Category Archives: Bicycle Law

What is the legal significance of “crossbikes” on neighborhood greenways? – Chris Thomas

Portland’s inner eastside contains an extensive network of neighborhood greenways: low traffic side streets that encourage bike traffic by including sharrow pavement markings, bike-specific wayfinding signs, speed bumps, diverters, and fewer stop signs.  Examples include NE Going, NE Tillamook, SE Clinton and SE Lincoln.  While greenway riding is typically a low key alternative to riding in a bike lane or on the shoulder of high-volume, auto-oriented streets, the crossing of higher speed arterials that cross the greenway can be stressful.  At most greenway crossings of arterials, bicyclists face a stop sign and cross traffic flows freely.  In an effort to improve arterial crossings, the City has painted green “crossbikes” across the intersection and installed signs warning arterial drivers of the greenway crossing.  The NE Tillamook greenway crossing of NE 15th Avenue is shown here:

The NE Tillamook greenway crossing NE 15th Avenue, featuring green "crossbike" markings on the asphalt to let drivers know bikers will be crossing the road.

What, if any, legal authority do these green “crossbikes” confer on greenway bike users?  The short answer: none.  Despite the similarity in appearance and name to “crosswalk”, a crossbike does not entitle a bicyclist to any of the legal rights enjoyed by a crosswalk user.

Crossbikes do not fall under the legal definition of a crosswalk.  A marked crosswalk is defined under ORS 801.220 as “any portion of a roadway at an intersection or elsewhere that is distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface of the roadway.”  While crossbikes do constitute roadway markings at an intersection, their location in the roadway demonstrates that they are not intended for “pedestrian crossing.”  Therefore, crossbikes are not crosswalks, and crossbike users are not entitled to any of the legal rights of crosswalk users.  In fact, crossbikes fail to fall within any statutory definition under Oregon law, making them legally meaningless.

Despite their lack of legal meaning, drivers and bicyclists often treat crossbikes as if they were—as their name suggests—crosswalks for bikes.  Under Oregon’s crosswalk law, ORS 811.028, once a pedestrian begins crossing in a crosswalk, approaching drivers must stop and remain stopped until the pedestrian has cleared.  Pedestrians can assert this right of way by moving into the roadway with the intent to proceed.  Therefore, pedestrians using the white zebra-striped crosswalks in the above photo have the legal right to cause cross traffic to stop simply by stepping into the roadway.

In contrast, bicycle users of the green zebra-striped crossbikes in the above photo have no right to cause cross traffic to stop.  Instead, pursuant to ORS 811.260(15), the stop sign they face requires them to stop and yield to cross traffic.  However, the similar appearance of the two types of markings, together with the yellow signs indicating bicycle and pedestrian crossing, strongly suggests that arterial traffic must yield to all greenway users.  Indeed, the behavior of many arterial drivers and greenway bicyclists demonstrates that, despite the underlying legal rights, crossbikes largely function as crosswalks for practical purposes.

Is there any harm in this inconsistency between the practical use of infrastructure and the underlying legal authority?  In many cases, perhaps not.  While installing crossbikes didn’t cost the City much (the green paint and signs were presumably relatively inexpensive) and the legal ambiguity may help bicyclists cross arterials more efficiently, there may be higher costs.  For example, what if a bicyclist mistakenly assumes that an approaching vehicle is slowing, and rolls past the stop sign into the crossbike?  Under Oregon law, the driver would clearly have the right of way, and the result could be a seriously injured bicyclist with no legal recourse because the cyclist was not entitled to the right of way.

Is a bicyclist allowed to ride on the sidewalk when there is a bicycle lane on the same street?

Yes, in Oregon, a person can ride a bicycle on a sidewalk even if the street they are riding along has a bicycle lane.

Oregon is a mandatory sidepath law state, which means that the law requires a bicycle operator to use a bicycle lane if one is present instead of riding in the mixed traffic lane.  ORS 814.420 Failure to use bicycle lane or path prohibits a person from “operat[ing] a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.”

However, the law only restricts bicycle operators from operating on the roadway when there is a bicycle lane and the sidewalk, while part of the highway, is not part of the roadway.  The roadway is “the portion of a highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the shoulder.”

