From Seattle: How we’re coping with fourth place

Posted by on September 5th, 2008 at 3:30 pm

Now that the whole country thinks Oregon isn’t in the top-three best states to bike in, you might assume the Beaver State delegation here at Pro Walk/Pro Bike would be sulking and demanding a recount.

Not exactly.

When the League of American Bicyclist’s executive director Andy Clarke announced the rankings at a party at the South Lake Union Armory last night, people almost immediately began embracing our new, out-of-medal-contention placing.

After the party, many of us from Oregon went on a spirited and star-lit ride around the city (via the Burke-Gilman Trail). I think the photo below will give you a good idea how we’re dealing with the No. 4 news:

Some members of the Oregon delegation in Seattle during a bike ride last night.
Bottom (L to R): Denver Igarta, PDOT; Paul Adkins, GEARS (Eugene); April Bertelsen, PDOT; Mia Birk, Alta Planning. Middle (L to R): Shane Rhodes, City of Eugene; Scott Bricker, BTA; Michelle Poyourow, BTA. Back (L to R): Robert Ping, National Safe Routes to School Partnership, Carl Larson, BTA; Ian Stude, PSU; Roger Geller, PDOT; Jessica Roberts, Alta Planning; David Roth, City of Eugene.

Seriously though, since my story yesterday the League has posted their Bicycle Friendly State rankings press release online with more information (you can see the entire, 50-state list).

In that statement, League director Andy Clarke gives more reasons why Washington came out on top:

“Clarke points to Washington’s model bike laws, signed and mapped statewide bike route network, dedicated funding from the state for bicycle related programs and projects, and an active statewide bicycle advisory committee”

And here’s a bit more information on the top-ranked states as published in a story that appeared in the USA Today’s Travel section yesterday:

“Wisconsin has done a “great job” in designating trails, signage and itineraries, including creating a statewide cycling map that features farm-to-market routes. Arizona gets high marks for being among the first to enact laws protecting cyclists and backing them up with stiff penalties, a move that has encouraged other states to follow suit. Oregon has the highest number of bicycle-friendly communities, with 1% of state highway funds invested in accommodating cyclists [that’s a reference to the Oregon Bicycle Bill, created by Don Stathos].”

And now our friend Joseph Rose at the Oregonian has chimed in. A League spokesperson told Rose that,

“..the main thing that hurt Oregon was its discriminatory side path law.

“In Oregon,” she explained, “if there’s a path, bicyclists are required to take it” rather than staying on the roads with other traffic. “Bicycles are vehicles and have a right to be on the road as long as they follow the rules,” she said.”

Hmm. I’m not sure about that. Can anyone clarify all that? UPDATE: “Sidepaths” are synonymous with bike lanes. What she’s referring to is the Oregon law (814.420) that says essentially, that you must ride in the bike lane when/if it’s present. But what her statement fails to represent is that there is a host of exceptions to that law.

In fact, back in November of 2006, I reported on a court case (Expert witness backfires on DA in bike lane case) where PDOT’s bike coordinator Roger Geller was called as an expert witness on behalf of the DA in a prosecution of a cyclist for violating this very law. In the end, Geller’s testimony helped convince the judge that the defendant was not guilty for leaving the bike lane (to make a left turn in that instance).

To me, this illustrates a gray area with the League’s questionnaire. Does Oregon have a “mandatory sidepath law”? Yes, but it’s hardly set in stone and it’s certainly not as clear cut as the League spokesperson makes it out to be.

Either way, what’s done is done. I think this new program might end up having an even greater impact on bicycling than the League’s Bicycle Friendly Community program (the one that awarded Portland Platinum recently). The “X” factor with the Bike Friendly State program is that it will (hopefully) encourage more connections between non-profits, clubs, and agencies throughout the state. It will also (again, hopefully) shake up state departments of transportation, who are generally thought of as being a bit stodgy and slow to embrace non-motorized modes.

The exciting news is that we’ve got great community, political, and bureaucratic infrastructure in place here in Oregon — including several key people who I know will except nothing less that a #1 ranking come next year.

