Learning the law at the Share the Road safety class

Ellee Thalheimer is a new contributing writer to BikePortland. Her most recent story was a product review of women’s bike shorts designed for utility and fashion. Ellee is a yoga instructor and travel writer living in Southeast Portland. Check out her author page here.

We covered the beginnings of the Share the Road Safety Class; this is our first inside account by a BikePortland operative.

Traffic safety gurus (L to R): Judge
Chris Larsen, BTA instructor Gregg
Lavender, Officer James Sorensen,
and nurse Mike Morrison.
(Photos: Ellee Thalheimer)

“Bike laws are schizophrenic,” the judge in my case told me. “Sometimes you’re a vehicle, sometimes you’re a pedestrian.”

It’s true. The rules of the road are confusing, and for those of us who get around on two wheels, confusing can translate into lethal. That’s one reason self-proclaimed “safety geek” and Judge Chris Larsen wanted to create a better way to educate road users about how to operate legally, and safely, on city streets.

Nearly two years ago, Larsen initiated the Share the Road Safety Class, a two-hour lecture/discussion/presentation that takes place twice a month at Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

The class functions as an alternative to expensive, record-marring traffic tickets that leave offenders frustrated, but unfortunately, still ignorant about the rules of the road.

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I learned about the class only when I was relegated to it by a traffic court judge. With the helpful advice of bike law specialist Ray Thomas, I went to court with what I believed to be an unjust ticket. I got it dismissed based on the contingency that I pay a fee and take the Share the Road Safety Class.

The crowd at the Share the Road Safety Class

As I squeezed in with the other 140 people in the class at Legacy Emanuel Hospital, I remembered back angrily to the red-faced cop who had yelled at me as he gave me my ticket.

Part of me grudged having to pay the $30 class fee, then ride through the chilly night and listen to a lecture about something that I have been doing successfully for 15 years. On the other hand, learning about the official legalities of sharing the road piqued my interest.

“Judge Larsen, Officer James Sorensen, and trauma nurse Mike Morrison comprised a holy safety trinity that tackled traffic issues from each angle.”

In fact, the class ended up teaching me a lot. Judge Larsen, Officer James Sorensen, and trauma nurse Mike Morrison comprised a holy safety trinity that tackled traffic issues from each angle. The cherry on top of the night was Bicycle Transportation Alliance representative Gregg Lavender’s cycling-centric presentation.

In respect to my specific case (which wasn’t exactly a cut-and-dry incident) Officer Sorensen and Judge Larsen were able to explain that, while it may have been handled poorly, it was justified in many ways. I was impressed how Sorensen and Larsen were able to present the law in a way that gets through to even the most hard-headed law breakers.

Though not all the attendees were as enthused as I was, many got involved despite themselves (and learned something in the process). Who knows, maybe this class is one reason 2008 was a record-breaking year for the low rates of traffic fatalities in Portland.

Turns out I’m not the only one that has noticed the class’s effectiveness. Judge Larsen has been nominated for one of the BTA’s Alice Awards for his involvement with the class.

The Share the Road Safety Class is one more demonstration why the nation’s eyes turn to Portland for examples of innovative and effective transportation safety programs. In fact, Judge Larsen says he hopes to export the class curriculum and the entire program to other cities.

– The class is available to people who have been cited for certain kinds of traffic violations while walking, biking, or driving. Learn more through Legacy’s web site.

– To learn more about bike-specific rules of the road without first receiving a traffic citation, check out the Legal Clinics or peruse a copy of Ray Thomas’ Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists.

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