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Video of bike lane citation in Ashland highlights controversial Oregon law

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Still from police video of traffic stop.

Just after 6:00 pm on August 15th, 35-year-old Medford resident Dallas Smith was riding in the bike lane on Main Street in Ashland when he was pulled over by Ashland police officer Steve MacLennan. The offense? Officer MacLennan claimed that Smith was riding his bicycle outside of the bike lane.

“Why are riding on the white line and actually going over into the traffic lane when you have a bike lane here?” the officer asked Smith as he approached him during the traffic stop. When Smith replied that he was avoiding glass and other debris near the curb, which often gives him flats, Ofc. MacLennan dismissively replied. “Nope. No, that doesn’t cut it.”

After issuing the $110 citation, Ofc. MacLennan repeated to Smith that there wasn’t a sufficient amount of debris in the lane to warrant him riding several feet to the left of the curb. As he rode away, Smith asked the officer, “What am I supposed to do up here where there is no bike lane?” “You better ride off to the right then,” Ofc. MacLennan replied.

The entire traffic stop and verbal exchange between the two men was recorded by the officer’s on-board camera and the video was posted on YouTube last week.

This situation brings our attention what is informally referred to as Oregon’s “mandatory sidepath law.” ORS 814.420 is a controversial and often misunderstood law that many people feel we should repeal. The League of American Bicyclists even cited it as one of the reasons Oregon doesn’t rank higher in their Bike Friendly State rankings.

In a nutshell, the law says if there’s a bike lane on the road, you must ride in it. There are exceptions of course; but as we see in this case, a rider and a police officer might disagree on when they come into play. (For more on 814.420, browse our archives.)

It’s a law that Dallas Smith now knows all too well. I’ve emailed with him to learn more about what happened. He said when he got stopped he was biking to Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he works in the IT department as a software developer.

Smith also said he had a court date to challenge the ticket last Tuesday, but Ofc. MacLennan couldn’t make it so it has been pushed back to January 14th.

At this point, Smith doesn’t have a lawyer so he’s been gleaning advice from friends via Facebook.

“It has been interesting to see people’s response on this,” he wrote to me last night. “Most people seem to feel the same way about it as I do and the cop did not handle the situation in a professional manner.”

The thing is I am not against bike lanes and always ride in them when I don’t consider there to be a hazard. You can even see right before the cop pulled me over I had moved back into the middle of the bike lane.”

The southern Oregon bike advocate who forwarded this video to us said Smith is simply the “victim of an anti bicycle zealot.”

You can watch the video yourself and come to your own conclusion. And if you have input for Smith as he prepares his case for traffic court, he’s all ears.