Charley Gee is an attorney at Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost where he represents injured bicyclists and pedestrians.

Do Bicyclists have the Right of Way in the Bicycle Lane over Drivers Wishing to Turn?

I have had several readers and non-readers ask me to explain the right of way bicyclists have while riding in a bicycle lane over a car driver wanting to turn over and across the bicycle lane.

A bicyclist has the right of way in a bicycle lane and a turning motorist is required to yield to the bicyclist before making their turn, even if the motorist arrives at the intersection first and is displaying a turn indicator.

ORS 811.050 Failure to yield to rider on bicycle lane requires a person operating a motor vehicle to yield to a bicyclist that is operating in a bicycle lane.  There are no exceptions contained in the law that would give a motor vehicle operator the right of way over a bicyclist.

Violating the right of way does not require contact with another roadway user.  It means that one vehicle fails to yield “to the right of one vehicle or pedestrian to proceed in a lawful manner in preference to another vehicle or pedestrian approaching under such circumstances of direction, speed, and proximity as to give rise to danger of collision unless one grants precedence to the other.” ORS 801.440 Right of way. This means that if a motor vehicle makes a maneuver that causes a bicyclist operating in the bicycle lane to have to slow, stop, or make an avoidance maneuver, the right of way has not been yielded, and Oregon law was violated.

Charley Gee is a personal injury attorney in Portland, Oregon, at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

What does “Impeding Traffic” mean?

Earlier this year Salem cyclist David Fox had an encounter with an irate motorist on State Street, a three lane one way street that runs by Oregon’s State Capitol. Despite riding to the right on the street, the motorist became angry at him and told David “if I was impeding traffic, then I had to pull to the side. But I told him he had plenty of room to go around. The last thing he said was: ‘I hope you are killed by a car.’” David’s encounter led him to erect his own signs along State Street to educate road users about the law. He removed the signs shortly after putting them up.

Two of Oregon’s Rules of the Road that bicyclists are frequently cited for violating, ORS 814.430 Improper use of lanes and ORS 811.130 Impeding traffic, include references to “impeding traffic.” The term “impeding traffic” is not defined anywhere in the statutory vehicle code, and the definition of the term is not as simple as a lot of motor vehicle driver’s believe it is, including the driver that threatened David.

In 2005 the Oregon Court of Appeals defined what impeding traffic meant in State v. Tiffin, 202 Or App 199 (2005). In the case the defendant, Jacob Tiffin, was followed by two police officers on a two lane road in Josephine County with a posted speed limit of 40MPH. Tiffin was driving between 28 and 30 miles per hour. Despite there being several turnouts on the road, Tiffin continued driving with the police officers following him until he was eventually pulled over for violating ORS 811.130 Impeding traffic for driving under the speed limit. Tiffin was charged and convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants. Tiffin appealed his conviction on the grounds that the police officers lacked probable cause to believe he had violated ORS 811.130 Impeding traffic because the officers could have safely and reasonably passed him but chose not to.

The court agreed with Tiffin and in doing so defined what it means to impede (or, rather, not impede) traffic: “here the officers were forced to slow down for only a fraction of a mile before they had the opportunity to pass defendant… [and] where the speed (of Tiffin) was not significantly below the speed limit, there were no other cars on the road, and if the officer’s vehicle was blocked at all, it was for a very short distance, if cannot be said that [Tiffin] violated ORS 811.130 by blocking or impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.” The officers in Tiffin “were therefore not impeded or blocked – they could have safely and lawfully passed him but chose not to…there is no evidence that, before the officers decided to remain behind his vehicle and follow him, that he impeded ‘reasonable and normal’ traffic movement.”

How this case translates into Oregon bicycle law is that if a car driver behind a cyclist has the ability to safely and reasonably pass the bicyclist moving more slowly, the car driver is not “impeded”, even if they have to wait a fraction of a mile to do so. The driver who threatened David had ample ability to pass him by moving over into any of the other unoccupied lanes of State Street, but chose not to do so.

Charley Gee is a personal injury attorney in Portland, Oregon.  He focuses his practice on representing injured bicyclists and pedestrians at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

Do bicyclists have to yield to buses in Oregon?

