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Bike Law 101: The law of the lanes

Posted by on May 11th, 2011 at 9:42 am

Bike lane in action

If it’s there, you should be too.
(Photo © J. Maus)

If you’re concerned about your personal safety mixing it up with motorized traffic, your fears are not without merit. American roads are made for something powerful, weighty and full of horsepower. Stepping foot or pushing pedal upon them can indeed be daunting.

The tendency for the timid may be to ride on the sidewalk where things feel safer. Although permitted by law and seemingly intuitive, this is a big mistake. Because you are off-road, you are out of the line of sight for drivers and your risk of a collision goes way up (especially going in the opposition direction of adjacent traffic).

On a bicycle, you are safest when you are visible, following standard driving practices and behaving predictably as you ride. This is where bike lanes come in. Bike lanes are engineered to help facilitate predictability and act as a visual cue to separate bikes and cars.

(Illustration by Dan Pegoda for BikePortland.org)

While sometimes controversial and often debated for their safety benefits (or lack thereof), their use is mandated by Oregon law. Let’s take a look:

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.
      (2) A person is not required to comply with this section unless the state or local authority with jurisdiction over the roadway finds, after public hearing, that the bicycle lane or bicycle path is suitable for safe bicycle use at reasonable rates of speed.
      (3) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is able to safely move out of the bicycle lane or path for the purpose of:
      (a) Overtaking and passing another bicycle, a vehicle or a pedestrian that is in the bicycle lane or path and passage cannot safely be made in the lane or path.
      (b) Preparing to execute a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
      (c) Avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions.
      (d) Preparing to execute a right turn where a right turn is authorized.
      (e) Continuing straight at an intersection where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right.
      (4) The offense described in this section, failure to use a bicycle lane or path, is a Class D traffic violation.

This is pretty straightforward stuff. If there’s a bike lane, you are required to use it unless avoiding a hazard, passing or making a turn. For the hard chargers, those who may even be traveling at the posted speed, you can leave the path to pass someone moving more slowly; but once beyond them, you must surrender the roadway to motorized vehicles and return to the bike lane.

Whether you are a fan of bike lanes or not, they are ensconced in Oregon law. While the law itself could be more clear (as we saw with this interesting test of the law in 2006), it behooves everyone to understand their legal position on the road.

[Editor’s note: Yes, I am are aware that some people feel Oregon’s bike lane law (a.k.a. “mandatory sidepath law”) should be repealed. I think that idea has a lot of merit and I’ll plan to tackle that issue in a separate post.]

— Bike Law 101 appears twice a month thanks to the generous support of West End Bikes PDX (corner of 11th and SW Stark in downtown Portland). It’s written by Karen Lally and Kurt Jansen of the non-profit Animated Traffic Law Center based in Eugene, Oregon. For more info on bike law, browse the Bike Law 101 archives

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Brian Johnson
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Brian Johnson

I generally detest bike lanes as they are usually full of debris, with gravel and fine grit being especially hazardous. I never travel in the bike path when riding down hills at or very near the posted speed-limit. Motorists often fail to look “into” the bike lane and I have had several near-misses because of this “blind spot.” I look forward with interest to your article addressing the repealing of the mandatory sidepath law.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Lets not forget:

ORS 811.050¹

Failure to yield to rider on bicycle lane
• penalty
(1) A person commits the offense of failure of a motor vehicle operator to yield to a rider on a bicycle lane if the person is operating a motor vehicle and the person does not yield the right of way to a person operating a bicycle, electric assisted bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, moped, motor assisted scooter or motorized wheelchair upon a bicycle lane.

(2) This section does not require a person operating a moped to yield the right of way to a bicycle or a motor assisted scooter if the moped is operated on a bicycle lane in the manner permitted under ORS 811.440 (When motor vehicles may operate on bicycle lane).

(3) The offense described in this section, failure of a motor vehicle operator to yield to a rider on a bicycle lane, is a Class B traffic violation. [1983 c.338 §698; 1985 c.16 §336; 1991 c.417 §4; 1997 c.400 §8; 2001 c.749 §23; 2003 c.341 §7]

So, if traffic is traveling slower than me in a bike lane, and I’m traveling at or less than the posted speed limit, and get right hooked, am I liable?

are
Guest

the illustration appropriately shows that it the motorist who relegates cyclists to the bike lane

Mark
Guest
Mark

Bike lanes are for the convenience of motor vehicle operators. If drivers were held to higher standards and suffered real consequences for poor and inattentive driving, they would not be necessary.

Byron
Guest
Byron

I feel that bike lanes help in many instances but that their implementation is poor in many cases. There are lanes that go a half block and end in the back of parked cars with many cars turning right just before the end. I refuse to ride in that bike lane because it is dangerous for me to do so when drivers are turning into me and I have to merge back into traffic quickly on a blind corner.

