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The BTA’s legislative wish list – UPDATED

Posted by on March 1st, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Scene of fatal at Willamette and Haven-9

Bringing control of speed limits
to the local level is one
law the BTA is considering.
(Photo © J. Maus)

At their Member Forum last week, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance shared a list of nine proposals they’re evaluating for the 2011 legislative session.

Here’s their draft list of topics currently under consideration:

  • Vehicular Homicide
  • Local control over speed limits
  • Insurance coverage for cyclists
  • Bicyclists’ right to ride in the travel lane
  • Crash reporting standards
  • Continuation of travel lanes through intersections
  • Enforcing the Vulnerable User Law
  • Improving citizen citation process
  • Driver education

According to the BTA, their Legislative Committee will select three or four of these proposals to devote their 2011 lobbying efforts to.

Here is some background on a few of these proposals.

Vehicular homicide
They BTA unveiled their proposal for a new vehicular homicide law back in January. In a nutshell, their proposal would break the infraction into two levels of severity. The first, “For drivers who kill while violating a traffic law when their drivers’ license is suspended or revoked” would be a felony crime punishable by 6-10 months in prison. The other one, for “drivers who kill while violating a traffic law” would become a misdemeanor and violators could get probation and up to one year in jail.

Oregon is one of only four states without a vehicular homicide law. In 2009, with the help of citizen activist Mary O’Donnell, the BTA got some traction in their vehicular homicide effort but it never reached a floor vote and stalled in committee.

Local control of speed limits
This idea is gaining momentum. Currently, the Oregon Department of Transportation controls speed limits — even on roads managed by the City of Portland (for a primer on ODOT and speed limits, read this). With very different perspectives and priorities on traffic engineering, there’s a growing sense that Portland should have the authority to set its own speed limits.

Mayor Sam Adams is very interested in changing the status quo on this issue. In May of 2009 he sent a letter to ODOT outlining a new approach to how speed limits are set.

ODOT in our region is currently managed by Jason Tell, a man who has been very engaged and progressive on traffic safety issues. In a recent interview, he told me he’d be “open to the idea” of giving Portland local control. I’m also aware that Mayor Adams and his staff have been meeting with ODOT around this issue so I wouldn’t be surprised if something comes of that prior to the 2011 session. Stay tuned.

“Bicyclists’ right to ride in the travel lane”
This is related to suggestions by some in the community to abolish Oregon’s “mandatory sidepath law.” Current Oregon traffic law states that people on bicycles must ride as “far to the right as practicable” and use a bike lane when one is present There are of course exceptions, but as PBOT installs more separated facilities like cycle tracks, some people are concerned that they’ll be legally forced to use them.

Continuation of travel lanes through intersections
This is a response to the case back in December where a traffic court judge dismissed a “failure to yield to a bicyclist in a bike lane” citation because the bike lane striping disappeared through an intersection. The ruling was summarily denounced as a fluke, but it did highlight one of the many legal grey areas in bike law. A legislative fix would be to simply amend the language of the statute so that it’s clear bike lanes still exist through an intersection — even if they are dropped inside of it.

Absent from this list is any new law that would seek to raise revenue for bike infrastructure (one idea some activists are throwing around is a tax on studded tire sales). Also absent is the Idaho Stop law that the BTA worked very hard for — but did not succeed in passing last session.

In order to prepare for the 2011 session, the BTA will work to get their short-list of priorities finalized in the coming months.

What legal changes would you like to see them go for? Which of the ones listed above are you most excited about? Is there something not mentioned here that you’d like to have considered?

UPDATE, 3:17:
BTA communications coordinator Margaux Mennesson got in touch to share another idea they’ve got on the table…

“Funding for active transportation – Statewide advocate Susan Peithman is working with partners to explore alternatives for increasing funding for construction of projects that would help increase the use of walking and bicycling as a transportation mode. This includes looking at ongoing funding sources for the Urban Trails Fund, which was created in 2009 with a one-time $1 million starting seed.”

