BTA, Police Bureau launch latest incarnation of bike light education program

riding along with Officer Hoesly
A Portland police officer gives
out a free set of bike lights
back in August 2006.
(Photos © J. Maus)

As part of their ongoing Eye to Eye campaign, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and the Traffic Division of the Portland Police Bureau have partnered up on an effort to increase awareness of using bike lights and being more visible while riding. Their efforts build on a history of bike light advocacy here in Portland that started over three years ago.

According to a press release issued this morning, the BTA will kick off the project tomorrow with an event at the “Seven Corners” intersection (SE Division, SE Ladd, and SE 20th). They’ll be serving “mocktails” (non-alcoholic beverages) and giving cyclists information about lights and visibility.

That event will be followed by a series of “targeted bike light education and enforcement actions” by the Police Bureau. The actions are slated to begin next week and the plan is for police officers to educate non-lit cyclists about light laws, pass out safety information, and install free lights (thanks to an ODOT grant) when necessary.

Get a light!

After the freebies and warnings, the police will start ticketing riders for violating Oregon’s bike light law.

In case you’re wondering how to avoid a $90 ticket. Here’s what ORS 815.280 says about bike lights:

“a bicycle or its rider must be equipped with lighting equipment…during limited visibility conditions… (that) must show a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle… (and) a red reflector or lighting device… visible from all distances up to 600 feet to the rear…”

Giving away free bike lights to visibility-challenged cyclists has a long and proud tradition in Portland.

Jeff Bernards
(Photo: Dat Nguyen)

In the summer of 2005, with support from Shift and grants from the Community Cycling Center and ODOT, local citizen activist Jeff Bernards launched “Get Lit!”. Bernards would set up at random locations and pass out free sets of lights to anyone in need. Bernards’ dedication garnered him an Alice B. Toeclips award and he eventually passed the torch to the Community Cycling Center (who still runs the program to this day).

Bernards’ Get Lit! concept has inspired similar programs in other cities including Missoula, Montana and Sacramento, California.

It’s been over three years since the first time the Portland Police Bureau handed out free bike lights. That program was hailed as a success and even resulted in then Traffic Division Commander Bill Sinnott getting national airtime on CBS News.

Sinnott retired in March 2006 and the Traffic Division discontinued the free bike light program in November of 2006. At that time, soon-to-be Commander Mark Kruger told me:

“We think cyclists have had an exceptional opportunity to learn compliance with this law and after we run out of lights it will again be their own responsibility to have the required equipment.”

Kruger is no longer at the Traffic Division and it’s great to see Captain Larry O’Dea bring back this program.

[Update: I failed to mention initially that the Police Bureau’s enforcement of bike lights made the news back in June when Portlander Phil Sano was involved in a Tasering incident with two officers. The officer that initially approached Sano did so because he did not have a light on his bike. For more on that story see my previous coverage.]

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