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Bike Law 101: Take care when crossing the foot lane (a.k.a. sidewalk)

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 2nd, 2011 at 9:09 am

Respect the foot lane.
(Photo © J. Maus)

As the weather warms and the sun becomes more reliable, sidewalks seem to blossom with all manner of human traffic; from strollers to skateboarders to joggers and everything in between. And these days, much of that traffic is distracted by their phones or music pumping in their ears.

But this is sidewalk stuff. You ride a bike on the road. What's this got to do with bicycling? Did you know that there's an Oregon Statute that applies to crossing a sidewalk?

If you are not aware of it and wind up on the wrong side of it, you might find yourself in a position of shared liability for involvement in a crash.


(Illustration by Dan Pegoda/Animated Traffic Law Center for BikePortland.org)

Let’s review. First, what is a sidewalk?

ORS 801.485 defines it like this:

On the side of a highway which has a shoulder, a sidewalk is that portion of the highway between the outside lateral line of the shoulder and the adjacent property line capable of being used by a pedestrian.

On the side of a highway which has no shoulder, a sidewalk is that portion of the highway between the lateral line of the roadway and the adjacent property line capable of being used by a pedestrian.

In other words, a sidewalk is the place where you’re most likely to find someone walking.

Now that we know what a sidewalk is, here's the statute I referred to earlier

ORS 811.505, "Failure to stop when emerging from alley, driveway or building":

(1) A person commits the offense of failure to stop when emerging from an alley, driveway or building if the person is operating a vehicle that is emerging from an alley, building, private road or driveway in a business or residence district and the person does not stop the vehicle as follows:

    (a) If there is a sidewalk or sidewalk area, the person must stop the vehicle before driving onto the sidewalk or sidewalk area.

    (b) If there is no sidewalk or sidewalk area, the person must stop at the point nearest the roadway to be entered where the driver has a view of approaching traffic.

This is one of those laws that virtually no one seems to obey. This, because the vehicle operator is unaware of it, confused about it or doesn’t see its relevance.

First, let me be clear, a motor vehicle or bicycle operator intending to cross a sidewalk to enter the roadway must stop before driving onto the sidewalk or sidewalk area — even if there is no one using that space.

"For those who see the law as irrelevant, beware: habits have a way of convincing us that they’re legal until proven otherwise."

The law’s intent is twofold. Protect those using the sidewalk who may be in the path of an approaching vehicle and ensure the vehicle has made time (by stopping) to make a safe entrance onto the roadway and into traffic. In some situations, it may mean having to stop twice. Once before the sidewalk, and then again at the edge of the roadway to ensure that it’s safe to proceed. This is usually the case when you’re pulling out of an alley and there is curbside parking blocking your view of approaching vehicles.

For those who see the law as irrelevant, beware: habits have a way of convincing us that they’re legal until proven otherwise. By then, it’s too late.

When it comes to crossing a sidewalk the rule of thumb is a simple nod to courtesy and respect. Remember, the sidewalk is a safe haven for foot travelers. If your route causes you to cross one, stop. It’s not only the law but it creates a safe habit so that down the line you do no harm.

— Bike Law 101 appears twice a month on BikePortland. 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. If your company or organization would like to sponsor this column, please get in touch.

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Comments
  • El Biciclero August 2, 2011 at 9:40 am

    The only time I was actually hit by a car (as a pedestrian) was because the driver failed to obey this law. Her comment: "Didn't you see me?"

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    • Jon August 2, 2011 at 9:52 am

      the qualifications to operate a motor vehicle in this country are a complete joke.

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    • A.K. August 2, 2011 at 10:07 am

      Hah, just last month I was walking past the AAA office downtown after leaving the PSU Farmers Market, and as I'm walking past the parking lot exit a lady in a car screeches to a stop.

      It was warm that day so her windows were down.

      Me (having since stopped walking with her car bumper about two feet from me): "Nice."
      Her: "Well, I stopped!"
      Me: "Barely!"

      And then I walked away. It simply made me too mad and I wanted to cuss her out, but that wouldn't do me or her any good. She clearly wasn't paying much attention to sidewalk traffic and was was about to exit the parking lot at a rather high rate of speed.

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  • Brett M. August 2, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Perhaps just as important as the drivers and cyclists having to yield to pedestrians is the portion of the law (below) that requires pedestrians to use the sidewalk, when available. I myself am often guilty of violating this statute when I run because asphalt is generally "softer" than the concrete sidewalk (or less crowded). I think this is important to note because, as Jonathan pointed out, you could find yourself in a shared liability issue if you are a pedestrian and aren't using the sidewalk.

    814.070 Improper position upon or improperly proceeding along highway; (1) A pedestrian commits the offense of pedestrian with improper position upon or improperly proceeding along a highway if the pedestrian does any of the following:
    (a) Takes a position upon or proceeds along and upon the roadway where there is an adjacent usable sidewalk or shoulder.

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    • BURR August 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      LOL, mandatory sidepath law for walkers

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  • R. Sewell August 2, 2011 at 9:55 am

    > the person must stop the vehicle before driving onto the sidewalk or sidewalk area.

    > This is one of those laws that virtually no one seems to obey.

    These two lines pretty much cover the whole situation. If I had a dollar for every time someone has almost run me down driving all the way out into the road before even beginning to look...

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    • thefuture August 2, 2011 at 10:44 am

      I notice this is mostly due to cars being allowed to park too close to intersections. Cars (and bikes for that matter) have to pull up even with their nose into the road to have a line of site past said parked cars for oncoming traffic. It puts pretty much every road and sidewalk user at risk.