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Warren Barepatrickmatt picioTbirdJohn Russell Recent comment authors
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Top placements can breed complacency. Oregon can be a much better place to bike and 4th place is a good launch pad from which to aim for specific ways to make things better. Kudos to those other states who have something to teach us.

Tony Fuentes

Many years ago I live a few blocks off the Burke-Gilman in Fremont.

It is a fun trail to ride. It provide views of the city, the lakes, the slough, and more. It stays relatively flat so it can serve any experience level.

Until they moved, you could also use the trail to bike from the Red Hook brewery in Fremont to the Red Hook brewery in Woodinville…ah, good times…


Clarify? Clarify that cyclists are required to ride in a bike lane, or that they have a right to the road?

Right to the road is outlined in ORS, that I don\’t have the cite for at my finger tips, but could get it from Ray Thomas\’ \”Pedal Power\” available from BTA. (I have a copy, just not with me right now.

As far as a right to the road, here\’s the Oregon Bicycle Manual online. Check the \”how far to the right you should ride\” and \”when you should take a lane\”.

Cyclists are safest when they ride visibly, predictably, and proactively.



oops… meant I don\’t have the ORS cite for requirement to ride in a bike lane if one is available.

Wes Robinson
Wes Robinson

I think that\’s a reference to ORS 814.420.

\”814.420 Failure to use bicycle lane or path; exceptions; penalty. (1) Except as provided in subsections (2) and (3) of this section, a person commits the offense of failure to use a bicycle lane or path if the person operates a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.\”

Brad Ross

Side paths suck! That\’s where motorists throw their spent beer bottles. I ride on the street, and I don\’t really care what the rules say.


Well, I\’m a daily commuter, year round, in Seattle and that \”1st place\” designation is only paper. It sounds like you only toured north of downtown proper, right? Well, head south and see what happens to the \’bike infrastructure.\’

Lack of signage (they keep telling us it\’s coming), lack of good bike lanes, or any bike lanes at all, reliance on sharrows frequently placed on roadways either not used by bicyclists or downright dangerous for bicyclists to use or even routing bicyclists into an area that makes no sense (like terminating at a road that requires a right turn even though the bike route makes a left), \”bike boxes\” with no bike symbols or enforcement, and my favorite? Lack of VISIBLE support by the city in a general sense. I don\’t see anyone reporting much about how good bicycling is aside from a letter to the editor or guest journalist every so often. Portable bike racks! I didn\’t know they did that here on the street! And yes, Cascade is huge, but really, I rarely see anything in the media regarding their advocacy either – Portland is hugely advanced in this sense.


mandatory side path and mandatory bike lane laws suck. And yes, Oregon has both. Great job to the jury for their sharp eye on this one!

Icarus Falling
Icarus Falling

There is a sweet loophole which makes the requirement to ride in a bike lane virtually null and void.

Did you just foresee a hazard? I swear I did too.

Work it out.


I just moved to Seattle\’s eastside in July and have to say the infrastructure here is better than Portland-a city I love biking in. There are lots of paths that link. For example, the Burke leads to the Sammamish River that leads to the 520 trail that will take you to the Lake Washington loop (not a trail) that takes you to the I-90 path back into the city. Portland is great but I ride safer routes up here.


no thanks, I\’d rather not get the ticket and have to talk to the judge – who is inclined to agree with the cop – in the first place.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)

ok, ok, I know what the \”mandatory sidepath\” thing is all about now… it\’s just that I never hear anyone use the term \”sidepath\” and i didn\’t realize she was referring to bike lanes.

i\’m very familiar with Oregon\’s bike lane law… i\’ll address this in the post to be more clear.


John Russell

Living in Washington, I do have to say that our bike lane laws are generally superior in the aspect of whether or not riding on them is required.

RCW 46.61.770:
\”…A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway may use the shoulder of the roadway or any specially designated bicycle lane if such exists…\”

Change the ORS to match (or even top) this law, and I will be a happy cyclist.


