Massachusetts passes landmark bike bill: How does Oregon compare?

door zone warning stencil-10
“Dooring” someone on a bike now
comes with a $100 fine in
(Photos © J. Maus)

Massachusetts is working overtime to become a bike-friendly state.

In Boston, they’ve gone from “Worst” to “Future Best” Bike City in Bicycling Magazine and former Olympian turned bike czar Nicole Freedman was recently named a “Bostonian of the Year” by the Boston Globe.

Now, momentum seems to be rolling statewide with passage this week of the “Bicyclist Safety Bill” — a major set of laws that puts bike safety front and center. With our legislative session currently underway, I thought it would be interesting to compare the new Massachusetts bill with what’s already on the books in Oregon.

When Oregon was ranked 4th most bike-friendly state by the League of American Bicyclists last year, one of our Achilles Heels was our weak bike laws. We ranked 27th in the Legislation category.

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Below is a summary of some of the new laws, and how they compare to Oregon:

Mass. has removed the legal requirement
to use hand signals. It’s still law in Oregon;
with exceptions.

In Oregon, it is required by ORS 814.440 to use hand signals “at least 100 fee before executing the turn”. However, there’s an exception in the law that states that a person is not in violation of the offense if “circumstances require both hands be used to safely control or operate the bicycle.”

Not legal in either state.

ORS 814.430 says that a person operating a bicycle in a bike lane must ride “as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway.” There are several exceptions to this, one of which is, “when operating a bicycle alongside not more than one other bicycle… in a manner that does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

ORS 811.490 says that it’s illegal to open a car door into the bike lane, “until is is reasonably safe to do so” and until it can be done “without interference with the movement of traffic…or with bicycles on sidewalks or shoulders.”

Oregon passed a safe passing law in 2007. ORS 811.065 states that motor vehicle operators must pass with room “sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.”

The Oregon law has some major exceptions — like a minimum speed of 35 mph and it doesn’t apply to roads with bike lanes — which make it only applicable in rural situations. (There is interest brewing to create a local city ordinance that would beef up the passing law.)

For a thorough analysis of Oregon’s passing laws as they pertain to bicycles, read more from lawyer Ray Thomas.

In Oregon, motor vehicle operators must “yield to a rider in a bicycle lane” (ORS 811.050). They are also not allowed to travel in the bike lane. To turn right, car drivers are supposed to go all the way to the intersection before making the turn (as opposed to rolling up in the bike lane).

Bicycles in Oregon are also allowed to pass on the right (if they can “safely make the passage under existing conditions” according to ORS 811.415), but I’m not aware of any specific language in our law that deals with motorist’s liability if someone on a bike were to be hit.

There is nothing in Oregon law that requires special bike-law training for Police. On the local level, the Portland Police Bureau has paid for some officers to take specialized courses on bike crash investigation.

There is no bicycle registration law in Oregon. Attempts have been made locally by the BTA, but, like it seems was the experience in Massachusetts, programs like this never seem to pencil out budget-wise.

With our current legislative session underway, we’ll be paying close attention to all the bike bills being considered. Stay tuned for more legal coverage in the months ahead.

— For an excellent guide to bike law in Oregon, download a free copy of Ray Thomas’ Pedal Power.

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