Do bicyclists have the right of way on narrow streets?

Narrow residential streets with parking often present scenarios like the one in the photo below and have prompted residents to try novel solutions in an effort to make traffic flow safe and efficient.

Narrow Street

At the bicycle legal clinics I present, I have been asked about how the right of way works on streets that are too narrow to allow two vehicles to proceed at the same time, even if one is a bicycle. There is a mistaken presumption by some roadway users that a vehicle traveling uphill has the right of way, or that a bicycle has a universal right of way over other vehicles.

ORS 811.295 Failure to drive on right requires all vehicles to travel on the right half of the roadway so long as it is sufficiently wide enough to do so. If an obstruction or condition, like parked cars, makes it necessary for a vehicle to drive to the left of the center of the roadway (see the taxi in the photo above) the operator of the vehicle driving to the left must yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the roadway within a distance that would constitute an immediate hazard.

ORS 811.300 Failure to drive on right of approaching vehicle requires that each vehicle operator driving on a roadway give approaching vehicles at least one-half of the main traveled portion of the roadway as nearly as possible.

In the photo above, the taxi immediately moved to the right after going between the parked cars, in compliance with the law.

So, if two vehicles are approaching one another and vehicle 1 needs to move to the left of the center of the roadway or needs to deprive vehicle 2 of their half of the roadway, it is the duty of the vehicle 1 to yield to vehicle 2. If vehicle 1 and vehicle 2 are approaching a narrow section where both will need to move to the left of the center of the roadway or deprive an oncoming vehicle of their half of the roadway the law is silent and no right of way for one vehicle exists over the other.

Charley Gee is a personal injury attorney at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton where he represents injured bicyclists and pedestrians.



Charley Gee