Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

When traffic backs up, so do chances for being t-boned

Posted by on October 3rd, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Existing conditions on Williams Ave-11-10

Watch out for cross-traffic.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Have you ever been happily rolling along in the bike lane (or in the shoulder) as people in cars next to you wait in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and then suddenly there’s a break in the cars at an intersection? This usually happens because the cars going your direction don’t want to block cross-traffic from passing through the intersection. When you roll up to one of these traffic breaks, it’s not a time to let your guard down. This is a potentially dangerous situation that can lead to collisions.

I’ve been aware of this situation for a long time, so I usually slow down at intersections (even when I have the green) in order to peek around the parked cars and make sure it’s clear to roll through. Unfortunately, not everyone makes it through unscathed. In the interest of raising awareness, I thought I’d share two stories from readers who were recently victims of these types of collisisons.

Alex M. wrote in a few weeks ago after he was hit while riding on NE Broadway. Alex was headed westbound. When he approached NE 6th, he noticed the classic cross-traffic collision scenario:

“Cars were backed up over a block for a traffic light and had left room for the motorists to get through. I couldn’t see the car coming through the traffic because of large vehicles in the way.”

Luckily Alex wasn’t seriously hurt.

Bob Albano wasn’t so lucky.

Back in August, he was commuting up N. Williams Ave (which is notorious for sideswipes during the peak PM commute hours) to his job at Portland International Raceway (he’s an official with the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association). Albano told us he was riding in the bike lane and that the two lanes to his left were full of auto traffic. As he approached N. Fargo, here’s how he explains what happened next:

“With this heavy traffic flow, I was blind-sided from my left and all I remember was hitting something big, red and very hard. The next thing I remember was laying on the pavement, coughing up blood and a cacophony of voices in my ear and shadows standing over me.”

That “very hard” thing that hit him was a Chevy Avalanche pickup truck, which the Portland Police Bureau says was “traveling through stopped traffic” at about 5 mph when the collision occurred (Albano was going 16 mph).

Have you ever been sideswiped like this and/or experienced the conditions where they can happen? Other than slow down and be extremely cautious, it seems like the way to improve these situations is to add signals and/or stop signs when possible. What do you think?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • dan October 3, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    It’s pretty common to see these conditions on Hawthorne eastbound in the blocks before the Burgerville during rush hour. I think of sideswipes as two vehicles moving the same direction making side-to-side contact — here we’re talking about the car crossing perpendicular to the bikes direction of travel, and either bike or car having a frontal collision with the side of the other vehicle, right?

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    • peejay October 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      I agree that “sideswipe” isn’t the right word for this collision. It’s more like a “T-bone”, but maybe there’s a better word for it.

      Don’t know how stop signs would help. The instance at N. Fargo describes a vehicle that was coming from a street that already had a stop sign, but proceeded because the traffic with the right of way was backed up (except for the bike lane, of course).

      There’s a related type of crash: where one direction of a two-way street is backed up, and the cars allow a car traveling in the opposite direction to make a left turn. Again, very few of these cars check to see if there’s a bike.

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    • peejay October 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      I remember the other word I was thinking of: “broadside”.

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  • Max D October 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I had a near miss last week traveling south bound on SE 6th. I was approaching the intersection at Ash adn there was some utility truck doing work int he intersection, and a guy directing traffic. I could not begin to see around the massive truck and equipment in the intersection, so I relied on the guy directing traffic. I did not have a stop sign, and the guy with a hard hat and vest, etc, was signalling me through, and holding a hand to stop the traffic on Ash, but just as I rolled up, a little white hatchback blazed right through the stop sign, nearly hitting the guy holding up his had to signal him to stop and about 1 second before side-swiping me. I had slowed way down already because people drive horribly through here and that is the only thing that saved me.

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  • Aaron October 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Ahh I deal with this all the time headed home on NE Glisan west of 82nd, where eastbound traffic backs up for blocks and blocks. Depending on whether I’m driving or biking I’m either creeping out terrified that there will be a cyclist, or trying to split the difference between the left lane and the door zone, terrified a car will pop across and lay me out. The solution in both cases for me is to go extra slowly.

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  • SilkySlim October 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I saw an ugly one of the occur last year as a bike heading west on SW Jefferson (on the big downhill next to Lincoln HS) collided with a car that thought it had clear passageway through otherwise still traffic.

