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Politifact checks our work on bike crossing laws

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 14th, 2013 at 11:17 am

You can stay on your bike and have the legal
right to cross an unsignalized intersection
(marked or unmarked) simply by dipping your
tire into the road.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Our attempt to clear up confusion about Oregon's crossing laws earlier this month gave us more than we bargained for on several accounts. First, in writing up the story, I realized I didn't fully understand how current Oregon law dealt with people on bicycles when it came to attempting to cross a street on the sidewalk at an unsignalized intersection. Eventually (I hope) we clarified the law. Not only that, but it turns out The Oregonian and their Politifact team decided to check our work.

In Saturday's edition of the paper, The Oregonian/Politifact asked; "Must cars stop if a cyclist dips a wheel into a crosswalk?"

The fact-checkers at The Oregonian swung into action after they read a tweet I published on January 4th. They must have been skeptical that Oregon's crossing law is triggered when someone on a bike simply dips their front wheel into the roadway (from the sidewalk).

"We wondered if that was an accurate reading of the relatively new law," wrote the Politifacters, "so we called Sheila Lyons, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program manager." Lyons pointed them to ORS 811.028 which states, "... a pedestrian is crossing the roadway in a crosswalk when any part or extension of the pedestrian, including but not limited to any part of the pedestrians [sic] body, wheelchair, cane, crutch or bicycle, moves onto the roadway in a crosswalk with the intent to proceed."

So far, so good. But they then wondered if you had to be walking your bike in order to have the law on your side. Thanks to ORS 814.410 — which states, "a bicyclist on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk has the same rights and duties as a pedestrian on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk" — it turns out you don't have to dismount while on the sidewalk (or in the crosswalk if there is one).

Just to make double-sure my tweet was true, the Politifact team also checked with lawyer Ray Thomas and Oregon State Senators Jackie Dingfelder and Ginny Burdick.

The verdict? True! Read the full analysis for yourself.

Whew! I'm happy to have a 1-0 record on Politifact. And I'm even more pleased that this law got more attention. As we all know, laws are great, but without 1) awareness and 2) enforcement, they don't have much impact.

— You might also want to check the story at this link to read the 300+ comments the story has generated at OregonLive.com.

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Comments
  • OnTheRoad January 14, 2013 at 11:31 am

    And the bike-haters in the OLive comments section sprang into action with over 300 comments and counting.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

    • wsbob January 14, 2013 at 11:54 am

      Far from all 300 and counting of those comments were those of, as you rushed to put it "...the bike-haters...".

      There were plenty of people, some that comment regularly here to bikeportland as well, that posted many comments to that Oregonian story, helping to clarify misconceptions apparent in some people's comments to that story, surrounding use of the crosswalk, as well as the sidewalk, by people that ride bikes.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

      • Spiffy January 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm

        I had a slow weekend so I spent a bit of time responding to the OLive comments...

        as usual lots of people hating on bicycles, not as many defending them...

        Recommended Thumb up 9

        • oliver January 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

          Must have been a full weekend fielding non-sequiturs about helmets, stop sign abuse, and road tax.

          Recommended Thumb up 9

        • wsbob January 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm

          Saw your avatar, so figured those comments were yours.

          It's apparent reading at the O story, some of the comments expressing wonder about or dismissing the right of people's use of bikes in the crosswalk, that people having such remarks, have little idea of what rights of people that bike the law acknowledges.

          Maybe they expect the obligation of road users with respect to people on bike's use of the crosswalk, to be completely intuitive apart from any familiarity with the law, as may also be the case with some of the people that bike, relating to their use of bike lanes and main lanes of the road with respect to safe travel amongst motor vehicles.

          Recommended Thumb up 1

        • SilkySlim January 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm

          Nice work!!

          Recommended Thumb up 0

      • just joe January 14, 2013 at 9:50 pm

        Yes, but the Geek Chorus from OregonLies has a particular dislike for anything that isn't whitebread and suburban.If you inflamed that group, I would regard it a personal achievement.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

    • davemess January 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      No joke! I wish the O would politifact the claim that bikes don't pay for the roads and it all comes out of gas tax!

