The current Oregon statutes governing the operation of a motor vehicle in a bike lane are confusing and unclear. The Portland Police Bureau found this out the hard way and they want to find a solution and have the laws fixed for good at the upcoming legislative session in Salem.
Lieutenant Mark Kruger from the Traffic Division came to last month’s meeting of the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee to discuss his proposed legislative solutions and get feedback from Committee members.
It all started in Fall of 2005 when the PPB ran an enforcement action against motor vehicles driving in the bike lane while approaching a turn at 122nd and Halsey. The motorists were cited for operating a motor vehicle in a bike lane (ORS 811.435).
The motorists were confused because another law, ORS 811.355, states that they must “proceed as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” when “intending” to make a right-hand turn.
Adding to the problem is that, because of these conflicting statutes, traffic court judges did not uphold the tickets against the motorists.
The PPB wants to fix this problem so they can effectively enforce the law and make the situation safer for both motor vehicles and bicycles.
Kruger brought two solutions to the table: 1) amend ORS 811.355 to make it clear that motorists may not be in a bike lane prior to making a right turn, or 2) amend ORS 811.440 so that motorists may be in the bike lane for a specified distance prior to making a right turn.
Kruger — who was lauded by the committee for his willingness to get feedback — is clearly in favor of amending the law so that cars can enter into a bike lane at a certain distance (30 feet or about two car lengths) prior to executing their turn. He thinks this is much safer for everyone because the motorist will already be as far right as possible when they get to the intersection and also because it goes along with the existing law that has been on the books for 80 years.
Kruger thinks requiring a car to wait and make their turn in the intersection (like my photo above) means more potential collisions with bicycles. He said, “We want to do something that avoids the greatest amount of conflict.”
Committee members unanimously disagreed with Kruger’s proposal.
Most of them said that giving cars any legal right to enter a bike lane in any shape, way, or form was a “slippery slope” that would set a dangerous precendent.
Committee vice-chair Elicia Cardenas said,
“This would be taking a step back for our city. I think we’ve worked hard to establish that bike lanes are ‘bike space’ not ‘car space’.”
She then wondered, “Will it be like speeding, where there’s a padding before it’s enforced?”.
Committee member Keith Liden added, “I don’t want to see us compromise what a solid line means.”
Liden’s point was echoed by many committee members, who said if the change did move forward there would need to be engineering elements to go with it. They brought up making the bike lane a dotted line and/or adding signage to mark the 30-foot line where cars would be allowed. At least one committee member thought that the solution should come from an engineering fix not more legislation.
There was also concern that allowing cars to be in the bike lane would result in bottlenecks and lines of cars waiting to turn. A messenger that 2 car lengths is about 1/4 of a downtown block.
Kruger’s proposal would also require that bicycles leave the bike lane in order to get around turning cars. This is an interesting point in light of recent citations given for “failure to use a bike lane.” When the committee asked Kruger whether he had a safety concern about more bikes leaving the bike lane, he replied,
“The bike lane law is overly subjective. We feel that there is a bigger conflict with a motorist turning into a cyclist than there is a cyclist leaving the bike lane to go around a car.”
At the end of the meeting, the committee voted 11-0 in opposition to Kruger’s proposal with all votes in favor of clarifying the law so that cars may not enter the bike lane when approaching their turn.
Kruger accepted the feedback of the committee and hopes to have an official word from PDOT by the end of December.