Many of the bike lanes I ride daily end abruptly leaving me with difficult in deciding what to do to be safe. At Naito and the Steel bridge I move over as soon as escape the right turns onto the bridge entrance as it gets narrow under the bridge and I don’t want some large truck thinking they can slip by me. At 18th going North the bike lane ends at a turn leaving me in the middle of the straight through lane. These are mainly low traffic areas but they do cause confusion for drivers and for bikers.

If there is a bike lane it needs to be continuous, or have ways to end that are safe. Putting in a bike lane for a block is not sufficient and ending it abruptly without guidance and warning is also very poor.

Just as the enforcement of bikes riding in the bike lane needs to be there, so does the enforcement of driving in a bike lane. I see drivers daily driving in bike lanes or encroaching into bike lanes. One only has to look at the tragedy on Naito recently to see where problems can arise. The enforcement needs to be two way for bike lanes to be effective.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

And there’s the problem of bike lanes disappearing at an intersection, as interpretted by Judge Zusman.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Simply said, the only reason any cyclist is obliged to use a bike lane, is if they’re holding up faster traffic behind them for no good reason. If the bike lane has broken, junky, debris strewn pavement, whether there’s one or ten cars backed up behind them, the cyclist doesn’t have to ride there, until the bike lane again becomes safe to ride in.

My view is that for any significant distance, if there’s no traffic behind them in the main lanes, cyclists are entirely free to use the entire width of the main lane in the direction they’re traveling. In other words, if the road is not busy with vehicles, a cop shouldn’t be citing the cyclist for not traveling in the bike lane. I don’t see the statutes cited above clarifying this specific point, but…being common sense, it shouldn’t need to.

fredlf
Guest

Can car-doors be legally considered a hazard which could cause you to leave a bike lane?

bobcycle
Guest
bobcycle

Bike lanes are nice and I use them… until a car that is ahead of me on my left signals right turn, then I take the lane behind them until they turn and I am safely past them, at which time I return to the bike lane. Although as I understand the law the auto should yield to bike lane users before turning, I refuse to pass cars signaling right turns. IMO bike lanes require as much or more diligence then staying to the right and taking the lane when appropriate. I also think bike lanes can give a false sense of security to some. Alan’s point about disappearing bike lanes is also an issue that can cause confusion and problems for the cyclist.

LDA
Guest
LDA

Do you have to use a bike lane even if it lasts for only 2-3 blocks and you are turning left in 5 blocks anyway? I choose to take the left lane in this case only because it means I don’t have to unnecessarily cross two lanes of traffic. I’m specifically talking about NW 3rd avenue going south as it approaches Burnside.

S brockway
Guest
S brockway

Anybody know if runners,dog walkers,and the likes are allowed in bike lane.

BURR
Guest
BURR

It’s time to repeal the mandatory bike lane law, Oregon is one of only a small handful of states that still has this archaic law on its books.

Paul Souders
Guest

I’m not a fan of bikes lanes at this point of my life but they were a major enticement for me to commute longer distances many years ago.

Serious question:
If I’m moving the same speed as traffic (note: NOT the same as “posted speed limit;” example: SW 12th ave downtown from PSU) can I take the full lane? I’m not impeding anyone else any more than any other vehicle, after all, and this is the purpose of the “Failure to use bike lane” law, right? Not impeding other traffic?

Thought experiment:
Are cars required to get out of my way on downtown streets (example: 2nd ave. downtown) where THEY are impeding ME?

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

The lucky thing is, that while riding a bicycle on the street or in the bike lane, “Everything” is a hazard!

Thus rendering the bike lane abandonable, and you can ride where you want. (to a degree)

This is how I personally have ridden our bike lanes since, well, I guess since we have had them.

It is also very easy, when/if pulled over for not riding in the bike lane, to stand with the police officer and prove your point about hazards, as they will probably be occuring around you and the officer repeatedlyas you speak..

beelnite
Guest
beelnite

Hey I have a question. What about electric scooters? There’s this guy who rides the Hawthorne Bridge every morning in the summer for the last 2 years and he’s going well over 15 mph. Then he’s up on the sidewalk across the bridge and cruising the bike lane on Naito – then he enters the roadway and becomes a “car” to turn at Taylor. When confronted he claims he’s legal cuz he looked it up online. I don’t think he should be on the sidewalk at the very least… I can’t help hassling him… really bothers me for some reason. There’s something not right about it. Maybe I just don’t like the guy.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

I think electric scooters, electric bikes, and segway style equipment should be kept OUT of bike lanes….

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

i was just shouted at for taking the lane along the broadway cycle track by a cabbie. the guy cussed me out while I was trying to tell him that:

1) that i am not required to ride in the cycle track.