I think the idea of any place in America being bike friendly is laughable. It just ain\’t so…I wish it were, but then we have wankers like these telling us that the requirement to use a bike lane makes OR less bike friendly. It\’s not that I care where we rate, but by this standard we could rate The Netherlands less bike friendly than say Washington or Texas for that matter.
Real bike infrastructure that protects ALL users. Beginning with separated bike lanes and laws which require all users to stay in their proper spaces

matt picio

Jonathan (#12) – it\’s not just bike lanes. ORS 814.420 refers to \”bike lane or path\” – it also means that when riding on Johnson Creek Boulevard between SE 45th and SE Bell, you\’re breaking the law, because a bike path – the Springwater – is immediately adjacent to the road right-of-way. There are few paths next to roads in Oregon, but if they exist, then ORS 814.420 effectively denies us access to the roads when we clearly have a right to be there.

I applaud the League for reducing our ranking based on that. The mandatory clause needs to go – as we increase the number of cyclists past the point that the bike lanes can hold them all, and if auto VMT continues to decline as fossil fuel availability declines, we\’ll need to repurpose road lanes to accommodate that shift – and we can\’t have poorly-thought out laws like 814.420 hampering us from doing that.


A far more potent and common consequence of mandatory bike lane/path and far right (814.430) laws is establishing liability in car-bike accidents and settling with insurance companies. The first thing the insurance company will do is to refuse compensation because the cyclist failed to obey one of these discriminatory laws (often when the motorist would normally be at fault). I think at this point the cyclist can take the case to court (not sure if it goes before a jury or judge, any of the lawyers on this blog care to comment?) and try and prove he/she met one of the exceptions, which can be very difficult to do (according to at least one expert witness in bicycle cases I\’ve talked to). The jury and/or judge are almost always bias towards the motorist, to some degree, so the whole thing becomes an uphill battle from there. It can be especially difficult if the cyclist can\’t remember what he/she was doing right before the accident occurred or there are no witnesses that can testify in favor of the cyclist.

Kat Iverson of the WashCo BTC was hit from behind about 5 years ago (which of course is a really rare accident). The motorist was obviously at fault, but she nonetheless had to jump through all the hoops that these laws set up for cyclists. She first had to get a traffic engineer to measure the lane (which at 9.5 feet wide was obviously too narrow to share, but that\’s how these stupid laws work). I think the insurance company tried to claim that a bike path was nearby (which was just a dirt path IIRC), and luckily there wasn\’t. No bike lane either (that she might be outside of for whatever reason). But basically if there\’s a path or lane somewhere adjacent to the road and you\’re not in it at the point of impact, it can be a long slog of a legal battle to get insurance compensation. You never have to worry about special laws like this if you\’re, say, hit on your motorcycle. Or in your car.

And Jonathan, a bike lane and a sidepath are not the same thing. Oregon just ties these two laws together into a single statute, most other states that have these laws have them as separate statutes. Sidepaths are a lot more dangerous to ride on than bike lanes all else equal (same number of side streets, traffic conditions, etc.) because you can\’t move out of a sidepath to avoid the turning and crossing conflicts they create. Same thing as riding on the sidewalk, basically. With a bike lane you can at least move out of it (it\’s just a fat white stripe after all) to get to the left of right turning cars at an intersection, for example. An adjacent sidepath physically keeps you to the right, so you have to brave the incipient right-hooks. To be safe you basically have to give up the right-of-way at every side street, intersection and driveway. Hope that makes some sense.



Warren Bare
Warren Bare

I do not know how the States were rated but…
Although they acknowledge that bikes are used on their facilities. Washington State is of the opinion that city’s and counties should do there best to accommodate cyclists.
But in most instances WASDOT treat their own policy manual on Bicycle Facilities as suggested design criteria, easily ignored as below.
((3) Traffic Signals
At signalized intersections, consider bicycle
traffic needs and intersection geometry when
timing the traffic signal cycle and when
selecting the method of detecting the presence
of the bicyclist. Contact the region’s Bicycle
Coordinator for assistance in determining the
timing criteria. Consider the installation of
effective loop detectors or other methods of
detecting a bicycle within the bike lane (in
advance of the intersection) and turn lanes, in
addition to push button actuators. Select loop
detectors sensitive enough to detect bicycles.
Bicyclists generally prefer not to use push button
actuators, as they must go out of their way to
actuate the signal. For additional guidance on
signal design, )
We are still not traffic!