    Tough situation to rid ourselves of – I think people just need to be cautious. Well, until there are so few cars that gridlock doesn’t exist (soon please!).

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  • Sunny October 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Them pesky pedestrians do it too! Can you imagine?

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  • Alexis October 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I too thought you meant something else by sideswipe — I was thinking of the situation downtown where different lanes are going different speeds, and a car in another lane cuts over without looking for something smaller (like a bike).

    This situation used to happen a lot at the NW Broadway & Couch intersection. I suspect that’s one thing the stop sign has at least sort of helped with.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    OK folks.. I guess I didn’t use the word “sideswipe” correctly. After hearing feedback, I edited out that word from the story. Hopefully now it’s more clear what i mean.

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    • matt picio October 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      “This usually happens because the cars going your direction don’t want to block cross-traffic from passing through the intersection.” – that might be true, but it should be happening *all* the time, because it’s illegal for traffic to stop and sit in the intersection. (ORS 811.290) This is a statute which is repeatedly violated by motorists.

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  • Matt Haughey October 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    My personal rule of thumb is whenever passing a car on the right is BE EXTRA SUPER DUPER CAUTIOUS because pretty much every bad interaction I’ve had with a larger vehicle is when I was going faster than them to their right. I try not to pass on the right at all, but if I do, I go into high alert because people can pop out of driveways, cut across, make right turns, etc and a bike will always be “unexpected” in that situation and can lead to bad things.

    It’s best to prevent it entirely by being super careful when you find yourself passing on the right. Passing on the left is no problem, feel free to go fast, but the right is where the danger lies.

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    • El Biciclero October 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      “Passing on the left is no problem…”

      Heh, careful on the left, too if there is another actual lane there. Drivers are notorious for sitting in a long line–fuming–then suddenly deciding to chirp their tires and blast out around whatever the back-up is. I’ve seen drivers do this from the right lane into the left lane (on a one-way), from the left lane into the right lane, from the right lane into a parking lot (to cut through), from the right lane into the bike lane (to use it as a right turn lane). All of these scenarios played out as follows: the driver was stopped (or creeping) for some time, giving the appearance that they would continue to do so, but then suddenly darted out of line to go a different way.

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  • boneshaker October 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    This situation is every night on N Williams. Williams is a really dangerous place to ride… it might be worse than Lovejoy…

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  • BURR October 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    It’s illegal to block the intersection if you are waiting in traffic, the law requires you to leave a gap to let the cross traffic through (ORS 811.290, Obstructing Cross Traffic).

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    • Brrr October 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

      It should be the opposite… illegal to allow cross traffic through when the street is congested. I’ve seen far too many serious collisions in these situation that when I’m driving a car, for everyone’s safety, I deliberately block the intersection to protect whomever might be coming along in the next lane.

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      • matt picio October 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm

        You break the law to make things safer for others? You do realize it also makes it *unsafer*, right? Take a look at the cars lined up in front of New Seasons on Division and watch what happens when they are blocking SE 20th.

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        • Brrr October 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

          That’s exactly the type of intersection I would not let people cross in front of me at, it’s just too dangerous. I really don’t care what the law is, my wife and son were t-boned when someone tried to do a good deed and wave them through a similar intersection. I will not be responsible for that happening to someone else.

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  • David October 3, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I stand up on my pedals and slow way down. I can usually see over the cars because I’m tall. I don’t think there’s a grand sweeping roadway design solution for this–we just need to be careful even though we have the right of way.

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  • Kris October 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    I always stand up for a better view, slow down, and prepare to react whenever I’m passing a gap in traffic. And in situations like the photo above, I’d be extra paranoid because of the door zone (there’s even someone opening a door right next to that cyclist!).

    The only time I’ve ever been left crossed was when passing a parking lot entrance to the right of stopped traffic, and even despite swerving as soon as I noticed the car, it still cost me a crank shaft, a front wheel, and a bruised leg. Not a mistake I’ll be making again any time soon. If I can’t see that I’m clear to pass a gap in stopped traffic, I don’t.

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  • Erik E October 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I see this situation all the time on Williams, and downtown (where Kathryn Rickson was hit, for one). I slow down when I approach these areas to be sure they are safe, but some people pass me and fly through. Safest to be sure and not just assume all is good.

