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Bill in legislature would legalize safe crossings against unresponsive red lights

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Many Portland bike users don’t realize how to use
detector loops like the one at NE Tillamook and
MLK Boulevard.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Though a bill as seemingly uncontroversial as state Senate Bill 533 isn’t the sort of thing we’d usually bother covering, some coverage today that originated in The Oregonian certainly has people talking.

As the O correctly explains in the seventh paragraph of the web version of its front-page story, SB 533 would make it legal to “proceed with caution” through a red light that is trying, but failing, to detect one’s bicycle or motorcycle. This would only be allowed after someone has waited through a full cycle.

Here’s how Oregonian reporter and columnist Joseph Rose and his editors chose to explain this bill:

Oregon Senate passes bill allowing bicycles, motorcycles to run red lights

In the Portland area, few things stir road rage as much as bicyclists running red lights. So how would you react to an Oregon bill making the practice legal across the state?

Well, there are probably the obvious snide observations. (“Pfft! A lot of bicyclists apparently already think blowing a red is legal.”) Sorry, pedaling commuters, but that’s deserved.

Or there’s the shrug, chuckle and head-shaking response: Sounds like another crazy bill with no chance of passing in the Legislature. Right?


Earlier this week, the Oregon Senate unanimously approved SB 533, permitting a “bicyclist or motorcyclist to proceed at stop light under certain conditions.”

Actually, let’s back up: The bill, now headed to the House floor with bi-partisan support, wouldn’t give bicyclists and motorcyclists the freedom to just zoom through stop lights willy-nilly.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, is designed to bring relief to bikers who constantly find themselves at stop lights that won’t change.

Similar “safe on red” or “dead red” laws exist for bicycles and/or motorcyles in 14 other states, The Oregonian says in paragraph 19 of its story. (The correct number of states, we’re told, may actually be 13.)


A 2013 study by Portland State University found that between 53 and 84 percent of bikes at three signalized intersections failed to stop over the in-street detector loop, presumably because their riders didn’t realize how the loops work.

The print version of the Oregonian
story, in its entirety.

The print headline, in case you’re wondering, is “Bikes likely to win right to blow that light,” but the print version is only a tease to the newspaper’s web site, not a complete article.

Rose also writes that “law enforcement agencies across the country have opposed similar proposals in other states, saying the new laws are vague, hard to enforce and give too much discretion to bicyclists and motorcycle riders.” To illustrate this point, he links to a 2011 newspaper article from Kansas that mentions the opposition of the state’s police chiefs and officers associations.

A month after that news story, the Kansas bill passed that state’s legislature by votes of 107-13 and 23-14 and was signed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Oregon’s state senate approved SB 533 on Tuesday. That vote was unanimous. It now proceeds to the state House.

The Oregonian turned heads around the country last year when Willamette Week reported its plans to tie its reporters’ compensation in part to the amount of traffic their posts receive on the Internet.