Category Archives: crosswalks

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.

Conflicting Crossing Signals

I have been asked by some attendees of our bicycle legal clinics about the legal operation of the crossings along the new Orange Line MAX in Portland, specifically the crossings at SE 12th Avenue and SE 8th Avenue where there are both pedestrian crossing signals and bicycle signals.

At these crossings, if nobody triggers the pedestrian crossing signal by pressing the button then bicyclists get a green bicycle signal but the pedestrian crossing signal remains a red “do not cross” hand.

The crossing at SE 8th Ave showing a green bicycle signal but a red hand pedestrian signal.

The crossing at SE 8th Ave showing a green bicycle signal but a red hand pedestrian signal.

ORS 814.410(2) Unsafe operation of bicycle on a sidewalk gives bicyclists operating on the sidewalk the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians.

ORS 814.400 Application of vehicle laws to bicycles gives bicyclists operating on a “public way” (not even on the roadway) the same rights and responsibilities of a any other vehicle operator under the vehicle code.

ORS 814.010(6)(b) Appropriate responses to traffic control devices requires that “[a] pedestrian shall not start to cross the roadway in the direction of a signal showing a Wait or Don’t Walk or any other symbol… indicating that the pedestrian may not proceed.”  

However, ORS 811.260(3) Appropriate responses to traffic control devices allows “[a] bicyclist facing a green bicycle signal may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at that place prohibits either turn.”  

So, in the situation described and shown in the photo above, we are left with contradictory signals due to a bicycle’s hybrid legal status as a vehicle beholden to both the vehicle code and pedestrian laws.

ORS 814.020 Failure to obey traffic control device contains an exception for when a pedestrian disobeys a signal at the direction of a police officer, but there is no exception for the direction of a conflicting traffic control device.

Unfortunately this problem does not have an easy legal answer.  The laws are in conflict with one another.  The only solution is a practical one: press the button to trigger both the green bicycle light and the pedestrian crossing signal.

Do bicyclists have to walk their bikes in crosswalks?

I encounter this question a lot in the bicycle law clinics I teach.

The short answer is: No.  There is no statewide legal requirement to walk a bicycle in a crosswalk.

There are, however, a couple of laws to keep in mind when riding up to or in a crosswalk.

First, when a bicyclist in Oregon is riding on a sidewalk and is approaching or entering a crosswalk (and also a driveway, a curb cut, or a pedestrian ramp) and a motor vehicle is approaching, the bicyclist must slow to the speed of an “ordinary walk” while approaching and entering. ORS 814.410(1)(d) Unsafe operation of bicycle on sidewalk.

Second, a bicyclist is entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian while in a crosswalk.  ORS 814.410(2).  What this means is that the requirement that a motor vehicle stop at a crosswalk when a pedestrian is crossing the roadway also applies to bicyclists.  ORS 811.028 Failure to stop and remain stopped for pedestrian.  Oregon law even requires cars to stop when any part of a person’s bicycle moves onto the roadway in a crosswalk with the intent to proceed across.  ORS 811.028(4).  A bicyclist can’t leave the sidewalk into the path of a car, though, if the car is so close it constitutes an immediate hazard (like it wouldn’t be able to stop safely), even if the bicyclist is entering a crosswalk.  ORS 814.410(1)(a).

Third, a bicyclist must always keep in mind that while riding on the sidewalk and in crosswalks is legal under state law, cities have the right to make it illegal under their city ordinances, so it is important to know the laws of the cities you ride in.