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    • Scott October 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      That is a different situation being that it is the intersection of two one way streets.

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  • Andyc of Linnton October 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Um. Maybe build some cycle infrastructure that doesn’t conflict with other users as much? That’d be one solution. Barring that, yeah, right hand bike lanes are terrible during car-lane back-ups, and I use extra caution and slow down a ton when traversing such routes.

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  • thefuture October 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    My heightened sense of awareness when in this situation still does not ruin the satisfaction of cruising pass a big long line of cars stuck in traffic.

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  • Scott October 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    I like to call that a “bang box”. There is no real good way to do/approach them from the bike lane. On Williams I usually cut into the stopped traffic and come at them from the center line where I can see both sides of the intersection.

    Some people would argue that this might make me harder to see for the crossing cars, I would argue that I never assume they are looking for me in the first place.

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  • Peter O. October 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    How do you really address it other than to be more cautious? Motorists are told specifically to not block intersections like these to allow for cross traffic. Now we have those of us on bike coming up on the outside in our own lane. In most cases they can’t see us even if they are looking for us till its too late because the line of cars is blocking their view. Hopefully they ease through and are cautious. This drives me nuts when I’m driving just because I can’t see around these and I know that I won’t be able to see till the nose of the car is already well into the bike lane. I take is slow enough so that I don’t surprise an oncoming biker unnecessarily.

    Perhaps a sign that says Bike traffic? Doubt that would really help. Have them paint the bike on the pavement in the bike lane in the intersection?

    Personally I look for these intersections and gaps in the lineup to see where this cross traffic might come from. I sit up higher to see if there are cars waiting and if I can’t see around them I slow down. In a lot of cases this helps them see me too but I NEVER assume that anyone has seen me.

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  • Travis October 3, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    This evening, I was heading west on Sandy through Hollywood, riding along the shoulder, waiting for a break in the usual 84 on-ramp line to scoot over and take the left lane. Just as I was nearing the parking lot for Starbucks the line parted and, I presume, a car made a left hand turn from the eastbound lane toward the lot. Luckily I caught it fast enough, did a little endo (bit of a load in my basket), and waved him through. In hindsight, had I been hit or hit the car, I would have likely been at partial fault for passing on the right? The line parted so quickly, I assumed it was just driver lag on scooting up. I could not see the left or eastbound lanes. Lesson learned.

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    • Chris I October 4, 2012 at 9:28 am

      I believe it is illegal to turn left there. Double yellow there with no break.

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  • OuterSERider October 4, 2012 at 8:18 am

    It should be the opposite… illegal to allow cross traffic through when the street is congested. I’ve seen far too many serious collisions in these situation that when I’m driving a car, for everyone’s safety, I deliberately block the intersection to protect whomever might be coming along in the next lane.

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    I call it the “Good Samaritan Death Trap” and yes we should change the law and let people block the side streets. Let’s ask ourselves… why are drivers crossing at these side street intersections? I will suggest that most of the time – unless it’s a left turn to obtain the side street – we have a driver who is trying to “work it” by taking the “road less traveled.” Happens a lot on SE 7th Ave heading up the hill to Burnside. Drivers crossing 7th to get the side routes and avoid congestion. If drivers know they have no chance in hell of getting across and racing along side streets to avoid traffic on the main routes they’ll be less likely to plan routes that are dangerous and stressful for everyone. That’s where I think it starts – before the driver even gets in the car. They make a decision they’re going to go their secret bat-cave route and ditch all the losers stuck on the main road.

    It’s driving safety 101 – and some schools actually teach it – always take the main route for safety – never choose neighborhood roads or side streets because these streets feature kids, dogs, elderly, limited sight lines and yes bicyclists. There are a host of studies that demonstrate the risk of accident is greater on side streets than main roads.

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    • Travis October 4, 2012 at 10:53 am

      Not sure about Oregon, but, if I recall correctly, in Florida it is illegal to wave someone through. Even at a 4-way stop.

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    • matt picio October 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      No, we absolutely should not change that law. It’s what allows traffic to get through intersections and turn around when there are collisions, for one thing. If we ban *all* left-hand turns at non-signalized intersections, *then* we could do it. Making it legal to block an intersection would make things a lot less safer than they are now.