      Recommended Thumb up 20

      • A.K. January 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm

        Wouldn't matter. You can tell people things until you're blue in the face and back it up with indisputable fact, and people will still say "DOESN'T MATTER BECAUSE I FEEL X, Y, and Z...".

        I don't really know what to do at this point. I almost feel like our society is so overloaded with "information sources" like 24/7 TV, the internet, radio, whatever, that it's some sort of human compulsion to dismiss what is true, even if it flies against your opinions, as a comping mechanism to deal with information overload.

        Recommended Thumb up 4

  • rain bike January 14, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Thanks, but I do not wish to be the test case poster boy.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Pete January 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      One can start to see the impetus behind the proposed "hand wave" law a few years back...

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Bob R. January 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

    It's great to have that clarification of the law and also to have it cross-checked a variety of ways. When driving a car, I try more than most (I like to think so, at least) to spot and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. (By "more than most", I take as evidence the fury of horn honking and dangerous passing that sometimes occurs when I slow to a safe, controlled stop at a crosswalk).

    But, prior to this clarification at least, I applied incorrect logic to how to respond to bicyclists waiting at crosswalks. The rule I applied was "if standing next to the bike: pedestrian, if on the bike, ready to pedal: vehicle". I suspect many others applied this logic, too. So it will take some education and adjustment.

    Recommended Thumb up 9

    • Bob R. January 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      (And by "crosswalk" I mean all legal crossings... many people still don't realize that painted stripes are not needed to define a legal "crosswalk".)

      Recommended Thumb up 11

      • Babygorilla January 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm

        Legal crosswalk crossings yes, but not all legal crossings. A person on a bike stopped at a stop sign in the main part of the roadway has no right of way against cross traffic without a traffic control device (Going Street at MLK and NE 33rd I'm looking at you!)

        If one stops in the roadway when they have the right of way, it just makes it less safe for all around. I get people in this town love to be polite and do the waive through, but if we all just observed standard right of way rules, things would be much safer, efficient and more predictable.

        Recommended Thumb up 12

        • Bob R. January 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm

          Yes, sorry for the imprecision! I meant "legal crosswalk crossings" as you said. I don't make a habit of stopping unnecessarily when I have the legal right of way, especially if there are other travelers behind me!

          Recommended Thumb up 2

          • Pete January 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

            Thanks for the clarification! I have to confess, I recently caught a Portlandia skit that came to mind when reading your comment... ;)

            Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Terry D January 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Great Work!! Now, we need to have a mass education campaign. Personally, I think the DMV should collect e-mail contact information from everyone with a driver's license and do a mass emailing every time there is an update to any traffic laws. It could even be sorted by municipality to reflect local changes.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

    • Barbara January 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Sounds good in theory, but is probably a logistical nightmare with people changing their emails so frequently or not entering correct information to begin with. I guess that's why we have media to broadcast law changes.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Alan 1.0 January 14, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      No, spam is not the answer.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Gregg January 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I wonder if the Politifact team that works for the Oregonian might have time to..I dunno... start checking facts IN THE OREGONIAN? We all know that they need it!

    Recommended Thumb up 17

    • Terry D January 15, 2013 at 10:28 am

      I wonder how many of their editorial opinions are directed from the company's top management. I followed a link the other day to this AWFUL editorial on climate change and since it looked EXACTLY like the Oregonian..even to the typeface...I was momentarily confused since it was an east coast paper, then I realized they were owned by the same mega-corporation.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Gregg January 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    And good work Jonathan!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • wsbob January 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    "You can stay on your bike and have the legal right to cross an unsignalized intersection (marked or unmarked) simply by dipping your tire into the road." maus/bikeportland

    Good...as long as people preparing to cross at a crosswalk, make sure road users have see them, acknowledged the signaled intent...slowed and stopped, before persons crossing actually step out or ride out in front of vehicles coming down the road.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • El Biciclero January 15, 2013 at 11:00 am

      I don't think the intent of the law is to tell pedestrians to stick a cane into the crosswalk, then wait for all traffic to stop, then cross. That is the self-preservation perspective. The whole point of giving drivers enough space to stop (i.e., not creating an "immediate hazard") is so you can begin crossing before everybody has come to a complete stop. Under the old law, that was the ONLY way to exercise your right-of-way as a pedestrian--drivers did not have to stop until you were "in" the crosswalk, i.e., "crossing". Under the new version, all that changed was the definition of "in" as it pertains to crosswalks. Stepping (or riding at an ordinary walking speed) into a crosswalk and commencing to cross before traffic has come to a complete stop does not negate your right-of-way as a pedestrian or pedestrian-equivalent.

