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Bike Law 101: Careless biking

Posted by on June 22nd, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Shared path Waterfront Park-1
Oregon’s careless driving statute applies
to multi-use paths too.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Many of us are aware that a person can be convicted of careless driving (ORS 811.135) for operating their motor vehicle in a manner that “endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.”

But did you realize that bicycle operators are also subject to this statute?

Familiarize yourself with the salient parts of the statute below (Note: This is the “vulnerable roadway users” statute, which was slightly modified this session):

811.135 Careless driving; penalty. 

(1) A person commits the offense of careless driving if the person drives any vehicle upon a highway or other premises described in this section in a manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.

(2) The offense described in this section, careless driving, applies on any premises open to the public…

(3)… if the court determines that the commission of the offense described in this section contributed to the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way, the court shall:
      (a) Impose a sentence that requires the person to:
      (A) Complete a traffic safety course; and
      (B) Perform between 100 and 200 hours of community service, notwithstanding ORS 137.129. The community service must include activities related to driver improvement and providing public education on traffic safety;
      (b) Impose, but suspend on the condition that the person complete the requirements of paragraph (a) of this subsection:
      (A) A fine of up to $12,500, notwithstanding ORS 153.018; and
      (B) A suspension of driving privileges as provided in ORS 809.280; and
      (c) Set a hearing date up to one year from the date of sentencing.
      (4) At the hearing described in subsection (3)(c) of this section, the court shall:
      (a) If the person has successfully completed the requirements described in subsection (3)(a) of this section, dismiss the penalties imposed under subsection (3)(b) of this section; or
      (b) If the person has not successfully completed the requirements described in subsection (3)(a) of this section:
      (A) Grant the person an extension based on good cause shown; or
      (B) Impose the penalties under subsection (3)(b) of this section.

      (6) The police officer issuing the citation for an offense under this section shall note on the citation if the cited offense [appears to have] contributed to the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way.

We tend to think of careless driving as it pertains to the typical street environment. In that context, due to the vast difference in the physical footprint between a bike and a car, it’s rare that someone could operate a bicycle in a way that endangers a person or property.

But let’s go off-road for a minute onto a different type of public space, the multi-use path. Few people realize it, but this serious offense also applies there too.

The law applies to multi-use paths as well.
(Illustration by Dan Pegoda/Animated Traffic Law Center for BikePortland.org)

On multi-use paths (think the Eastbank Esplanade or Hawthorne Bridge deck), people on bikes sometimes assume the role that cars play on the streets. Prey becomes predator so to speak and people walking on paths are an afterthought; or worse, an obstacle to speedy progress.

Remember, careless driving applies to all vehicles “on any premises open to the public.” The law is clear: a person operating a bicycle has the potential to inflict harm upon others and/or their property and you failure to exercise due care you are legally liable.

Don’t let your need to save a few seconds get you in legal hot water — or worse — lead to serious injuries to those around you.

— Bike Law 101 appears twice a month thanks to the generous support of West End Bikes PDX (corner of 11th and SW Stark in downtown Portland). It’s written by Karen Lally and Kurt Jansen of the non-profit Animated Traffic Law Center based in Eugene, Oregon. For more info on bike law, browse the Bike Law 101 archives

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Comments
  • shirtsoff June 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks for drawing attention to this. If you’re in a hurry, MLK Jr. Blvd is a much better choice than the multiuse East Bank Esplanade.

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    • A.K. June 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      Or 3rd Ave, or 7th Ave…

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      • shirtsoff June 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm

        None cross the banfield and have significantly more traffic control devices than MLK. If you’re in a hurry to a location off of the artery and traveling to or from the northern half to the southern half, it is the best route unfortunately.

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  • Marcus Griffith June 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    I wonder if the fact that cyclist’s don’t have licenses to revoke would indicate to a court that makers never intended careless driving to apply to cyclists?

    A Washington court of appeals used the lack of cyclists being licensed, in part, to determine that DUI laws in Washington don’t apply to cyclists (reckless driving does).

    http://www.usroads.com/journals/p/rilj/9801/ri980102.html

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    • q`Tzal June 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      So instead of DUI or “Careless driving/cycling” perhaps Reckless endangerment as defined at lawyers.com:
      the offense of recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death to another person
      Reckless endangerment is a misdemeanor but sometimes rises to a felony, as when a deadly weapon is involved.

