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Learning the law at the Share the Road safety class

Posted by on January 26th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Ellee Thalheimer is a new contributing writer to BikePortland. Her most recent story was a product review of women’s bike shorts designed for utility and fashion. Ellee is a yoga instructor and travel writer living in Southeast Portland. Check out her author page here.

We covered the beginnings of the Share the Road Safety Class; this is our first inside account by a BikePortland operative.


Traffic safety gurus (L to R): Judge
Chris Larsen, BTA instructor Gregg
Lavender, Officer James Sorensen,
and nurse Mike Morrison.
(Photos: Ellee Thalheimer)

“Bike laws are schizophrenic,” the judge in my case told me. “Sometimes you’re a vehicle, sometimes you’re a pedestrian.”

It’s true. The rules of the road are confusing, and for those of us who get around on two wheels, confusing can translate into lethal. That’s one reason self-proclaimed “safety geek” and Judge Chris Larsen wanted to create a better way to educate road users about how to operate legally, and safely, on city streets.

Nearly two years ago, Larsen initiated the Share the Road Safety Class, a two-hour lecture/discussion/presentation that takes place twice a month at Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

The class functions as an alternative to expensive, record-marring traffic tickets that leave offenders frustrated, but unfortunately, still ignorant about the rules of the road.

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I learned about the class only when I was relegated to it by a traffic court judge. With the helpful advice of bike law specialist Ray Thomas, I went to court with what I believed to be an unjust ticket. I got it dismissed based on the contingency that I pay a fee and take the Share the Road Safety Class.

The crowd at the Share the Road Safety Class

As I squeezed in with the other 140 people in the class at Legacy Emanuel Hospital, I remembered back angrily to the red-faced cop who had yelled at me as he gave me my ticket.

Part of me grudged having to pay the $30 class fee, then ride through the chilly night and listen to a lecture about something that I have been doing successfully for 15 years. On the other hand, learning about the official legalities of sharing the road piqued my interest.

“Judge Larsen, Officer James Sorensen, and trauma nurse Mike Morrison comprised a holy safety trinity that tackled traffic issues from each angle.”

In fact, the class ended up teaching me a lot. Judge Larsen, Officer James Sorensen, and trauma nurse Mike Morrison comprised a holy safety trinity that tackled traffic issues from each angle. The cherry on top of the night was Bicycle Transportation Alliance representative Gregg Lavender’s cycling-centric presentation.

In respect to my specific case (which wasn’t exactly a cut-and-dry incident) Officer Sorensen and Judge Larsen were able to explain that, while it may have been handled poorly, it was justified in many ways. I was impressed how Sorensen and Larsen were able to present the law in a way that gets through to even the most hard-headed law breakers.

Though not all the attendees were as enthused as I was, many got involved despite themselves (and learned something in the process). Who knows, maybe this class is one reason 2008 was a record-breaking year for the low rates of traffic fatalities in Portland.

Turns out I’m not the only one that has noticed the class’s effectiveness. Judge Larsen has been nominated for one of the BTA’s Alice Awards for his involvement with the class.

The Share the Road Safety Class is one more demonstration why the nation’s eyes turn to Portland for examples of innovative and effective transportation safety programs. In fact, Judge Larsen says he hopes to export the class curriculum and the entire program to other cities.



– The class is available to people who have been cited for certain kinds of traffic violations while walking, biking, or driving. Learn more through Legacy’s web site.

– To learn more about bike-specific rules of the road without first receiving a traffic citation, check out the Legal Clinics or peruse a copy of Ray Thomas’ Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists.

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Comments
  • Amos January 26, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Does anyone know if this class available to non-violators?

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  • tonyt January 26, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    “Bike laws are schizophrenic.”

    And Judges are ignorant of mental illness.

    Schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder.

    Sorry, had to point that out.

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  • el timito January 26, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Sounds like the judge was using what my computer’s dictionary refers to as “general use”:
    ” (in general use) a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements.” Seems like a fairly accurate about traffic laws.

    Of course, the dictionary also offers this more clinical definition:
    “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.”
    Which sounds like a fairly accurate description of most individuals in traffic.

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  • el timito January 26, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Sorry: “….Seems like a fairly accurate -observation- about traffic laws.”

    And like Ellee, I found the class evenhanded, educational, and enlightening – a rather sane look at traffic and how we can each stay healthy in it.
    And considering part of my job involves teaching bicycle safety, that’s meant to be a high compliment. Hats off to Judge Chris Larson for making this come to be, and to the good folks who make it happen every month.

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  • John Z Wetmore April 12, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Judge Larson talks about the SRSC on tv this week.

    Tuesday, April 14, The Universityhouse Channel will show Episode 148 of “Perils For Pedestrians”.

    Contents of Episode 148 (2008):
    –A judge discusses the Share The Road Safety Class in Portland, Oregon.
    –We learn about the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition.
    –We look at a festival street in Portland’s Chinatown.

    DISH Network Channel 9411 — The Universityhouse Channel
    Tuesday — 9:30 PM Eastern, 6:30 Pacific

    Episode 148 is also available on Google Video:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5542119783855712755

    Note: Public access cable channels are showing different episodes than DISH Network.

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  • John Z Wetmore October 26, 2009 at 10:51 am

    “Perils For Pedestrians” videos are migrating to blip.tv

    Episode 148, with the Judge Larson interview, can now be found at http://blip.tv/file/2050195

    Other episodes can be found at http://pedestrians.blip.tv

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  • John Z Wetmore June 8, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Blip TV is cutting off Perils For Pedestrians in September. The new archive for Episode 148 is on YouTube at:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzQHYklvz6A

    Recommended Thumb up 0

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