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    a.O March 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    What value is there to obtaining local control over speed limits when motorists do not obey them anyway?

    Legalization of photo-radar devices to automatically cite speeders would mean that speed limits are actually enforced.

    And that would be a big first step and a good start toward reducing the danger motor vehicle drivers pose to other roadway users.

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    Allan March 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Idaho Stop should be on the list (if not at the top!) Everyone is doing it anyways, why isn’t it legal? (*This argument should not be applied to all legislation) Its proven to encourage riding and not increase injuries/deaths. Please, BTA, make it happen!

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    Brian E March 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I would vote yes for doubling the amount for traffic fines and using the extra money generated to help pay for extra enforcement.

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    peejay March 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Hey a.o., good to hear from you again. While I’m not a fan of enforcement “stings,” I do like photo radar checks, since it’s almost certain that you’ll get a ticket for not following the law at that place. Compliance does go up in that situation, as opposed to the once-in-a-blue-moon type of enforcement actions that the ppb normally use.

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    a.O March 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Hey peejay. I’m looking forward to getting back to PDX this spring for a week or so and perhaps we can get a pint.

    I think stings and patrols don’t work primarily because they are random and cannot possibly produce enough citations to act as much of a deterrent. Plus, police officers are known for exercising their “discretion” and enforcing the laws selectively.

    But I envision legalization of photo-radar by the Legislature and then Portland buying 10 or 20 units (at first) to put in locations near schools, busy pedestrian intersections, etc.

    With the income from the fines and no police salaries to pay, why wouldn’t the machines pay for themselves in a few years?

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    Brad March 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I disagree, Allan. “Idaho Stop” is a non-starter in the legislature and a tougher political sell. It’s too easy for a conservative, rural legislator to argue that cyclist’s want a legal right to run stop signs and that sounds like a “special treatment”. Plus, it really doesn’t benefit cyclists all that much. Does it promote safety? I think that the BTA agenda in Salem is correct for a change. Settle the big picture safety issues first. Making car-on-bike crashes a criminal offense and controlling speeds are far more important than preserving a rider’s momentum. Besides, jumps strengthen your legs and make you a better rider.

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    peejay March 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I think there’s a threshold of probability of enforcement that is required before a driver will change how they drive. The radar is good because it’s on all the time. However, it’s not mobile, so the savvy driver will know where they can break the law and where they can’t. Some of these units need to move around from time to time, so they cannot be anticipated too much.

    Beyond that, yes we do need to change the design of our roads so that people just don’t feel comfortable speeding on them. Wide and straight actually can reduce safety by encouraging speed.

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    a.O March 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Yes, you can buy mobile photo-radar devices that could be moved at regular or irregular intervals. They can be disguised so as to be essentially undiscoverable.

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    Allan March 1, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    @ Brad- we almost (supposedly) got the Idaho Stop thing passed last time. Why are they (the BTA) giving up so quickly? The BTA seems to have an understanding with PPB to not enforce the stop sign rules… maybe they think that’s good enough for now? I guess i won’t complain too much unless I actually get a ticket.

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    Ely March 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I agree, Idaho Stop would be gravy. The items on BTA’s list are most if not all more important to increasing safety and perceived safety of people on bicycles. As far as getting more people on bikes, I think increasing safety and perceived safety will do a lot more in that area than Idaho stop.
    When people driving around in deadly weapons start behaving more safely, then I will be more concerned about the convenience offered by Idaho Stop.

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    RyNO Dan March 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Honking !
    Is out of control.

    It should be illegal to honk at me while I am legally traveling.

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    Kt March 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    a.O, a good place to start with the speed cameras would be in school zones.