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  • Tom October 4, 2012 at 8:49 am

    the bigger issue for me is when crossing a 4 lane street , the traffic in the close lane stops for me and now blocks my vision and then the second lane vehicle just plows right through ..
    for safety I’ve just got to cross that one lane, then stop in front of that car and then look sown the second lane. Seems to bother the drivers that I take longer than they think is necessary to cross.

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  • boneshaker October 4, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I think it would be helpful if they painted the bike lanes along Williams green. It would give a visual queue to both parked cars on the right, the 2 lanes of auto traffic heading north and the cross traffic trying to get across east & west. I have been amazed at how much the green paint has helped in some of these sticky areas. Especially getting off the Broadway bridge heading East, the painted lane alerts auto traffic going the same direction and wanting to turn right from crossing over into cyclists.

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  • Chris I October 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Another hazard to watch for in this situation are cars that move into the bike lane to get around traffic and make a right turn. I have had several close calls on 57th near Sandy where cars will pull out right in front of me as I am trying to pass.

    I always ride with heightened awareness when passing cars; but it still feels great.

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    • Reza October 5, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      This maneuver is legal in most states; Oregon is one of the few that do not allow drivers to enter the bike lane before turning right.

      I think I’d rather change the law and reduce the right hook risks.

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  • q`Tzal October 4, 2012 at 9:47 am

    This and other similar situations were best warned against by Douglas Adams in H2G2 with the phrases “expect the unexpected” and “don’t panic”.

    Just because there are painted lines on the road and rules of behavior does not mean that people will follow them.
    Ignoring rude and narcissistic driving for a moment it is a simple matter of math to show that unpredictable driving behaviors might not simply be sort of probable but are 100% likely to occur.

    So we are back to “expect the unexpected”. A public road user must simply accept that seemingly unlikely scenarios need be watched for because they happen very often every day.

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  • q`Tzal October 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
    Bob Albano wasn’t so lucky.

    That “very hard” thing that hit him was a Chevy Avalanche pickup truck, which the Portland Police Bureau says was “traveling through stopped traffic” at about 5 mph when the collision occurred (Albano was going 16 mph)..

    I honestly feel bad for Bob here and obviously his injuries were more severe than that of the motor vehicle…
    I find the juxtaposition of collision speeds here quite amusing. We’ve come to expect the auto to be going faster.

    I only hope that as collision data collection standards become more solid and detailed in bicycle vs automobile incidents that we can definitively show that bicycles are of no real harm to automobiles.
    Except that the preceeding Chevy Avalanche pickup truck might have got scuffed.

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  • noel October 4, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Same thing to me on evegreen pkway. I was heading east in the bike lane. There was heavy traffic and even though we had a green light on 188th, the cars stopped since there was no room on the other side and let the incoming car take a left turn. I had to slow down and make eye contact but the car still went through instead of giving me the right of way. I usually slow down, try to make contact and try to force my way to the intersection if I feel like they have enough time to stop or that I can veer to the right onto the street where they are heading if I have to.

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  • Aaron October 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    A friend of mine has had this T-boning happen to him several times, but in his car. It’s always determined to be the other driver’s fault, but he has had to get his car repaired several times and has been hurt a few times. It seems like being a little bit cautious if you are riding past stopped cars would be prudent.
    Once you stop acting like every other vehicle out there is purposely going to go out of its way to kill you is when you get hit.

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  • Ann October 4, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    That intersection at NE Broadway and 6th is tough in heavy traffic. I approach going north on 6th everyday. I have the opposite problem as described. Often the first two lanes are full and traffic leaves a gap to let me cross. Except if I go I’m taking my life into my hands because that third lane is still going at 20mph. So I don’t go, but sometimes (most times in rush hour) it means you might miss the entire cycle of the light.

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  • Don October 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Over ten years ago I was southbound in the bikelane on SE 82nd Drive. Traffic was backed up as usual waiting for the light. I was traveling 18-20 MPH when, with no warning , a car turning left appeared thru a gap in the traffic. I t-boned the car on the rear passenger door.The bike and I flipped over the car. Fortunately, all I sustained were some bruises and scrapes and a totaled bike. It could have been a lot worse. I don’t take that route any more and really pay attention when traveling in a bikelane next to stopped traffic, lesson learned.
    The car owner’s insurance agent called me for a statement and then initially claimed since I hit the car I was more than 50% to blame. After they went and surveyed the scene the insurance agent called and offered to pay for any medical costs plus pain and suffering and a new replacement bike.

