Monthly Archives: October 2014

When Do Oregon Bicyclists Have to Use Lights?

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.


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).

Are Segways Allowed on Sidewalks?

One of the more unique sights in Downtown Portland are the Segway tour groups, of which there is not one but two different outfits: Portland by Segway and Portland Segway Nation Tours. There are also individuals who use the devices for transportation and recreation.


A Segway is not called a Segway in the law. It is called an Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Device and this covers not only the name brand Segway but also the other types of devices made by Honda and others. I will use EPAMD as short hand. To be considered an EPAMD, a device must be self balancing with two non-tandem (i.e. no front and rear wheel) wheels, designed to only transport one person in a standing position, have an electric drive, and a maximum speed of 15 MPH.

EPAMDs are vehicles under Oregon law. They are not, however, motor vehicles and this is specifically noted in the law. This is an important distinction when reading the Oregon Vehicle Code to determine which laws apply to EPAMD operators.  Even though EPAMDs are not motor vehicles, Oregon requires operators to be 16 years old or older.  An operator does not need a valid driver’s license, though.

EPAMDs, depending on where they are operated, fall under either bicycle laws or pedestrian laws, as well as a set of requirements specific to them.

If a person is operating an EPAMD on a sidewalk they are subject to the same laws as a pedestrian, but also have the same rights, like crossing at a crosswalk. However, like bicycles on sidewalks, their operators are subject to additional responsibilities beyond those of pedestrians:

• An EPAMD operator cannot operate on a sidewalk in a careless manner that endangers or would likely to endanger any person or property (remember that this includes the operator).
• When an EPAMD in operating on the sidewalk and approaching and entering a crosswalk, driveway, curb-cut, or a pedestrian ramp an operator of a EPAMD must slow to the speed of an ordinary walk.
• When passing pedestrians on a sidewalk an EPAMD operator must give an audible signal.
• An EPAMD must yield the right of way to all pedestrians on the sidewalk.

One misunderstanding of the law that I hear quite often in Portland is that the EPAMDs are not allowed to operate on sidewalks in the downtown core. This is not correct. Bicycles, scooters, and skateboards are prohibited from the sidewalks in Downtown Portland but EPAMDs are not addressed in the city code. The state does allow cities to prohibit them, but Portland has not taken the step to do so.

EPAMDs do not have all of the same rights as bicyclists when operating on the road. The biggest difference is that an EPAMD is not allowed to operate on a road with a speed limit above 35 MPH unless there is a bicycle lane (or they are crossing the road). EPAMDs are allowed to be operated in the bicycle lane, on bicycle paths, and on roads with posted speeds under 35 MPH. In such circumstances EPAMD operators are subject to the same rights and responsibilities as bicycle operators, including having the right-of-way in the bicycle lane.

EPAMDs also have specific requirements and restrictions:

• An EPAMD cannot carry more than one person.
• An EPAMD must have lighting in limited visibility conditions, including a white front light visible from 500 feet and a rear red reflector or light visible from 600 feet.
• A person cannot install a siren or whistle on an EPAMD.

Since EPAMD operators are subject to the same laws as bicycle operators when in bicycle lanes, that covers the helmet law, which requires operators under the age of 16 to wear a helmet.  However, this is moot since operators must be 16 or older to legally operate an EPAMD.

Do Portland’s new Waterfront Park signs have any legal authority?

Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park was named one of the best public spaces in the country in 2012.

With a mix of walkers, joggers, cyclists, tourists on Segways, and animals on (and off) leashes the paths can be a jumble of transportation modes and uses.

The City of Portland has recently installed signs to encourage “faster” riders to use Naito Parkway and also to ride slowly when the path is crowded.

Credit: Amanda Ulrich, IG @amandarunpdxforcongo

Credit: Amanda Ulrich, Instagram: @amandarunpdxforcongo


Credit: Amanda Ulrich, Instagram: @amandarunpdxforcongo

If a cyclist chose to ignore these signs and ride faster than conditions warrant could that person by cited?  Yes, but not for breaking the laws that you may think.

The cyclist could not be (successfully) cited under state law.  The Waterfront Path is a multi-use path.  It is not a sidewalk under the law, because it is not on the side of a highway.  It is, however, a bicycle path.  What this means is that, under state law, a bicyclist is under no traffic law obligation to yield the right of way to pedestrians or provide an audible signal, nor maintain a speed reasonable under the basic rule.  They are, however, under the same due care requirements that all people owe one another under civil negligence law.

The City of Portland, however, has the right to control traffic within parks.  Bicycles are “traffic” when on the roadway and the city code extends the control of that traffic when bicycles are being operated within a park.  The Portland Police Bureau is directly authorized to enforce the traffic control within parks and can therefore issue a citation for violating the city code.  The fine can be up to $500.

Since the signs give clear directives, not suggestions, a bicycle rider who fails to operate slowly in crowded conditions, or who operates at a speed considered “fast” without using Naito Parkway, could be issued a citation.  The signs, however, leave a lot to the subjective experience of the cyclist and a law enforcement officer over what is “fast”, “slowly”, and “crowded”.