Bicyclists can treat a stop sign as a yield sign and roll through the intersection during light traffic, under a new Washington state law that takes effect Thursday.

The change in law allows riders to stay on the seat, conserve some momentum and maybe help overall traffic flow.

“It’s a really intuitive maneuver. I’ve seen people do it. That’s why the law has been passed in recent years in a few different states,” said Vicky Clarke, policy director for Washington Bikes.

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Idaho, Delaware, Arkansas and Oregon previously legalized these rolling stops. Washington’s law was co-sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle.

Washington Bikes considers it a safety improvement that can reduce crashes at a four-way stop or on a bike lane.

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“In that situation, you’re on the righthand side of a lane, or the shoulder. You’re in a blind spot of a vehicle, and you’re in danger,” Clarke said. The new law will help bicycle riders clear through intersections and put more separation between themselves and cars, she said.

Bicyclists must still stop at railroad crossings and for school buses, where stop signs are displayed.

“It is the bicyclist’s responsibility to yield if a vehicle is in the intersection or fast
approaching the intersection, and this bill will not change that responsibility,” a legislative staff report said.

The law regarding traffic lights remains the same. Bicyclists must fully stop and wait for a green light. But if a signal completes a full cycle without giving the bike a green light, a rider may proceed on red.

The bill passed with large bipartisan majorities; no one testified against it during hearings in Olympia earlier this year, according to legislative records.

Police have sometimes ticketed cyclists for rolling through stop signs, but Clarke said clear data doesn’t exist to show how frequently that occurred. Half of bike-involved crashes are at intersections, she said.

In many situations, a bicyclist’s maneuvers won’t change, she said. Riders will still need to stop for other users where traffic is tricky, for instance at the five-spoked junction where Ravenna Boulevard Northeast meets East Green Lake Way North.

Washington is perennially ranked the No. 1 bike-friendly state, but progress on safety and ridership stalled last year, according to the League of American Bicyclists. About 1% of state residents commute on bicycles, the group says. Surveys show commute rates of 3% to 4% in Seattle, and nearly 30% of city residents bike a few times per month.