      Your concern for everyone's safety is admirable, but again, we must be careful not to conflate personal safety policies with legal requirements. Unfortunately, IMO, it is necessary to take some calculated risks in asserting right-of-way as vulnerable road users, or we lose our lunch money. Everyone's formulas for calculating risk are different, and everyone has a different tolerance for risk, but as with the new "safety message" painted in the Madison St. bike lane, we don't want to give those who should be yielding the idea that they don't have to.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

      • wsbob January 15, 2013 at 11:30 pm

        "I don't think the intent of the law is to tell pedestrians to stick a cane into the crosswalk, then wait for all traffic to stop, then cross. That is the self-preservation perspective. The whole point of giving drivers enough space to stop (i.e., not creating an "immediate hazard") is so you can begin crossing before everybody has come to a complete stop. ..." El Biciclero

        People crossing the street are very wise to operate from the perspective of self preservation. I believe Oregon law, ORS 811.005, brief as it is, indirectly includes regard for self preservation.

        http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.005

        If they choose to do so despite whatever risks are present in a given traffic situation, people can't really be stopped from disregarding due care and stepping out in front of moving motor vehicles, and even people on bikes, both of which can do serious injury or death to a person on foot when they collide with them. Whether taking such a risk is a good idea, is a case of personal judgment and choice each individual adult will have to make.

        While http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.028 doesn't spell out, word for word, instructions to pedestrians to wait for traffic to stop, after having given intent to cross, and before commencing to cross the street, I don't think this law seeks to, or otherwise counters 811.005.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • El Biciclero January 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm

          Well, right: "due care" == "not creating an immediate hazard". Consider this:

          You are waiting to cross a street, but you see a car 1/2-mile away coming toward you. Do you step out in front of that "moving vehicle" to cross the street? Now what if the car is 1/4-mile away? A block away? How close does the car have to be before you change your mind and course of action from "step in front of a moving vehicle" to "wait for the vehicle to stop first"?

          "Due care" on the part of a pedestrian involves waiting for there to be a big enough gap that a driver can stop should they reach your position before you are all the way across the street, not waiting until you will have zero impact on motor traffic. If a pedestrian steps off the curb in front of a car that is 20 ft. away going 30 mph, it would be considered a breach of the "due care" principle. "Due care" on the part of motorists involves watching for peds or cyclists entering crosswalks and being prepared to perform a controlled stop, if necessary, to afford the pedestrian their right-of-way in crossing the street. Exercising "due care" does not mean there will be zero risk in any situation. Conversely, assuming some level of risk does not mean an individual has failed to exercise "due care".

          Recommended Thumb up 1

          • dr2chase January 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm

            I'm not quite following all of this Oregon law. The way I interpret it, and the only way I can make sense of the Massachusetts law, is that a pedestrian ought to be able to walk to a crosswalk and use it without stopping. And drivers are required to moderate their speed and observation such that if there is a pedestrian in a crosswalk, then they can stop -- otherwise, too fast for conditions.

            Recommended Thumb up 0

  • NW Biker January 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    This is good to know, but I'd never chance it. Heck, I don't even assume that people driving through the Safeway parking lot will stop when I'm walking into or out of the store.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • dr2chase January 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      I find that if I lead with a shopping cart, that in fact they are surprisingly able to see and stop. And if it looks like they're not going to stop, just let go of the cart and step back. And then they stop anyway. Funny how that works.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Craig Harlow January 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Attaboy, Jonathan.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Sunny January 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    There are mentally handicapped folks who ride adult trikes on sidewalks that will benefit from the clarification of this law.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • J-R January 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I'd like Politifact team to determine whether The O checked this to inflame the bike haters with the intent of getting the yield to pedestrians law repealed during the new legislative session or whether it was done merely to sell papers.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • davemess January 14, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      yeah, the fact that they don't even give you an answer on the main article page, and you have to be linked to another of their pages is pretty fishy for me.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • tnash January 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    The Oregonian should know better than to try to out-smug cyclists -- come on, they should have asked for a handicap ;)