    They’d pay for themselves the first week of operation. 🙂

    Allan #9: I don’t think the BTA has an understanding with PPB about not enforcing stop sign violations by bikes. I think the PPB has learned more from the BTA about how a bike can be stopped without the rider having to put a foot down…

    Personally, I just want the laws to be enforced equally for all road users. So: make the Idaho stop legal for all road users.

    It’s how everyone acts anyway, right?

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    bahueh March 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    RyNO…I think most of the folks who honk were taught to do so back in the 60’s or 70’s (I could be wrong on the decade)when driver education included honking at cyclists to alert them that a driver is coming. sooo…..driver re-education is completely necessary and long overdue. I personally wouldn’t mind retaking the drivers test to get a refresher…I haven’t had to do it in nearly 20 years.

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    bahueh March 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Allan…no, the BTA go nowhere with the legislative push for Idaho Stop…it never even went to committee if I remember. its a bad idea and will only drive the wedge between cyclists and drivers further. there are much bigger issues at hand than catering to laziness on a bike…

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    a.O March 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    815.225 Violation of use limits on sound equipment; exemptions; penalty. (1) A person commits the offense of violation of use limits on sound equipment if the person does any of the following:

    (a) Uses upon a vehicle, any bell, siren, compression or exhaust whistle.

    (b) Uses a horn otherwise than as a reasonable warning or makes any unnecessary or unreasonably loud or harsh sound by means of a horn or other warning device.

    (2) Authorized emergency vehicles and ambulances are not subject to this section but are subject to ORS 820.370 and 820.380.

    (3) The offense described in this section, violation of use limits on sound equipment, is a Class C traffic violation.

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    Allan March 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Wow. Now the Idaho Stop is a bad idea? The Idaho Stop basically gave cops the discretion to not ticket folks that looked both ways without stopping, and a bicyclist a legal standing to contest tickets if they knew noone was coming.

    While you may love wasting your energy, I love conserving mine and will continue to practice intelligence on the road. That was the whole point of the law anyhow.

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    Erinne March 1, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    First, why does this article refer to both a bicycle lane and a regular street lane as a “travel lane”? That’s very confusing.

    Second, continuing bike lanes through the intersection is a TERRIBLE idea. Intersections are where cyclists should be taking the lane most often. I was almost right hooked *three times* on the way home from work on Friday because I was legally required to remain in the bike lane along N Interstate right up to the beginning of the intersection. I’d much rather be able to take the lane and make it through the intersection safely than get hit and have the person driving the car who hit me cited.

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    Schrauf March 1, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Erinne, you absolutely are not required to remain in the bike lane if it is unsafe to do so. Please don’t put yourself at risk unnecessarily. In rare cases you may have to defend your action to an officer, but usually it is up to the person on the bike to decide when it is unsafe to remain in the bike lane – doors, right hooks, debris, poor pavement, high speed of travel, etc.

    The law still should be modified, however, to avoid confusion.

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    Bjorn March 1, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Having local control over speed limits would allow the city to for example reduce the speed limit on all bike boulevards. This would be one more added pressure for cars to choose other streets without the city having to spend extra money on diverters and such. It would also allow the city of portland to make choices like reducing residential street speed limits to 15mph. Why is that important:

    See the chart towards the bottom. The chance of dying is dramatically different when hit by a car going 30mph or more vs 20mph or less.

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    bahueh March 1, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Allan-it was a bad idea because it never had a chance of passing when other protections are much more important and creates two sets of rules for road users…are we “all traffic” or not? or are we just “all traffic when it suits us?”
    legislators were never behind it… conservation of energy and “practicing intelligence” is not actually what the law change had in mind…nice try though. I’ve heard so many people state whatever their personal biases/preferences were for the law change, I’m not even sure the BTA knew what the law change was for..other than “Idaho does it”
    As for my “wasting of energy”, that’s a bit laughable. If it exhausts you to stop at a stop sign, I suggest more exercise.

