(Photos © J. Maus)
Many of you already know that you have the legal right to “take the lane” when necessary. What’s less understood is what this actually means, both in practice on the road and in the law.
“Take the lane” is a common phrase, almost a rallying cry in some circles, and it’s used throughout the country. For many people, it’s the catch-all term that explains how bicycles are allowed to legally use the roadway; but what does it mean in Oregon?
For starters, “take the lane” doesn’t even exist in the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS). So, does it mean a person riding a bike should literally take up the entire lane, riding wherever he/she chooses? Or are you legally allowed just a portion of the road?
What the ORS does say (in 814.430) is that a person operating a bike has the right to move away from the far right side of the roadway (or left side on a one-way street),
“when reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions… Or other conditions that make continued operation along the right curb or edge unsafe or to avoid unsafe operation in a lane on the roadway that is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side…”
For many people, few bike riding maneuvers are more heart-pounding and sweaty-palm inducing than placing yourself in a lane with motor vehicles breathing down your neck. Yet this is precisely what you must do on narrow roadways without an existing, usable or safe bike lane (in Portland, think of NE Ainsworth and sections of many streets in commercial districts).
If it makes you feel any better, moving into the lane is sanctioned by Oregon law. The ORS (full text of the law here) gives you a degree of freedom to determine what it means to operate your vehicle (bicycle) safely on the roadway given the condition of the road, its lane width, speed limit, traffic volume, parking and even the weather. All these factors are also open to the interpretation of police officers, judges and the other traffic behind you.
It may seem like a lot to think about, but here it is in a nutshell…
Every bicycle operator has the legal right and responsibility to take a reasonable use of the roadway in order to protect their own safety. You may take as much of the lane as is practically prudent to create a safe space all around you.
Hopefully now you’ve got a better understanding of the practical and legal implications of “take the lane”. Just rememeber, like many Oregon laws that pertain to bikes, what is “reasonable” and “prudent” is open to interpretation.
— 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