A bicycle rider was killed last year in the central Oregon city of Bend when he was involved in a collision with a FedEx truck operator. The collision was a right-hook that took place in an intersection.
The reason I’m sharing this story here and now is because of a Deschutes County Circuit Court ruling that was made in the case yesterday. Here’s the story from the Bend Bulletin (emphasis mine):
A Deschutes County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday ruled a cyclist hit and killed in an intersection by a FedEx truck did not have the protection of a bike lane.
FedEx driver Trenton Derek Sage was found not guilty of the violation of failing to yield to a rider in a bicycle lane. Last November, Sage hit and killed Bend man Jonathan Chase Adams, 31… The case had implications beyond the lives of Sage and Adams. Prosecutor Andrew Steiner said many people today do not treat bike lanes like vehicle lanes, though they are.
“This is cultural,” he said. “Many people just don’t think of them as lanes.”
Steiner attempted to make the case that bike lanes continue through intersections, citing Oregon Department of Transportation guidelines for road construction and recent court cases and legislation in Oregon.
But Tuesday afternoon, Adler announced he did not agree. He said he saw “no authority” to support the contention that bike lanes continue through intersections in Oregon.
If this sounds familiar it’s because we had a similar case in Portland in 2009. In that instance, Multnomah County Court Judge Mark Zusman ruled that a woman who admitted to making a sudden right turn in her car that resulted in a collision with a bicycle rider in an intersection could not be found guilty for “failure to yield… in a bike lane” because — in Judge Zusman’s opinion — there is technically no “bike lane” in the intersection since there are no painted lines.
We spoke to legal and law enforcement experts about that case and they all agreed that Zusman’s decision was unfortunate and/or just plain wrong. At the time I said repeatedly that the law needs to be clarified so as to avoid decisions like this from happening ever again. Well, here we are.
‘Bicycle lane’ means that part of the highway, adjacent to the roadway, designated by official signs or markings…
– ORS 801.155
Let’s be clear: Even though the legal definition of a bicycle lane (ORS 801.155) doesn’t specifically address intersections, the legal protection of a bicycle lane absolutely does continue through an intersection even if the markings do not. Standard vehicle lanes also don’t continue through intersections — does that mean intersections are a legal free-for-all? No. There are no lines in intersections simply because it would be confusing and impossible to follow them when they criss-cross each other.
But don’t take my word for it.
Former Portland Police Bureau Captain Bryan Parman told us in 2010 that, “We all know that lanes continue through an intersection, we just don’t lay down a bunch of criss-crossing lines because it would be confusing.” He also said, “It’s a poor ruling in an individual case but it doesn’t change the way we do business.”
Keep in mind that the Bend case is much different in one major respect: The bicycle rider was riding relatively fast and one witness said he was “bombing” downhill prior to the collision. In the Portland case, the auto user admitted fault and made a sudden right turn without looking. It’s unclear if the Deschutes County Judge took the bicycle rider’s behavior into account in his interpretation of the bike lane law.
The Portland case ultimately settled out of court with the auto user’s insurance company taking full responsibility.
It’s very frustrating to another Oregon judge make this determination about bike lanes. We had a feeling this could happen if the law was not clarified. In 2010, a former employee of The Street Trust said their legislative committee discussed the possibility of changing the law. “The question hinges on whether this is a one-time fluke,” the employee said, “or if this is something that will spread like a virus.” Given what just happened in Bend, it’s time for the law to be cleaned up.
The law should be changed to explicitly state that bicycle lanes continue through intersections — whether the lane markings do or not.
UPDATE, 12:06 pm: We’ve obtained some of the documents used in the Deschutes County Court trial. In a memo to the court, the driver’s Portland-based attorney, David McDonald, cites the 2009 Zusman decision as evidence that the bike lanes didn’t legally continue through the intersection. McDonald also states, “a bicycle lane is a traffic control device, and traffic controlled devices have to be clearly marked. The fact that the bicycle lane’s markings are not continuous through the intersection, and the point of impact was not with a designated bicycle lane, Mr. Sage [the truck operator] cannot be adjudge liable for a violation of ORS 811.050.”
UPDATE: Here’s a May 2018 memo written by Deputy DA Andrew Steiner that explains why he believes bike lanes continue through intersections:
Memo Re Adams 5-1-18
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