      Just because an automotively inspired law may not stand up to a competent lawyer defending a cyclist is no reason not to prosecute hazardous idiots on bicycles.

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  • Marcus Griffith June 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    *law makers. (sorry)

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  • tim June 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Good article, and thanks for the clarifying information.
    While we may not have a license to revoke, as cyclist we do have the ability to pay a fine, and complete community service. So I think that maybe with the various ways to penalize individuals through this law; it could be seen as a sign that they did consider a the penalty for non licensed road users.

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  • xtof June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Early one morning some years ago I was heading south on the Eastbank Esplanade early in the morning. A fellow on a roadbike was approaching from the other direction at a high rate of speed, when a construction worker emerged from the bushes on the east side of the path and jumped directly in front of the northbound cyclist. Both went down hard, and rolled in agony. A couple other morning commuters and I stopped to assist, but were quickly shooed on by the leader of the work crew. He was already on the radio for assistance, so I have no idea what the final outcome was, nor did i see any press reporting the incident in the following days.
    Which brings me to my 2 points -
    1. I’m sure this sort of thing happens fairly often, and it might help people’s awareness if it was reported on more frequently.
    2. I now try to keep my speed to 8-10 mph on this trail, particularly when passing pedestrians. While doing this, i am passed by many cyclists I know that I would be passing on the street, but I choose to use the opportunity to enjoy the view and practice the art of maintaining control at low speeds instead of keeping up.

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  • Spiffy June 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    that law is so vague and open to interpretation that I don’t see how it could ever be enforced… danger varies from person to person…

    some people won’t even ride a bike at all because it’s dangerous… might as well start citing all riders…

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    • jeff June 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      how exactly is “contributed to the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way” vague in your opinion?

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      • SteveD June 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm

        Jeff, I agree. If you injure someone, its pretty clear. If you don’t injure anyone but are cited for being careless, then it might be arguable.

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      • middle of the road guy June 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm

        Steve, black and white situations only occur to cagers. Cyclists should be given every reasonable doubt……you know that.

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  • steve June 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    It’s just a matter of time until license/registration/bicycle inspection/liability insurance is factored into the bicycle commuters world.

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  • GuardRail June 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    The bottom line is that you can sent all the money you want on a bike with good brakes, lights, bright clothing, helmet, and the rest of the safety gear you want and none of it means anything unless you know how to control your speed (when necessary) and call your freaking sides!
    Anyone who has zoobombed know the importance of this. You are responsible for the person in front of you. Always.
    On a multi-use path on coming traffic can see you, so as long as you ride predictably there shouldn’t be a problem. Traffic going the same way as you can’t. So be responsible for them and let them know where you’re at and what your intentions are and the majority of these kinds of collisions could be prevented.

    When you’re passing on your left you say???

    On your left!!!

    When you’re passing on your right you say???

    On your right!!!

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  • Chris June 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I hope they start ticketing the parents of kids on the Springwater who weave allover the path. I have seen little kids who think “on your left” means turn hard to the left cause some pretty close calls.

    Maybe it will force parents to teach some basic cycling safety rules to their kids before they take them on multi use paths during rush hour.

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    • middle of the road guy June 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

      That’s why is it sometimes safer not to say anything and just pass as far to the left as possible.

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      • captainkarma June 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm

        and at a very reasonable speed.

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  • Lisa G. June 22, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    @Chris: That’s why I use my bell instead and ride closer to walking speed when around kids.

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    • Chris June 23, 2011 at 7:54 am

      If I slowed down to walking speed every time I had to pass kids on the springwater it would take me an extra hour to get home.

      I slow down to about 50% of my normal riding speed, but its still fast enough that if I hit someone it would do some serious damage (to both of us).

      Every time I pass a little kid on a bike I expect them to swerve in front of me, so I am ready for some evasive maneuvers. I’ve only had to use them a couple times but it goes back to the first lesson I was taught on a bike – “ride like everyone around you is a complete idiot.”

