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DC Council passes bill banning right turns on red lights with concessions

If signed into law, the bill would take effect in two years.

WASHINGTON — The DC Council passed a controversial bill Tuesday that would ban right turns on red lights, but council members advocating for the bill made some concessions on language. 

The measure allows cyclists to use the so-called Idaho Stop, named after a 1982 law, which allows riders to slowly roll through a stop sign, yielding to traffic and pedestrians. But the bill rolled back language that would have allowed cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs. 

Despite the concession, not everyone is convinced.  

Bicycle advocates long argued the “Idaho Stop” makes them safer on the streets. By allowing riders to slowly roll through stop signs proponents, they argue the move lets riders get ahead of traffic, be more visible and maintain momentum. 

For that to happen safely, they contend, cars cannot turn on red lights. And with a 12-1 vote on the Safer Streets Amendment Act, that all but secured the future for drivers in D.C.  

Before the roll call, bill sponsor Mary Cheh highlighted a change in the proposed law. Responding to concerns from her fellow councilmembers, Cheh said the final bill now requires riders to come to a complete stop at red lights.  

“We did narrow the language of the bill as introduced which would have allowed cyclists to treat red lights like stop signs,” Cheh said. "That has been removed.”

Still, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White voted against the measure. White expressed concerns about the red light ban’s impact on traffic congestion and the safety and efficacy of the rolling stops.

“It’s already the law in nine other states and data shows road conditions became safer,” Cheh responded. 

When pressed for more data, Councilmember Cheh continued to point to one statistic out of Delaware. WUSA9 looked up the numbers and sources of the data ourselves to verify. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the advocacy group Bike Delaware both cite crashes as dropping 23% in 30 months after the bill became Delaware law in 2017.

In D.C., the bill still has a few steps before it becomes law. It will go before the Council for a second vote and then move on to mayoral review.  However, the measure gives the District Department of Transportation two years to develop and market the plan, analyze and make exceptions to the no right on red, and implement other safety measures like raised crosswalks and intersections.

“This legislation is a significant expansion of our toolbox to end traffic injuries and deaths here in the District,” said Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. "It also says declaratively that those who walk or roll here deserve to do so with comfort and dignity.”

RELATED: Proposed right on red ban lacks data to support crash claims

RELATED: ‘It only gets tougher’ | DC cyclists demand safer streets

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