Category Archives: Bicycle Lights

Announcing a New E-Bike Legal Guide by TCNF Bike Lawyers

TCNF’s team of bicycle trial lawyers is pleased to announce the completion of Oregon E-Bike Rights: A Legal Guide for Electric Bike Riders.  Written by Ray Thomas, Jim Coon, Cynthia Newton and Chris Thomas, the booklet contains a comprehensive discussion of laws governing the use of electric bicycles in Oregon.  Topics include riding in bike lanes, on sidewalks, in state parks and on federal land, as well as insurance coverage and advocacy efforts to improve e-bike laws.  TCNF’s bike lawyers felt the need for this booklet now due to the recent increase in popularity of electric bikes and the interesting legal space they occupy between bicycles and motor vehicles.

You can download the booklet here. Updated to 2nd Edition in November 2018.

We hope you find this guide useful and that you contact us with any questions about Oregon e-bike law.

Protecting Sidewalks and Bike Lanes from Construction – Ray Thomas

The other day I was driving along Tualatin Valley highway during afternoon rush hour. Both lanes in each direction were filled with cars. As I drove through an area where construction was occurring I saw that the crew had stopped work for the day and left a furled up construction sign on a tripod stand right in the middle of the bike lane. Whoever did it was not thinking about a commuter bicycle rider coming along and having to leave the bike lane and go into heavy traffic to avoid the sign. This sort of thing is all too frequent and is dangerous for everyone, but so are the wider effects of construction sites. Whole neighborhoods can feel the impact of construction on a single street-corner.

Construction equipment passing a damaged concrete sidewalk. Sidewalks and bike lanes are closed for construction without enough thought to the impact these closures have on non-motorized road users in Oregon.

All too often bike lanes, multi-use paths and sidewalks are closed to the public far longer than is necessary. The danger to the public increases as pedestrians and bicycle riders scramble to reconfigure themselves into the available spaces to get around the construction zone. This scramble creates deaths and injuries that are foreseeable and avoidable.

The easy fix for these hazards to citizens is to employ good traffic control practices. Most construction sites on roadways have requirements for Traffic Control Plans (TCP).  These TCPs must be filed as part of the construction permit process where the public way will be impacted by construction. All too often “traffic control” means setting up a system merely to divert motorized traffic around the construction site. Often this means closing adjacent sidewalks and bike lanes. It is important to protect the public from arbitrary and unnecessary closures of the public way including that of sidewalks and bike lanes by complaining to public officials when dangerous closures occur.  And, as in the example provided above, it is imperative for safety that construction companies train workers to remove closures from the public way as early as possible to restore the natural traffic flow and right of way.

Collecting photographs of examples of unnecessarily dangerous public way closures can help raise awareness of these issues and encourage communities to reprioritize and to recognize the importance of non-motorized traffic. In 2016, local advocacy groups The Street Trust and Oregon Walks placed direct pressure on Portland city officials by creating the hashtag #WorkZoneWTF as a way to collect the most glaring examples of closures of the public way on social media. The many examples that flooded in created a graphic collection of the unnecessary hazards created by failing to recognize the rights of non-motorized road users.

After this effort, Portland implemented a city-wide construction traffic policy change in July 2016. The City Council voted 5-0 to adopt a new resolution changing the permitting of TCPs so as to preserve the public way for vulnerable users: “We wanted to make sure the last resort was to close the sidewalk and to close the bike lane,” said Faith Winegarden, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) permitting manager. “We want to make sure every option has been explored.” Bike Portland published an article on the policy change which can be found here.

Portland has continued to make good progress in this regard, but the state of Oregon has fallen behind. As part of a biennial Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Work Zone Safety Audit for 2017, ODOT’s reviewers gave some of the lowest scores to bicycle, pedestrian and ADA accommodations like continuous routes through construction zones, signage marking these routes, and ADA compliance. According to ODOT, these low scores mean that these areas “[need] additional attention,” which led them to update their 2018 advisory materials on standard site specifications and TCP design. And there’s more work to be done. ODOT’s plans for 2018 do consider non-motorized road use in urban environments, but more attention should be paid to the needs of non-motorized road users in rural areas. Pedestrian and cyclist traffic still isn’t being afforded the same attention and protection as motorized road use at the state level.

