to make up for the lost time” at the improper stops. The city won a Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission safety award for the project.

            Please note that making this conversion to many fewer stop signs and many more yield signs would likely be a project that would take a decade with a lot of educational programs. You would probably start with the places where a minor street meets but doesn’t cross a slightly more major one – and proceed to progressively larger and more complex configurations. In ALL cases, the yield protocol would be used where the sight lines allow a clear evaluation of potential conflicts with pedestrians, cyclists or other vehicles.
            James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

          • Andrew

            You wrote two long paragraphs and still managed to avoid answering the simple question I asked. Care to try a second time?

            Once again, here’s the question: Before rolling through a stop sign, do you look carefully in both directions to make sure that you don’t cut off an approaching pedestrian, for whom you’re required to wait? (If a pedestrian has to wait for you to go first, then you didn’t yield.)

            By “you” I mean “James C. Walker, National Motorists Association.”

          • jcwconsult

            I quite clearly answered the question with my first sentence.

            “Of course, that is the proper action for Yield or Give Way protocol. ”

            James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

          • Andrew

            You did not answer the question I asked. I didn’t ask about the proper action, since plenty of motorists fail to act properly. I asked what you do.

            Try again.

          • mckillio

            I think it’s clear that he’s speaking for himself.

          • fdtutf

            It’s not. The sentence can be interpreted in two different ways.

          • mckillio

            And yet you replied as if it was perfectly clear that it was the other interpretation. Not to mention that he clarified it for you twice.

          • fdtutf

            I recommend that you check usernames before accusing people of acting in bad faith.

          • mckillio

            Trust me, it pains me to have to defend him but you’re simply wrong in this case.

          • fdtutf

            No, you’re just full of shit on this point. You are confusing me with another user.

          • mckillio

            Real mature. I’m not, I think you and the OP are both clearly wrong and JCW clarified multiple times. You two are just being difficult because of his posting history which I think was fair as far as the initial clarification but now you’re both being purposefully argumentative.

          • fdtutf
          • Andrew

            If you ask me, “Do you beat your wife?” and I answer, “The protocol is to not beat one’s wife,” I haven’t disclosed whether in fact I beat my wife or not. On the contrary, my refusal to answer directly strongly suggests that, while I recognize that one shouldn’t beat one’s wife, I do beat my wife.

            Mr. Walker has (correctly) informed me that motorists must yield to pedestrians at stop signs. He hasn’t told me whether he, himself, yields to pedestrians at stop signs, despite my having asked three times. I’ve inferred a likely answer (consistent with comments he’s made in the past) to my question that he refuses to answer.

            If his intent was to tell me directly how he acts, he is welcome to do so. I see no need to ask him directly a fourth time.

          • mckillio

            But that’s not the scenario here, his response would have started out with “of course not”.

          • fdtutf

            No. It wouldn’t.

            The answer you are inferring, if properly punctuated, reads, “Of course; that is the proper action for Yield or Give Way protocol.”

            The obvious inference from the answer as given is that Mr. Walker is being evasive; in that case, he obviously would not have started the response with “of course not.” The less obvious inference is that he punctuated the sentence incorrectly. The fact that this is a common mistake doesn’t change that.

          • jcwconsult

            I answered you very clearly —- “Of course, …..”

            James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

        • mckillio

          You’re deflecting and changing the subject as usual. You didn’t address anything I said. Try to stay on topic for once.

          • jcwconsult

            My reply was right on point. Many countries find the Give Way or Yield protocol – equivalent to rolling a stop sign when the way is clear without conflicts with any pedestrians, cyclists, or other vehicles – to be perfectly safe. It seems odd that a precise person like yourself did not “get” the connection.
            James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

          • mckillio

            No it wasn’t. It has nothing to do with the article or my comment, that’s the opposite of on point.

          • jcwconsult

            I am sorry you cannot make the connection – it is completely obvious and totally on point.
            James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

          • mckillio

            I see the connection it’s just incredibly weak and just because there is a connection does not mean you’re on topic or that you addressed my comment at all. You made the claim that it’s just as safe for a car to yield as a cyclist and that’s simply not true based on the physical world.

          • jcwconsult

            I believe the European engineers and safety professionals – and have many thousands of miles of experience in those countries. You are free to not believe them.
            James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

          • mckillio

            You’re still not addressing my statement and there’s no arguing against the physical world, it just is.

          • Sincerely

            This is news! It might be the first time you said you believe safety professionals. I’m looking forward to your future comments advocating for automated speed enforcement and condemning the outdated reliance on the 85th percentile speed.

  • Matthew Baker

    I think there is some confusion on the streets as to whether Denver has adopted SB 144. The cyclist I chatted with this morning seemed convinced that it was the law.

    As a former cyclist who now walks and takes the bus, I engage in daily encounters with cyclists breezing through red lights and stops signs like they weren’t even there. I agree that these measures make sense, but can you really trust these people to stop then proceed when they can’t even realize they have a responsibility to look out for others in the first place?

    Just last week a cyclist got up on the sidewalk on 15th when traffic got busy at the Wewatta intersection – rode through pedestrians who had just gotten off the bus, then hopped back down to wait for the light to change. He was eager to just blow through, but there were oncoming cars. I managed to catch him in time to give him and earful and wave a choice finger in his face before he smiled and rode off. Do you think that moron is going to adhere to any laws for cyclists?

    Until recently Bike Denver was promoting rides to breweries and other alcohol-fueled fun on two wheels – as if that was going to promote more safety on the streets. I think I called them out enough times that they finally stopped, but they continue to promote infrastructure improvements rather than basic safety and common sense.

    If this law eventually gets adopted in Denver, I guess I’ll have a few less cyclists to harass. But It’s still fun to get after the rest of them…

  • HealthViewX

    Good thing, this will get more people riding

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