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    are March 2, 2010 at 1:43 am

    comment 17, i think the idea of the proposal is that all lanes — the travel lanes and the bike lane — should be thought of as continuing through the intersection, though not striped, so that (as applied to the bike lane) a motorist would still be required to yield to a cyclist coming up on her right.

    as a so-called vehicular cyclist, i agree this is the wrong approach, the mandatory sidepath law forcing us into deeper and deeper metaphysics, when simply getting rid of most of the stripes and allowing cyclists to take the lane would solve most of the problems.

    in the meantime, as comment 18 urged, do not let someone else’s interpretation of a bad law prevent you from doing the sensible thing.

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    Bjorn March 2, 2010 at 7:11 am


    I think your characterization of Idaho Style as never having a chance of passing is very misinformed. We had some missteps which did not help and while it did not make it out of committee it did get a hearing which is more than most bills ever see.

    Over the years that I served on the legislative committee I talked to two kinds of people. The kind who thought the BTA was being lame and wasn’t willing to try anything controversial or really forward thinking, and the kind of person who tore down the BTA every time they tried something really difficult and weren’t able to pull it off in one legislative session.

    Idaho Style wasn’t the main thing the BTA was working on last session and in my opinion working on it some was not the reason that any of the other goals were not accomplished. If anything Idaho Style brought people in to help lobby for everything who might otherwise not have been interested in helping at all.

    Overall we had bipartisan support for Idaho Style, maybe it wasn’t majority support in the house or senate, but it did give the BTA a chance to work with some folks who might not normally have been BTA backers. I hope that this session some of those relationships with folks like Nick Kahl who started out as a no vote for Idaho Style but turned into an adamant supporter within the committee will help the BTA to achieve this sessions legislative goals.

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    Anonymous March 2, 2010 at 7:59 am

    The Idaho stop law creates a huge cost to the state.

    Much like the right turn on red law, each intersection must be evaluated for the appropriateness of the law.

    Those intersections where line of sight or other issues make the Idaho stop unsafe have to be signed as being exempt from the law. The same way you will see “No Turn on Red” signs at intersections where right in red is unsafe.

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    Allan March 2, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Thanks Bjorn-

    That is what I had remembered reading about 🙂

    @ Bahueh
    One can get tired from going fast or from going from 0-15 repeatedly. I prefer the former. 🙂

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    Seth Alford March 2, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Perhaps the discussion about the legislative agenda at the 2/25 BTA Forum happened after I left. Or, it happened before I left and I wasn’t paying attention.

    I’m no longer a BTA member, and this list or priorities isn’t exciting enough to make me want to re-join. What don’t I like?

    I’m not sure that the BTA should waste time over local control of speed limits. I can easily see that issue re-framed on right wing talk radio as “the legislature’s latest attempt to raise taxes in a recession by letting towns to set up speed traps where the primary purpose is to raise revenue! Don’t we have enough government interference in our lives? Call your legislator today and demand that they vote against this bill!”

    What’s “insurance coverage for cyclists?” I thought theft of my bike is already covered under homeowners or renters insurance. Is this insurance in case I get hit by a car and I don’t already have an auto policy that covers me for an uninsured driver? This is very useful for people who do not own a car, but that’s not me.

    I agree with the other posters that the Idaho stop should be back on the agenda. Yes, there will be opposition from rural legislators. So what? There will be opposition for whatever the BTA tries to do that has some impact.

    I’d rather have the Idaho stop law than local control of speed limits. Even if the BTA got local speed limit control for Portland (which I doubt they will,) and even if Portland re-posted Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway and Barbur Blvd. to, say 30 mph from the current speed (40 mph on BH, I don’t remember for Barbur; I doubt they would re-post either street anyway,) traffic on BH and Barbur is going to go 45 mph anyway. So I get to deal with 45 mph traffic and I am legally required to come to a full and complete stop at each stop sign. In other words, the BTA achieves the status quo.

    Even if the BTA doesn’t think it can get the Idaho stop, the BTA should ask for it anyway, and maybe negotiate it away later.