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Billy Pilgrim January 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    So, thanks to this law, cyclists are a special class of vehicle; apported special rights that regular vehicles do not have? I don't know about the rest of you, but I ride as if I'm part of traffic- just another vehicle. I DO NOT want motor vehicles to stop every time I stick my front wheel out.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Alan 1.0 January 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      If one is "part of traffic- just another vehicle," then one is not riding on the sidewalk and so this law would not apply to them. Classes of vehicles in Oregon are defined in ORS 801.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • davemess January 15, 2013 at 5:10 pm

      But what about the Springwater or 205 path? Do you want cars to stop for you there? Separated paths can be just as easily blamed for this new law. I agree that there are only rare instances when people should be riding on the sidewalk. But there is bike infrastructure in this city that require this law to function well.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Joe January 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    OnTheRoad
    And the bike-haters in the OLive comments section sprang into action with over 300 comments and counting.
    Recommended 5

    I don't get these fokes? whats the big deal? ONELESSCAR.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Barbara January 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    We ride a lot with our 5 and 8 year old children and I think that they belong on the sidewalk. So this law is actually quite important for us. Sadly, nobody seems to know about it and it often takes us forever to cross a road on foot or on bikes because nobody stops. It always amazes me that people don't even stop at marked crosswalks. How hard is it to look our for pedestrians in a crosswalk? Even if I stop with my car on one side, other cars zoom by in the other lane. What are they thinking? That I just randomly stop? The problem is they are not thinking, they are zoned out, daysreaming or on the phone and just not paying attention.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • wsbob January 16, 2013 at 12:07 am

      "We ride a lot with our 5 and 8 year old children and I think that they belong on the sidewalk. ..." Barbara

      That sounds like a good, general rule to follow with kids of that age, where streets are busy. There may be some quieter neighborhood streets where you could help give your kids experience in actually riding in the street.

      On sidewalks too though, with careful oversight, there's a lot of potentially good experience in consideration for other people, kids can gain from riding their bikes on the sidewalk. Just as it is with bikes on the street, there seem to be plenty people that have little or no idea about whether use of bikes on the sidewalk is allowed.

      As for manner of some of the people riding the sidewalk, it's not uncommon to encounter people whose riding conduct doesn't meet with obligations spelled out in the law related to use of bikes on the sidewalk.

      Attempting with a bike, to cross a street from a sidewalk at a crosswalk, or at any other point on a street between intersections: Personally, I don't think just standing at the curb with a wheel in the street, cane tip, arm extended, etc is enough.

      It pays to work to get the point across that someone's trying to cross. I try not to step into the street, or put a wheel into the street, because I don't want me or it to be hit by somebody not stopping. I'll lean forward from the curb...ready to step back fast if someone cuts a corner short...arm extended, kind of waving, looking in the area of the driver in the car. In the winter, I wear day-glow orange gloves. People tend to slow and stop when they see such an obvious signal of desire to cross the street by a pedestrian.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Barbara January 16, 2013 at 8:50 am

        No worries, there are sufficient streets without sidewalks left in SW Portland to practice on street biking. Sidewalks are in the minority, actually. So we relish the few we have when they happen to be on busy streets without bikelanes.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Robert Burchett January 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      I'm seeing this late because I was camping, but--in Sisters they have a bucket of orange flags at a crosswalk on the main drag, if you want to cross you pick up a flag, demonstrate your intention to walk, cars pretty much stop, and when you're ready to go, you cross and drop the flag in the corresponding bucket on the other side. Clever. A person could do this at their local crossing without waiting for a grant.

      Now, I don't really give a rap what the law is--I don't need a law for self-preservation, and somebody who won't stop for a pedestrian signaling at a reasonable distance, the back of my hand to them.

      Back to bikes--I've been pretty OK working things out as a vehicle and those folks who stop with clear right-of-way, I'm blind to that. But if I come up to one of those mixed bag crossings like NE Going / MLK and enough people stop, whatever, I'll cross.

      The Oregonian? Bwah ha ha. It's my understanding that building is to be gutted for a velodrome.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

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