2) there was a truck blocking the cursed track.

JV
Guest
JV

While it seems that almost anything could be considered a “hazard” on bike lanes, the choices are really pretty clear : If you want to ride on a street with a bike lane, then you should generally use it. Otherwise, just go to a parallel, often quieter side street and take the lane. Streets without bike lanes are often nicer to ride anyway. As a side note, I was recently biking around NYC, and became very grateful for the relative respect that Portland drivers give our bike lanes. In New York their bike lanes serve as a de facto extra car travel lane, delivery truck parking, cab waiting area, and even police car parking lane…so once in a while we should express thanks for having bike lanes that are primarily used by bikes, rather than motor vehicles.

180mm_dan
Guest
180mm_dan

I fully agree with Byron’s comments. One block length bike lanes are dangerous for both bicyclist and vehicles. Kind makes a mockery of the law too.

alex
Guest
alex

i refuse to use bike lanes that i feel are dangerous. i would rather piss off a few drivers and pay a ticket then to go thru $8000 of surgery and 10 weeks healing from being doored again…

Byron
Guest
Byron

I agree with alex that dooring is a problem and something I look at very carefully when I ride. If the bike lane is too narrow for me to ride safely past parked cars I move out and take the lane even if there are no open doors, just so long as there are cars. I do this on normal streets as well when I have to go past cars. And I move out into the lane and keep there if there is a parked car within a block of where I am.

If more bikes took the lane and didn’t try and ride close to parked cars drivers would expect this behavior, dooring would go down, and maybe drivers would behave better.

Greg
Guest
Greg

I intentionally violate this law every morning on my way to work.
I refuse to use the “hit me” bike lane on Couch between NE 6th and Grand. I will happily explain to a police officer or a judge why I don’t use that bike lane. I’d rather pay a ticket than put myself at risk.

Kevin Wagoner
Guest

Are there things the bike lane can not legally be used for? The bike lane on Barber often gets used for running, this seems somewhat awkward to me. BTW, I totally support running, walking, etc rights.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I tend to use bike lanes as more of a refuge from aggressive motorists, as a place to pull out and let traffic pass, or as a way to (carefully) pass stopped car traffic. One of the lanes along my commute route has about one foot of usable width along the outside edge of the lane due to plunging storm drain wells (4″ – 8″ deep) that seem to be especially frequent. I ride the edge of that one with no apologies. I have also learned that if I need to make a planned move out of the bike lane, e.g., for a left turn or known merge point due to a disappearing bike lane, to do it when there is a gap in traffic, regardless of how far away the turn or merge might be–otherwise, I usually find myself squeezed out, having to make a pedestrian turn or “take the sidewalk” at merge points. My technique sometimes puts me outside the bike lane for blocks, but Beaverton PD hasn’t yet seen fit to ticket me.

BTW, I don’t think that impeding traffic is a necessary precondition to being ticketed for not using a bike lane. There is no language in the law that makes an exception for “if the person is operating a bicycle at the prevailing speed of traffic or posted speed limit, whichever is lower.” Legally, you could be keeping up with cars just fine, but if there is a bike lane and you’re not in it, you could still be cited.

Barney
Guest
Barney

Portland’s bike lanes are pretty lousy for intersection-crossing. Many drivers are not aware that cyclists have the right of way, others don’t check the mirrors, and still others don’t use their turn signals. On most streets, bike lanes funnel cyclists across the path of turning cars which is highly dangerous. We need a better solution for this, and it’s going to take more than bike boxes. I’m thinking some sort of pre-intersection lane merge and then a post-intersection diverge. That’s what many proactive cyclists do anyways, so why not paint it on the streets so everyone can get down with the reality that right hooks are super-common and avoidable?

Chris
Guest
Chris

Just thought I would say, I am jealous that you guy’s get to have this argument, Try riding to work where I am from, and then realize how awesome you guys have it! Just thought I would throw that out there, as a reminder. Not to invalidate what you guys are saying, but gosh riding where I am from is dangerous.

Sean
Guest
Sean

You may be interested to know that in Québec Canada there was a similar regulation (requirement to use bike paths where they existed), but this was just recently repealed (Dec 2010) by Bill 71.

diondatta
Guest
diondatta

This law seems to conflict with various other traffic laws and judgements which assert that a bicycle is a “vehicle” just as a car is a vehicle and thereby, the operator of the bicycle has all the rights and responsibilities as an automobile driver.

This law contradicts that precedent by NOT allowing bicyclists to have the SAME right to a full lane width as a car.

So, which is it? Is a bike the same as a car or not? If not, I don’t see how I should get points on my driver’s license if I roll through a stop-sign at walking speed or go faster than 25mph downhill in a residential area, nor, get to take an entire lane width if I choose to. etc., etc.