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  • Nate October 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    This exact situation created one of my more spectacular bike/auto collisions back when I was a messenger here in town. I was cruising down E. Burnside (long before it was a couplet) around 7:30a, passing gridlocked auto traffic in the bike lane on the right. At 6th, a small sedan squeaked through from the south, sending me superman-style over the hood, and onto my back on the other side of the vehicle. I landed butt-down, on top of my bag, but didn’t whip my head onto the pavement somehow. Being young[er] and foolish[er], I had my helmet in my bag, which exploded into packing peanuts with a strap and shell. I was shaken up, my front wheel was a bit tweaked, but otherwise I rolled on to buy a new helmet before heading to work – just another day in the life…

    I don’t honestly see this type of collision going away until we have completely separated bike paths (or maybe stoplights at every intersection that ever backs up this much). As others have pointed out, cars are encouraged/mandated to leave intersections clear in stopped traffic, creating a ripe situation for this to continue.

    This is one more situation where prevailing infrastructure and behavior patterns create dangerous situations for a whole class of users – i.e. we the bikers.

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  • Dennis Blanchard October 4, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    This is one reason I really prefer traffic circles and roundabouts. These allow reasonable distance to see what is coming from the left and even when there is a collision, it is usually not a T-bone. The other advantage is smooth traffic flow, instead of stop/start, and slowing of traffic through the congested intersection.

    In my current city, Sarasota, FL, we’ve had non-stop crying about how much it will cost to build them, how dangerous they are, how Americans won’t be able to figure them out and so on. Now that we actually have roundabouts, after all these years of complaining, they’ve proven safer and a lot less grief than 90 degree intersections.

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  • Dan O October 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm


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  • Dan O October 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    This is no Good Samaritan waving through anything; it’s against the law to enter the intersection if you can not clear it. Oncoming traffic turning left *should* make sure the bike lane is clear, but they can’t see you if you can’t see them, they forget or don’t care about bikes, and…

    Another thing to watch out for is people entering from the right – oblivious to the fact that *they* should not enter the intersection if they can’t clear it, they don’t have the right-of-way, and *thinking* the people who are waiting to enter the intersection are letting them stuff their nose in there. Then they just stop across the bike lane.

    But yeah – you gotta watch out for all this nonsense – whatever could happen, with consideration of what’s apt to happen.

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    • matt picio October 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      Dan, that’s probably the strongest argument against the proposal up-thread to eliminate ORS811.290 (blocking cross traffic) – if it wasn’t illegal, then it also wouldn’t be illegal for cars turning right to block the bike lane while doing so. And arguably it would be a far more frequent occurrence.

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    • El Biciclero October 5, 2012 at 9:52 am

      “Then they just stop across the bike lane.”

      Classic. See this a few times every week–from driveways and side streets.

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  • Kevin Wagoner October 4, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    I imagine the cyclist in this case is legally riding in the designated lane. However the vehicle is failing to yield the right of way. Hopefully this gets enforced and isn’t chalk up as an “accident” that can’t be prevented. That said if you are riding this is a good situation to use extra caution.

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  • Erik October 4, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    This happens to me frequently riding up 5th in Seattle in the bike lane during backed up traffic. Drivers, anxious about sitting in traffic, become less likely to pay attention, more selfish, and more likely to go when there is an opening, or at least a perceived one. They have often crossed the green marked bicycle right-away right as I am entering it.

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  • Joe October 5, 2012 at 9:00 am

    I have been right hooked and T-Boned same time. someone stop to let a car cut right. 2 lane road in San Jose, Ca.. crazy!

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  • Chris October 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I’ve witnessed way too many car on car accidents at driveways when other motorists think they are being polite by leaving space for cars to turn in or pull out of the driveways.

    For this reason alone, when I’m driving my car I will not leave space at driveways. Yes you shouldn’t block intersections per ORS, however private driveways are not subject to that law.

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  • Lizzy October 12, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I don’t think it’s safe to travel through a bike lane at any intersection, especially if crossing straight. A number of cars can’t see you. I always take the lane, just right of the divider line – if possible. If that isn’t possible, and it’s legal, I take to the sidewalk and use the pedestrian crossing sign.

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