    Also, since I am no longer a BTA member, I guess I must have missed the e-mail with the link to the on-line survey where they asked the membership to rank the choices. For those of you who are still members, when you fill out that survey, look for the last question where they ask, “is there something you would like the 2011 Legislature to consider that we have overlooked?” I suggest listing the Idaho stop sign law, or better enforcement of front license plates so you know who owns the motor vehicle which is creeping into the bike lane from that side street, or better enforcement of not-overly-tinted windows so you can see if the driver of the car is looking at you on your bicycle, or whatever you think.

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    Brad March 2, 2010 at 9:30 am

    No, no, no on “Idaho Stop” as a priority!

    Think about this for a moment. What benefits cyclists more: the ability to conserve a little energy while riding or big picture safety? My fear is that placing the “Idaho Stop” on the legislative agenda mkes it far too easy for more important safety issues to fail. It would not surprise me at all to see a vehicular homicide law and better enforcement of vulnerable roadway user laws fail (cars have primacy and lobbying clout!) only to have the legislature throw us the “Idaho Stop” bone. Hell, they’ll convince themselves that giving us “Idaho Stop” is being progressive, pro-bike, and plenty enough for this session.

    Meanwhile, cyclists will get mowed down and negligent drivers will suffer only a $242 hit to the pocketbook for their lack of responsible operation. Under the current rules, hitting a human on a bicycle is legally no worse than running over a squirrel. If starting from stop signs is too hard, I recommend doing steep hill repeats and some squats at the gym.

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    a.O March 2, 2010 at 9:41 am

    @ #19:

    Bjorn, I appreciate the fact that lower speeds are associated with less harm to peds in collisions.

    What that page does not say is why, if people do not comply with a 30mph speed limit, they would comply with a 20mph speed limit.

    Spending BTA’s time and money on changing the law only makes sense if there is reason to believe that compliance will somehow improve. I don’t see any evidence of that.

    All I see is everyone, everywhere, at all times breaking speed limits regardless of what the speed limit is.

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  • Tonyt
    Tonyt March 2, 2010 at 9:50 am

    I’d like to add my own wish. I’d like to see a ban of those plastic shields people place over vehicle license plates.

    Some are darkly tinted. Others, while initially clear, soon become frosted from exposure. These shields all but totally negate the entire point of plates, namely the traceability of vehicles.

    They are a deliberate, preemptive attempt to avoid accountability while operating a multi-thousand pound vehicle.

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    Michael M. March 2, 2010 at 10:53 am

    These all sound pretty good. I guess my top four (pretty much in order) would be:

    Bicyclists’ right to ride in the travel lane
    Local control over speed limits
    Enforcing the Vulnerable User Law
    Vehicular Homicide

    But any of the rest would rank higher in my book than trying to bring back the Idaho stop law, or than trying to pass new taxes (other than, say, a bond measure) for bike infrastructure funding.

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    matt picio March 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Kudos to the BTA – I like this list, and it’s obvious that they largely listened to what people are saying. Whenever I talk to other cyclists, insurance is one of the first things I hear, and many of the other issues are ones that establish cyclists’ right to the road, and eliminate some of the legal gray areas that are used against cyclists.

    Local control of speed limits is a good one, because the State of Oregon is never going to reduce arterial speeds – but Portland might. The public is starting to realize that cars are hazardous machinery, and when improperly used can cause damage as easily as a table saw – the main difference being that we don’t have a culture that emphasizes every 16 year old owning a table saw.

    Idaho Stop would be nice, but it’s too politically contentious, and there isn’t even agreement among most cylists as to whether it’s a good thing.

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    Anonymous March 3, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I am so glad to see local control of speed limits on the proposed agenda. That would be my top priority. Perceived safety might increase ridership… But let’s concentrate on REAL safety first, THEN encourage more people to get out on the road.

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