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  • Charley August 2, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Wow. Didn't know this one. I have a nicely inclined driveway, so I can get an awesome speed boost every morning if I roll down, over the sidewalk, onto the road. It's like the time trials at the Tour de France. Guess that's not legal!

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  • Kristen August 2, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Hm. Interesting. Thanks for posting the legal definition of sidewalk, I did not know what it included.

    And Brett M, thanks for the interesting other side of shared liability-- I wish joggers would go back onto the sidewalk when running in the bike lane and a bike is approaching. Especially since, you know, there's a sidewalk right there. I'm glad to know that there's a law to cover that situation.

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  • Robert L August 2, 2011 at 10:48 am

    This is the exact reason I started riding my bike in the street. As Glisan has no bike lane.

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  • Dabby August 2, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Interesting this article is up, as I was smashed into on a sidewalk Sat afternoon on the way to work.

    Had just left bike polo. Slow rolling sidewalk to cross Alberta on 14th place.
    Pedestrian walking next to me.
    We walked onto the crosswalk from the culdesac portion, only to have my front wheel/forks taken out from under me by a large man on a low slung, huge slick tired Schwinn cruiser bike.
    He was flying down the sidewalk (like hauling ass) and I was hit harder than ever, even during bike polo.
    My stuff was on my front rack, and the pedestrian next to me said it showered her. Like a floating yard sale.

    I think the reality is that the pedestrian is lucky I was there to be hit, as the damages to her would have been extensive. She would have been tossed across the sidewalk.

    Cut to the top of my head and smashed forearm was what i got.
    The crusier rider was wearing flip flops, and a couple of his toes looked broken, not to mention a cut on his head also.
    In conclusion,
    If you are not going super slow, and you are not handicapped, elderly, or too young, you should not be riding on the sidewalk.

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  • Joe August 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I'm starting to dismount more and more these days when possible. savy rider but never know whats coming at you. busy out !

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  • Shetha August 2, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    As a driver, I drive my husband crazy because I always stop twice at intersections. I know the stop sign is that far back because it's behind the sidewalk/crosswalk. I agree with the above poster that points out that cars park too close to intersections. There is a law about this, but I can't remember the details... I don't think there's much enforcement (at least not in my neighborhood). Final thought on the matter: I have to teach my kids that you should always stop at a crosswalk because a vehicle can't see you coming. Not "might not" see you coming, but literally there is no way to see the corner of the crosswalk, and vehicles (motorized and not) Do Not Stop before the crosswalk. They just... don't.

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    • Chad August 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm

      It has nothing to do with parked cars, at least not in suburbia. I run the sidewalks and streets of Hillsboro regularly in areas where cars aren't allowed to park on the street. I don't believe I've ever seen a car stop behind the white painted stop line, and about half of the cars don't ever stop at all.

      My current strategy is to run with traffic on a sidewalk, or in the bike lane if I must run facing traffic. At least drivers will glance in my direction when I am on the sidewalk or I have a few more feet of space to react in the bike lane.

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  • Rob Towne August 2, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Coming out of parking garages downtown where I park my bike, I have often used the sidewalks to get to a safer place to start from. I have been told by the rent a cops downtown that patrol that this is illegal and if they see me doing this I will get a ticket next time. I am still not sure what the laws are and if they are different downtown but something to consider.

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    • Spiffy August 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      in the downtown core it's illegal to bike on the sidewalk...

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  • Joe August 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Chad
    It has nothing to do with parked cars, at least not in suburbia. I run the sidewalks and streets of Hillsboro regularly in areas where cars aren't allowed to park on the street. I don't believe I've ever seen a car stop behind the white painted stop line, and about half of the cars don't ever stop at all.
    My current strategy is to run with traffic on a sidewalk, or in the bike lane if I must run facing traffic. At least drivers will glance in my direction when I am on the sidewalk or I have a few more feet of space to react in the bike lane.

    great point I do the same in Wilsonville, last 5 years,
    but becareful sidewalks not always safe, cars rip into driveways. ride safe all. sometimes I feel so alone
    in a car obsessed Cities.

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  • spare_wheel August 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    i dismount my bike, visually survey the perimeter, and measure wind-speed at every intersection. one cannot be too safe.

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  • BURR August 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    a fine example of why the law is an ass. it makes absolutely no sense to stop if you have good visibility and there is no one present.

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  • esther c August 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Burr, if there really is no one present who would know if you didn't stop?

    The visibility problem with cars parked to close to curbs and driveways is a real issue. Coming out of my street onto Denver it is impossible sometimes not to go out into the bike lane to see if anyone is coming.

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  • Jill VW August 3, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Intersection and driveway visibility didn't used to be such a problem. Now cars are so tall, often with darkened windows, that no one (cars, bikes, or peds) can see past them to oncoming traffic.
    Alas, stopping doesn't matter if you aren't really looking. I've been nearly hit several times by drivers who stopped and looked right through me (mostly when I was running and on the sidewalk) - they were only looking for cars. If you aren't looking for pedestrians or bikes, you don't see them.

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  • Spiffy August 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    this is news to me, never knew about this law... I don't think many people do... the driver's handbook doesn't mention it, it only mentions pedestrians in crosswalks...

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  • John August 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    the "bike lawyers" on this site seem to ignore the fact that the majority of bike riders are either anarchists or mental cases who cannot comprehend even simple rules, let alone arcane ones

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