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  • Marsh June 22, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Chris
    I hope they start ticketing the parents of kids on the Springwater who weave allover the path. I have seen little kids who think “on your left” means turn hard to the left cause some pretty close calls.
    Maybe it will force parents to teach some basic cycling safety rules to their kids before they take them on multi use paths during rush hour.

    That seems a bit harsh, although I don’t presume to know a better way.

    That same thing happened to my wife and I. We were riding oaks bottom to Saturday Market, when she called out, and this little boy went right into her path and she went straight over her handlebars and took him down too. His mom stopped and was really apologetic. Some pretty bad scrapes on both sides, but they were both able to ride away.

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    • captainkarma June 22, 2011 at 11:38 pm

      Are you serious? Did SHE apologize? No way would I have apologized for someone on a bike running over my kid on a MUP or anywhere else. I can assure you there’d be a totally different outcome. Who is the experienced bicycle rider who knows *stuff* happens. WHO hit WHO?

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      • Chris June 23, 2011 at 7:59 am

        If your kid ran in front of someone and caused them to fall off their bike you wouldn’t apologize? I would. Its your job as a parent to teach your children to be aware of their surroundings.

        If someone calls out, they are letting your kid know they are passing – they have done their diligence to protect your child. You should really be thanking them as they ride by.

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        • meh June 23, 2011 at 9:39 am

          And yet any time a driver is put in this position you all get up in arms and say they weren’t paying attention and that they are driving a 3000lb lethal weapon at excessive speeds.

          Stop making excuses for cyclists, they have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers.

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      • Chris I June 23, 2011 at 7:59 am

        Your kid shouldn’t be riding on a MUP if he/she is swerving into oncoming traffic or riders overtaking using the oncoming lane. You must be one of those “my child can do no wrong” types.

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  • bumblebee June 23, 2011 at 6:27 am

    We’ve all witnessed various forms of careless cycling, but unless it results in some type of injury, I don’t see how anyone can be cited for this offense. People will continue to weave recklessly through traffic and fail to alert me when they’re passing me on busy thoroughfares. This law doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent to carelessness.

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  • beelnite June 23, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Chris
    I hope they start ticketing the parents of kids on the Springwater who weave allover the path. I have seen little kids who think “on your left” means turn hard to the left cause some pretty close calls.
    Maybe it will force parents to teach some basic cycling safety rules to their kids before they take them on multi use paths during rush hour.

    That really makes me mad Chris. Kids are the MORE VULNERABLE.

    SO if a driver of a motor vehicle sees some one’s teenager weaving in traffic downtown are you COOL with the driver mowing him down.

    “Kid’s fault he shouldn’t have been there.”

    My daughter gets spooked easily by A-HOLES who zip up and YELL out commands. She’s 7 years old you jerks.

    That’s the most heinous BS I’ve ever heard from a cyclist about pedestrians and CHILDREN on the MUP.

    Get off it. Go to a farm road if you want to zip around.

    That should be a no brainer. Please excuse my venom. You woke up Papa Bear and he’s ROARING.

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  • beelnite June 23, 2011 at 8:03 am

    GOD CHRIS – THEY ARE CHILDREN. I mean – they’re still learning LEFT and RIGHT and you’re riding up yelling… oh… sheesh I am steaming. You just don’t get it… Help me someone!!!

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    • Chris June 23, 2011 at 8:21 am

      Well I wouldn’t consider myself GOD, but thank you. And yes I agree, they are children who don’t know LEFT from RIGHT. Which is why you should walk behind them, hold their hands, or KEEP THEM OFF MU PATHS during busy times until they are old enough to understand how to safely bike/walk.

      Kids are awesome, I don’t have anything against kids so don’t even try that. But I do have something against parents who expect the entire world to be looking out for their kids while they don’t lift a finger.

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    • A.K. June 23, 2011 at 8:26 am

      Just to play devil’s advocate here: if they don’t know left from right and can’t “hold their line”, perhaps they shouldn’t be on a skinny trail with tons of other people? Maybe a park or something would be a better place?

      I’m not trying to defend the people who run into others on the Springwater – clearly they are riding way too fast for the situation, and adults should know better – children don’t know all the “rules” and do unexpected things.