In some circumstances bicyclists, and all other vehicle operators, are required to yield the right of way to transit buses in Oregon.

ORS 811.167 Failure to yield right of way to transit bus requires that vehicle operators approaching a transit bus from the rear are required to yield the right of way to the bus if the bus is trying to re-enter traffic after stopping to drop off or pick up passengers AND the bus has a illuminated, flashing yield sign displayed.

Here, a Trimet bus has its yield sign illuminated but motor vehicle traffic is failing to yield, causing the bus to block the bicycle lane.

In the picture above you can see that that Trimet bus’s yield sign (circled in red) is illuminated but the motor vehicle traffic has failed to yield, causing the bus to block the bicycle lane and prevent the bus behind it from getting to its stop.

ORS 811.167 Failure to yield right of way to transit bus

(1)A person commits the offense of failure to yield the right of way to a transit bus entering traffic if the person does not yield the right of way to a transit bus when:

     (a) A yield sign as described in subsection (2) of this section is displayed on the back of the transit bus;

     (b)The person is operating a vehicle that is overtaking the transit bus from the rear of the transit bus; and

     (c)The transit bus, after stopping to receive or discharge passengers, is signaling an intention to enter the traffic lane occupied by the person.

(2)The yield sign referred to in subsection (1)(a) of this section shall warn a person operating a motor vehicle approaching the rear of a transit bus that the person must yield when the transit bus is entering traffic. The yield sign shall be illuminated by a flashing light when the bus is signaling an intention to enter a traffic lane after stopping to receive or discharge passengers. The Oregon Transportation Commission shall adopt by rule the message on the yield sign, specifications for the size, shape, color, lettering and illumination of the sign and specifications for the placement of the sign on a transit bus.

(3)This section does not relieve a driver of a transit bus from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the roadway.

(4)As used in this section, transit bus means a commercial bus operated by a city or a county, a mass transit district established under ORS 267.010 to ORS 267.390 or a transportation district established under ORS 267.510 to 267.650.

(5)The offense described in this section, failure to yield the right of way to a transit bus entering traffic, is a Class D traffic violation. [1997 c.509 §2; 2013 c.202 §1]

Charley Gee is an attorney at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

Who has the right-of-way at a four-way stop in Oregon?

Everyone has seen the infamous Portlandia skit.

Despite what you may have learned in driver’s education about four way stops in Oregon, the person who stopped first or the person to your right does not have the legal right-of-way. Neither does the person going straight have right-of-way over the person turning left if they are not already in the intersection. The only person who has the right-of-way at a four way stop in Oregon is the vehicle operator who is already in the intersection.

ORS 811.260(15) Appropriate driver responses to traffic control devices contains the controlling law for a vehicle operator facing a stop sign.

(15) Stop signs. A driver approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is no marked crosswalk, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. After stopping, the driver shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when the driver is moving across or within the intersection.

There is no right-of-way for the vehicle approaching from a vehicle operator’s right at a controlled intersection like that found in ORS 811.275 Failure to yield the right of way at uncontrolled intersection for uncontrolled intersections (a topic for another day).

The Oregon Driver Manual says

At any intersection with stop signs in all four directions, it is common courtesy to allow the driver who stops first to go first. If in doubt yield to the driver on your right. To avoid the risk of a crash, never insist on the right of way.

2014-2015 Oregon Driver Manual, page 44.  Emphasis added.

So the next time someone waves you through you can proceed knowing you are not snatching the right-of-way from them. Once you cross your vehicle over that stop line and into the intersection that right-of-way is legally yours.

Charley Gee is an Oregon bicycle law attorney.  He practices at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton in Portland, Oregon.

Does a bicyclist have to stop for railroad crossing signals in Oregon?

Yes, all vehicles have to stop and remain stopped when a railroad signal is displayed or a train is approaching and is close enough to be an immediate hazard.

In Oregon a vehicle (which includes a bicycle whether operated on the street or the sidewalk) must stop for a railroad signal or when a train is approaching and is close enough to be an immediate hazard, even if there are no railroad crossing signals.

