What should I do when facing a red light in a bicycle lane at a T-intersection? by Charley Gee

One of the benefits of being a bicycle rider in Oregon is that we are granted the same rights as motor vehicle operators under the law. That granting of privilege, however, is a two-edged sword because we are also limited to the same restrictions and responsibilities of motor vehicle operators under the law (except for those laws that have no application to bicycles).

This restriction can sometimes result in inefficiencies. For example, when a rider is in a bicycle lane and they face a red light they are required to stop behind the stop line even though, if there are no pedestrians crossing, they face no conflicting traffic. For example, here is the intersection of SW Salmon Street and Naito Parkway in downtown Portland, facing north.

Naito and Salmon

Here, a bicyclist faces no possibility of conflicting traffic if they proceeded through the intersection against a red light.

So, can a bicyclist legally proceed through the intersection while facing a red light? No. A driver, no matter their mode of travel, must stop at the clearly marked stop line when faced with a red light. ORS 811.260(7).

Sometimes, though, a bicycle rider will move from the bike lane to the sidewalk and back to the bike lane again after riding on the sidewalk through the T-intersection, as illustrated here:

Bicyclists will sometimes go from the bike lane to the sidewalk to get around red lights.

Bicyclists will sometimes go from the bike lane to the sidewalk to get around red lights.

This maneuver is legal, so far as 1.) the bicyclist is allowed to ride on the sidewalk in the area; 2.) the bicyclist does not operate in a careless manner and slows to the speed of an ordinary walk when entering the curbcut (ORS 814.410) AND 3.) the bicyclist first stops behind the stop line as required by ORS 811.260(7).

Charley Gee is a bicycle and pedestrian lawyer and advocate with Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.


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