      For as great as the Springwater is, I just avoid it during what I call “weekend family daytime ride hours” when the weather is nice – it just gets too crowded, and it’s no fun for me to be stuck behind 10 slow riders, and it’s no fun for them if I’m zooming by them.

      I don’t commute via the Springwater, so I’m also not under any obligation to ride it – I understand it makes up all or part of many people’s bike commute routes.

      I’m comfortable with and prefer to ride in the street. I’m more than happy to leave the Springwater to families who can’t or won’t ride with traffic. Perhaps more adults need to exercise similar judgement if they are capable of maintaining a pace above 15 MPH.

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      • Chris June 23, 2011 at 8:35 am

        You are correct as well. I ride very different (slower) on MUP than I do on the road. But this isn’t just bikers. I’ve seen runners lay kids out who jump in front of them. I have even seen a little kid on a bike swerve into a walker right next to them. Its not just kids either, its people with dogs, other bikers, bikers with ipods on. I have nothing against any of these people – but when they are unaware of their surroundings completely oblivious to the fact that other people are using that path, that is what I have a problem with.

        If I need to get home fast, I take the road but that has issues of its own (some nasty intersections). I have as much of a right to ride springwater home as anyone else, and I recognize the fact it is a MUP and change my ridign habits. I look out for everyones safety around me by making my intentions (passing) very clear, all I ask is they do the same.

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  • esther c June 23, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Parents do need to take some responsibility for keeping their kids in a reasonably safe line and riders need to slow down around them.

    It is a multi-use path which means that kids are welcome but so are cyclists. So cyclists slow down so the kids can enjoy it and learn to ride. Parents, keep your kids close and make sure they’re not suddenly swerving out in front of people.

    I’m always amazed though how so many of the same riders that are curing at the “cagers” for driving aggressively are driving their bikes the same way, as if they’re the only one with any right to be on the road or trail and to hell with anyone else, rider, pedestrian, etc.

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  • beelnite June 23, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Chris’s POV amounts to a ban on children on the MUP. More elitism. My children are excellent riders and well trained. I am a responsible parent. Where is the balance?

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  • k. June 23, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Yeah, let’s turn little kids into perpetrators and terrorize them to the cycling experience. That’ll fix everything. Parents need to take reasonable care with their kids but holy cow, where do you people get the idea that it’s little kids responsibility to watch out for you??

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  • Matt June 23, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Kids are unpredictable. A 4 year old will dart across a path if he sees a duck or he might feel like running around in circles like an airplane. This is one of the multiple uses of a multi-use path. Ride somewhere else if you can’t deal with what is completely normal behavior from a kid.

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  • Chris June 23, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Wait wait, I am not advocating anything. I would never think of banning kids from MUP’s, I think we need more kids on bikes.

    This ALL stemmed from a comment that someone would never apologize if their kid swerved into a cyclist and caused an accident. If a cyclist passing your kid calls out or rings a bell and is passing at an acceptable speed, and your kid causes and accident being an unpredictable kid, its YOUR fault and you better apologize.

    Thats all I’m saying.

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  • indy June 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Went for a long hike yesterday near Council Crest. Saw a pack of 6 bikers completely blow through several stop signs. We’re talking a spall glance to the side. Had someone been driving at the right moment they would have easily hit them.

    As an avid biker myself I hate seeing this, it gives all us bikers a bad rep and I can easily see it turning a car owner ballistic. I yelled “Stop sign!” and they gave me a shrug and kept going.

    If cops are looking for great sting locations Council Crest is the place to go apparently.

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  • beelnite June 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Maybe Demi-God Chris will have kids one day and he’ll understand. :)

    OK olive branch. It’s an MUP. It would be really cool to have a dedicated cycle path with enough room for a slow lane… and maybe warning signs. “Caution! High speed bicycle traffic!”

    Begin the path with an impossible ramp no one under 12 could hope to conquer. :)

    I recommend converting I-84 into a bicycle superhighway.

    But an MUP is the BEST place for new riders to learn and develop their skills safely.

    Let’s use good judgement and realize it’s ok to stop and smell the roses once in awhile on an incredibly scenic and awesome path like the Springwater.

