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BTA, Police Bureau launch latest incarnation of bike light education program

Posted by on September 25th, 2008 at 12:32 pm

riding along with Officer Hoesly
A Portland police officer gives
out a free set of bike lights
back in August 2006.
(Photos © J. Maus)

As part of their ongoing Eye to Eye campaign, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and the Traffic Division of the Portland Police Bureau have partnered up on an effort to increase awareness of using bike lights and being more visible while riding. Their efforts build on a history of bike light advocacy here in Portland that started over three years ago.

According to a press release issued this morning, the BTA will kick off the project tomorrow with an event at the “Seven Corners” intersection (SE Division, SE Ladd, and SE 20th). They’ll be serving “mocktails” (non-alcoholic beverages) and giving cyclists information about lights and visibility.

That event will be followed by a series of “targeted bike light education and enforcement actions” by the Police Bureau. The actions are slated to begin next week and the plan is for police officers to educate non-lit cyclists about light laws, pass out safety information, and install free lights (thanks to an ODOT grant) when necessary.

Get a light!

After the freebies and warnings, the police will start ticketing riders for violating Oregon’s bike light law.

In case you’re wondering how to avoid a $90 ticket. Here’s what ORS 815.280 says about bike lights:

“a bicycle or its rider must be equipped with lighting equipment…during limited visibility conditions… (that) must show a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle… (and) a red reflector or lighting device… visible from all distances up to 600 feet to the rear…”

Giving away free bike lights to visibility-challenged cyclists has a long and proud tradition in Portland.

Jeff Bernards
(Photo: Dat Nguyen)

In the summer of 2005, with support from Shift and grants from the Community Cycling Center and ODOT, local citizen activist Jeff Bernards launched “Get Lit!”. Bernards would set up at random locations and pass out free sets of lights to anyone in need. Bernards’ dedication garnered him an Alice B. Toeclips award and he eventually passed the torch to the Community Cycling Center (who still runs the program to this day).

Bernards’ Get Lit! concept has inspired similar programs in other cities including Missoula, Montana and Sacramento, California.

It’s been over three years since the first time the Portland Police Bureau handed out free bike lights. That program was hailed as a success and even resulted in then Traffic Division Commander Bill Sinnott getting national airtime on CBS News.

Sinnott retired in March 2006 and the Traffic Division discontinued the free bike light program in November of 2006. At that time, soon-to-be Commander Mark Kruger told me:

“We think cyclists have had an exceptional opportunity to learn compliance with this law and after we run out of lights it will again be their own responsibility to have the required equipment.”

Kruger is no longer at the Traffic Division and it’s great to see Captain Larry O’Dea bring back this program.

[Update: I failed to mention initially that the Police Bureau’s enforcement of bike lights made the news back in June when Portlander Phil Sano was involved in a Tasering incident with two officers. The officer that initially approached Sano did so because he did not have a light on his bike. For more on that story see my previous coverage.]

    Bike Light Education Project Kickoff Event
    “Mocktails at Seven Corners”
    Friday, September 26, 4:30-6:00 pm
    Intersection of SE Division, SE Ladd, and SE 20th

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

  • bahueh September 25, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    will they also be tackling those of us off our moving bikes who get caught at night without them?

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  • K'Tesh September 25, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Good to see this campaign is on again…

    So, can we bring this out to Beaverton? I’ve got a couple of spots that we could get a lot of people lit in just a short time.

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  • bjorn September 25, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    #1, I believe the idea is to taser the cyclist until they glow, then the light is not needed.

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  • Erica September 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    This is GREAT news! I have noticed recently, with the weather changing and especially getting dark earlier, how people ride bikes without lights. I find this incredibly frustrating and dangerous. As someone who rides a bike frequently, I find it irresponsible that people don’t light themselves up- for their own sake as well as that of other bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Honestly, a set of lights isn’t that expensive and now that they’ll be available for free I sure hope that those without will stop by and stock up!

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  • matt picio September 25, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I think it’s great that the police are resurrecting this program. I also applaud any initiative that gets cops on the street to interact with the public 1 on 1 in a situation where they’re not automatically viewing the person as a potential suspect. We’re all people, and I think a lot of that gets lost when the average joe views any cop as a faceless representative of arbitrary authority and the average cop has been trained to view any joe as a potential suspect.

    We’re all people, by virtue of that fact we each deserve a certain level of common courtesy – and I think that events like this help that.

    Plus, any program that gets unlit cyclists lit is a good thing in my book.

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  • Martha R September 25, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Perfect timing — I’ve noticed a number of unlit cyclists on my commutes home, and this is the best way to help new bike commuters figure out how to keep on bike commuting through the fall and winter.

    I bet that if you figured in the cost of processing tickets vs. the cost of providing lights, the numbers would show that distributing free bike lights changes more peoples’ behavior and ensures that more bikes are lit for far less money than handing out tickets. Plus, everyone ends up winning — cyclists get a light and are educated about their responsibilities and police improve their public relations by being helpful.

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  • canuck September 25, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    I’m not sure why there is such an anti-police vibe here?

    I know about the critical mass tackle in New York City, how does that apply to the local police?

    I’m sure there’s a story out there about a tasering of a cyclist that occurred before I arrived in Portland. I’m hoping this is an isolated occurrence. Are the police tasering cyclist on a daily basis out here?

    So far I’ve seen an article written by a local police office on this blog and this article on some pretty darned good community involvement.

    That’s so much more positive interaction between the police and the cycling public than you’ll see in most cities in this country.

    This is a positive thing and yet it is immediately pounced on by the commentators as a time to denigrate the police.