Here are a few of the measures Portland has adopted to limit the effect of construction sites upon pedestrians and cyclists:

  • Blocking a sidewalk, bike lane, or other public use path has to be regarded with the same importance as closing a lane of motor vehicle traffic
  • When sidewalks and bike lanes are blocked due to maintenance or construction, accommodations must be provided to the maximum extent feasible.

These measures might seem like common-sense, and they might seem like the minimum we ought to expect from city policy, but these protections are by no means guaranteed outside of Portland. I hope ODOT will follow PBOT’s lead and implement similar protections statewide.

Oregon Bicycle Law in the News

Two of our contributors were recently featured in news articles about Oregon bicycle law:

Ray Thomas explained the law regarding flashing bicycle lights for The Oregonian’s Joe Rose, specifically how the Oregon statute prohibiting flashing lights on motor vehicles does not apply to bicycles.

Charley Gee was quoted in Michael Andersen‘s BikePortland.org‘s story about Uber’s illegal launch in Portland and the insurance implications of being hit by an Uber driver.  Vehicles operated by Uber drivers do not carry the levels of insurance that traditional commercial and cab companies do.

When Do Oregon Bicyclists Have to Use Lights? by Charley Gee

As the rains return to Oregon, the sun sets earlier, and we return to standard time, I see more bike lights illuminated on my rides to and from work.

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Oregon law requires that bicycle operators use lights in “limited visibility conditions.”

Excerpt from ORS 815.280 Violation of bicycle equipment requirements

(1) A person commits the offense of violation of bicycle equipment requirements if the person does any of the following:
(a) Operates on any highway a bicycle in violation of the requirements of this section.
(b) Is the parent or guardian of a minor child or ward and authorizes or knowingly permits the child or ward to operate a bicycle on any highway in violation of the requirements of this section.
(2) A bicycle is operated in violation of this section if any of the following requirements are violated:
. . .
(c) At the times described in the following, a bicycle or its rider must be equipped with lighting equipment that meets the described requirements:
(A) The lighting equipment must be used during limited visibility conditions.
(B) The lighting equipment must show a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of a bicycle.
(C) The lighting equipment must have a red reflector or lighting device or material of such size or characteristic and so mounted as to be visible from all distances up to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlights on a motor vehicle.

There are several key definitions to know in order to fully understand this law.

“Highway” is a term used in Oregon’s Rules of the Road that leads to a lot of confusion. Surprisingly to some people, a highway as defined in the law doesn’t just mean those roads designated as highways but “every public way, road, street, thoroughfare, and place” that are “used or intended for the use of the general public for vehicles or vehicular traffic as a matter of right.” ORS 801.305. This extends to the sidewalk, which is defined as “a portion of the highway”. ORS 801.485. What this means is that a bicycle operator is required to use lights even while operating on the sidewalk or any other area open to the public, like parking lots.

“A bicycle or its operator must be equipped” means that a person who clips a light to their messenger bag or helmet is in as much compliance with the law as someone with a light or reflector attached to their bicycle.

Another part of this law that is tricky is that “limited visibility conditions” does not just include nighttime. The law defines it as anytime from sunset to sunrise, which is obvious, but also any other time that “due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions” you are not able to discern other persons and vehicles at a distance of 1,000 feet. 1,000 feet is a long distance. For instance, in downtown Portland, 1,000 feet is five city blocks. So, the law requires the use of lights if the darkness, rain, fog, mist, or snow makes it difficult to see.

Bicycles sold are usually equipped with only reflectors, not lights. Oregon law requires a front white light in limited visibility conditions. A front clear reflector will not suffice to satisfy the equipment requirement. A rear red reflector, or rear red reflective material, will, so long as it can be seen from 600 feet to the rear (3 downtown Portland city blocks).

Charley Gee is an attorney in Portland, Oregon.