 

Railroad crossing along Portland's new Orange Line

Railroad crossing along Portland’s new Orange Line

ORS 811.455 requires vehicle operators to stop at a stop line or, if there is no stop line, not less than 15 feet from a rail line when:

  • A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal is warning of the approach of a train.
  • When a crossing gate is lowered.
  • When a signal is given by a flagger or police officer that a train is approaching.
  • When an approaching train is clearly visible and is so close as to be an immediate hazard.
  • When an audible signal is given by a train because its speed or nearness to the crossing is an immediate hazard.

A vehicle operator must stop and remain stopped for a train until it is safe to proceed across the tracks.  This means that a vehicle operator is not required to wait until the signal ends, only until the train has passed and it is safe to proceed: “A driver who has stopped for the passing of a train at a railroad grade crossing in accordance with the provisions of this section shall not proceed across the railroad tracks until the driver can do so safely.”  ORS 811.455(1)(b).

Railroad crossing gate lowered.

Railroad crossing gate lowered.

When the crossing has crossing gates, though, a vehicle operator must wait until the crossing gate is fully opened before proceeding though, even is there is no train approaching or the train has already cleared the crossing: “A person shall not drive any vehicle through, around or under a crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing while the gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed.” ORS 811.455(1)(b).

Charley Gee is an Oregon bicycle lawyer with Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

Is it legal to pass on the right on a bicycle in Oregon? by Ray Thomas

Oregon law did not specifically authorize passing on the right until 2006, when the law was clarified to follow the great majority of other states and the Uniform Vehicle Code in specifically allowing bicycles to pass other vehicles on the right when it can be performed safely.

Passing 1

In Oregon bicycles and motor vehicles share the same traffic lane and the fluid movement of traffic is in everyone’s best interest when performed in a safe manner. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) Legislative Committee persuaded the 2005 Oregon Legislature to change the law so that passing on the right would be allowed “if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions” ORS 811.415(2)(c).

Of course, bicycles are entitled to pass cars just like any other vehicle on streets without a bicycle lane.

The 2006 law allows safe passing on the right which helps to make the flow of traffic more smooth, and keeps riders from being stuck while stopped in a line of exhaust spewing motor vehicles.

Oregon law allowing bicycles to pass on the right is not unusual. The Uniform Vehicle Code Section 11-304(b) is a typical treatment of the issue: “The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.” (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances 2000). Oregon merely joined the great majority of other states that allowed the maneuver with the law change of 2006.

The bicycle is a legal hybrid in Oregon traffic law. It is a vehicle but also is allowed to share the same lane with motor vehicles. A bicycle’s narrow width of track allows the rider to fully utilize the standard width traffic lane and improve the roadway’s capacity to move traffic. The Oregon law supports common sense and smooth traffic flow in allowing safe passing on the right.

Ray Thomas is an Oregon bicycle lawyer with Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

Does Oregon have a Dead Red Law?

No.  Oregon does not have a “dead red” law.

A dead red law is a law that provides an exception to the violation of Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device when the light does not detect a vehicle (like a bicycle) and the light fails to cycle through to allow a roadway user to proceed.  This can result in a person being stuck at a light without any option for lawfully passing through the intersection.

IMG_0670

ORS 811.260 Appropriate driver responses to traffic control devices is the Oregon statute that governs how roadway users are to treat traffic signals.

ORS 811.260(7) Steady circular red signal.

A driver facing a steady circular red signal light alone shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is is no marked crosswalk, then before entering the intersection.  The driver shall remain stopped until a green light is shown except when the driver is permitted to make a turn under ORS 811.360 (When vehicle turn permitted at stop light).  Emphasis added.

Oregon law does not allow any exception to the red light law for traffic signals that fail to turn green.

This can create a problem for cyclists whose bicycles are not big enough to activate the in-ground hoops that detect vehicles at intersections.

Recent legislation introduced in the Oregon House of Representatives (HB 2820) and Senate (SB 533) would create an exception, but only for motorcyclists.

The bills would allow a motorcyclist who has stopped and waited through one full light cycle without being detected to proceed though the intersection against the red light.

But for now the law remains clear: no vehicle operator can lawfully pass through a red light, even if the light fails to detect the vehicle.

Charley Gee is an Oregon bicycle attorney.  He practices in Portland with Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.