    I must be missing something.

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  • Fredlf September 25, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    The other commenters are cracking wise about the Phil Sano incident, I believe. I don’t think there’s a serious anti-cop vibe, just some gentle prodding. (I hope). Anyway, I’m glad to see this because it’s helped me to remember my front light, which I always forget this time of year when I’m unused to the shorter days.

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  • Arem September 25, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Gotta say it:

    “Don’t tase me, bro!” I’ve got lights!

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  • Michelle (BTA) September 25, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Starting a similar program with the Beaverton police is a great idea.

    We’d like to take this idea to police departments beyond Portland if it works well this month. All that’s required is securing funds for the lights and some willing volunteers and some willing police officers.

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  • Kathleen McDade September 25, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I actually really need lights — but they don’t say where they’ll be giving them out?

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  • bahueh September 25, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Fredf…not a seriously bad vibe..just find it ironic that some cops are handing out lights and educating, while others are yelling, tackling, and tazing…I would assume more uniform behavior from the men and women in blue..

    that’s all…

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  • bahueh September 25, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    canuck..you’re missing something.

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  • Jessica Roberts September 25, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    I can’t believe how many cyclists are lacking any lights at all, and research shows that lack of lights at night is a major cause of crashes. I think this is a great program – it gets at a true safety problem in a way that is results-oriented and not just punitive. Hope it goes well.

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  • jack September 25, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    hey canuck, check out this link to get some feel of what your missing.


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  • Stripes September 25, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    This is awesome!

    When I first moved to Portland, i blindly bicycled around without any lights for about four montsh.

    I just had no clue. It never occured to me that cars couldn’t see me one little bit. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there you go.

    Then, I saw the light. Literally!

    Now, I never go anywhere without packing my bike lights in my bag.

    It’s scary being a car driver, and almost running down a bicyclist, because you cannot see them. And it’s scary being a bicyclist, and almost crashing with another bicyclist, because they have no lights.

    Get lit, peoples!

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  • sabernar September 25, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    So a red rear reflector is sufficient (assuming you have a front light, too)?

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  • BURR September 25, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    spare us the effluvious gushing, plz

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  • BIke Messenger September 25, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    I rode in four different cities (Philly, Seattle, New York, and Portland) I have never had a problem with the cops in regards to lights until i moved here. Thanks Bike Portland.

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  • sabernar September 25, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    #18 – effluvious isn’t a word. ‘effluvial’ maybe? Even that word doesn’t fit well.

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  • jim September 25, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    If the cars would just drive with their highbeams on then bikes wouldn’t really need a light

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  • wsbob September 26, 2008 at 12:05 am

    “When I first moved to Portland, i blindly bicycled around without any lights for about four montsh.

    I just had no clue. It never occured to me that cars couldn’t see me one little bit. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there you go.” Stripes

    It’s not just cars that can’t see people on bikes without lights…it’s people on bikes and people walking too. Some people riding bikes run their lights in the daylight as well, just as motorcycles are required by law to do so. Lights running during the day help bikes to be a lot more visible.

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  • canuck September 26, 2008 at 7:28 am

    Jack #15,

    Not sure how a seven year old blog relates to the current situation.

    To be truthful, I’m not a fan of Critical Mass.

    bahueh #12,

    Could you point out what I am missing?

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  • El Biciclero September 26, 2008 at 9:22 am

    canuck: I believe others are referring to the story linked to in Jonathan’s update to this story. Over the Summer, a man riding in Portland without a light was asked to stop, then tackled off his bike and subsequently TASERed due to alleged non-compliance with police instructions.

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  • Steven J September 26, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Riding at night without a light Especially to the rear is just stupid.

    I’m all for increased enforcement.
    In fact I’d like to see it upped to “daylight visible” tail lights too.

    Cars have the Luxury of being as big as a whale to get noticed.

    Moaning about being ignored on the road while doing nothing to be seen is like buying a condo next to the railroad tracks and complaining about the noise.

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  • bArbaroo September 26, 2008 at 10:18 am

    I want to chime in with thanks to the BTA for helping facilitate the light give-away as part of their Eye-to-Eye campaign. I’m very excited about how the Eye-to-Eye campaign is starting to get traction. Through it they’ve developed a simple message and taken simple actions, and that combo seems to be working well. Keep up the good work. Thanks BTA, and thanks to all involved.

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  • Stripes September 26, 2008 at 10:49 am

    One great way to rig up your front lights –

    * have one front bike light on your handlebars

    * have a second front bike light, strapped to your bike helmet.

    then, when you turn your head, the light points directly where you are looking.

    i have had far more safe encounters at intersections at night with car drivers, after putting a light on my helmet too.

    and as we hear all the time, the majority of crashes happen…. at intersections.

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  • Peter September 26, 2008 at 11:33 am

    The article says the police distribute the lights until they run out. Does their budget only cover so many lights? I read on another forum from a Danish poster, that the police give you a ‘free’ set of lights when they ticket you for not having any. If it’s a budget issue, why not do that here? You could even lower the fine amount (someone said it’s $90?)…$50 would buy a decent pair of lights.

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  • Bent Bloke September 26, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I almost had a head-on with a car during yesterday morning’s commute because the car didn’t have any lights on and it was still a half-hour before sunrise. I was looking down to pop my foot into the clips, and just glanced up in time to see the car approach the intersection (I was cutting the corner a bit turning onto Woodward WB from 52nd). Car was dark-grey, and almost invisible. Good thing I was going slow and was able to maneuver around her.

    I, of course, had my blinky lights on front and back. I’m not sure the driver even realized her lights weren’t on.

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