    As a parent I stay to the left of my kids and have taught them to ride to the right of my rear or front wheel. Very effective and protective. I’m between them and hazards approaching on the left side.

    If I see you coming I tell them to get ready long before “LEFT!”

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  • BURR June 23, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    The problem with the Springwater and other local MUPs is that all the racer boyz and girlz like to use them as their personal time trials training course, which is entirely inappropriate.

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    • BURR June 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm

      Racer boyz and girlz need to slow down, get a bell and learn how to use it, or take it off the MUP.

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  • Demigod chris June 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    You all are absolutely frea-kin ridiculous, these claims sound like something out of a political ad.

    I don’t advocate running children down.
    I don’t advocate “zipping” around people on MUPs.
    I don’t advocate banning children from MUPs.
    I don’t advocate screaming commands at small children on the paths.
    I don’t advocate defending drivers who run down cyclists.

    Nothing I have said even implies this.
    When I pass someone (doesn’t have to be a kid) reduce to half my speed, nicely say “on your left,” hesitate to make sure they seem to understand what is going on, slowly pass on the left hand side and they STILL swerve in front of me and cause an unavoidable accident. The blame is on them. Doesn’t matter if they are an adult, child, mentally incapacitated, whatever.
    It is the burden of a cyclist to do all of the above when passing someone. It is the burden of everyone who uses a MUP to understand the basic safety of using it. There is also a burden on parents to teach this to their kids, and recognize when they understand it before allowing them to ride in a way that they are out of your control (i.e far ahead or behind).
    That’s all I am saying. Chill out mamma and pappa grizzly’s.

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  • Marsh June 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    captainkarma
    Are you serious? Did SHE apologize? No way would I have apologized for someone on a bike running over my kid on a MUP or anywhere else. I can assure you there’d be a totally different outcome. Who is the experienced bicycle rider who knows *stuff* happens. WHO hit WHO?

    It was a Sunday leisure ride. My wife doesn’t commute so she doesn’t go very fast. As we approached, the child and mother moved over to the right, when my wife began to pass, the child began moving left, forcing my wife off the left of the path. Taking them both out. I suppose that I didn’t explain it in a lot of detail the first time, but you’re doing a lot of shouting and jumping to conclusions. It was an accident. We weren’t speeding and mowing precious children down. Jeez.

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  • Marsh June 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    BURR
    Racer boyz and girlz need to slow down, get a bell and learn how to use it, or take it off the MUP.

    BURR
    The problem with the Springwater and other local MUPs is that all the racer boyz and girlz like to use them as their personal time trials training course, which is entirely inappropriate.

    I agree that speeders can be a problem, the supposed “fair-weather riders/families” also have done some spectacularly stupid things near me. I commute there from Gresham to downtown 4 days a week.

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  • cruiser June 24, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    What it all comes down to is where there are bicyclist and pedestrians together on a multi-path trail there must be equal pace. This means walking speeds. Once clear of pedestrians then bicyclist can go to speed. The path is shared. Yeild to slower traffic. Pass when safe to pass. It’s really not rocket science.

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  • esther c June 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Just got back on a ride on the Springwater and it was very pleasant but I must say there were a few boneheads that could have caused death and dismemberment if I wasn’t on high alert. On the Esplanade I almost got creamed by one of those Surrey’s that Kerr bikes rents out. Is it really a good idea for people to be driving a vehicle they’re not familiar with that takes up half the width of a MUP? I was going straight and some knuckleheads in one of those things turned left in front of me, causing me to have to swerve to avoid hitting them. I saw people in them passing pedestrians and the opposing bike traffic would have to come to a complete halt waiting for them to get by. I was glad everyone was able to stop in time. If your going along at 8 miles an hour which is really a reasonable pace on the Esplanade and someone in one of those pulls out in front of you, is it your fault if you hit them.

    Another incidence of boneheadedness, two families were riding together and decided to stop to attend to their kids on a narrow stretch near Sellwood. Instead of lining up along one side of the path they occupied both sides of it leaving a narrow lane in the middle. Total disregard for the people trying to get buy who had to alternate turns in each direction. What are people thinking?

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