Somerville City Council wants cops to stop cracking down on cyclists who run red lights

Local News

City councilors say traffic enforcement efforts would be better focused elsewhere, such as on motorists who text while driving.

Somerville City Council wants police to ease up enforcement of cyclists who run red lights and stop signs.

Instead, councilors say, cyclists should be allowed to cruise through the intersections as long as they yield to pedestrians and motorists who have the right of way.

Council President Ben Ewen-Campen and Councilor-at-Large Jake Wilson put forth the idea last week, according to a Boston Herald report. The councilors cited federal Department of Transportation data that shows increased cyclist safety in states that practiced the so-called “Idaho Stop.”

The League of American Bicyclists, a cyclist advocacy organization, says the “Idaho Stop” allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs. However, Massachusetts state law requires all cyclists and motorists to come to a full stop at red lights and stop signs, and individual municipalities are not able to alter that law.

The council’s recommendation comes after Somerville police received a $17,000 state grant for cyclist and pedestrian enforcement. Police issued warnings to about 200 cyclists since they got the grant in June, according to the Herald. But city councilors suggested that traffic enforcement efforts would be better focused elsewhere, like on motorists who text behind the wheel.

“What we’re talking about here is a cyclist comes to a red light and stops, sees that there are no pedestrians, that there’s no traffic or the right of way, and then proceeds through. That’s the behavior that we’re talking about,” Ewen-Campen told NBC Boston.

But opponents to the idea argue that Somerville is not a comparable environment to rural states—like Idaho—that have adopted the practice of letting cyclists coast through red lights. 

“Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state in the country, and Somerville is the most densely populated city in Massachusetts,” tweeted Jason Mackey, a former candidate in last year’s 27th Middlesex District House race. “We need policy tailored to our unique context, not generalized findings from some of the most rural areas of America like North Dakota, Utah, and Idaho.”