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Proposed bill would clarify definition of bike lanes in Oregon

Posted by on December 19th, 2018 at 10:19 am

The legal protection doesn’t end where the striping does.

A local lawyer wants to amend an existing state law so that Oregon judges can no longer decide that a bicycle rider’s legal right-of-way disappears in an intersection.

“It is important to affirm and clarify the law so that the bad legal result does not occur again.”
— Ray Thomas, lawyer

It might seem obvious to you and I that people still have to yield to other road users in intersections even though there’s no lane striping; but on two occasions Oregon judges have disagreed. That’s two too many for Portland-based lawyer Ray Thomas.

In a case last fall, a Deschutes County Circuit Court judge in Bend said his reading of existing law gave him “no authority” to support the plaintiff’s claim that bike lanes continue through intersections. And in 2009 a Multnomah County judge made a similar ruling when he determined a bicycle rider had no legal protection in the bike lane because there was no paint in the intersection designating it as one.

Thomas, a well-known bicycle advocate and bike law expert with Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost (a BikePortland supporter), says those decisions are wrong and “out of left field.” Because the legal definition of a bicycle lane can be made by “official signs or or markings,” Thomas wrote in a 2015 article, the markings before and after the intersection are what create the legal presence of the lane.

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“While this lack of legal reasoning has no binding legal authority,” Thomas shared with BikePortland earlier this week, “it is nevertheless important to affirm and clarify the law so that the bad legal result does not occur again.”

To prevent another one of these unfortunate decisions, Thomas has proposed a bill for the 2019 Oregon legislative session that would clarify and strengthen the definition of a bicycle lane. Bicycle lanes in Oregon are defined in ORS 801.155 as, “… part of the highway, adjacent to the roadway, designated by official signs or markings for use by persons riding bicycles except as otherwise specifically provided by law.”

Current draft of LC 3354.

The proposed bill would add the following sentence to that definition: “Where the markings of a bicycle lane are interrupted by an intersections, the bicycle lane continues in and through the intersection.”

The bill is currently filed as LC 3354 (“LC” refers to Legislative Counsel, the office that writes bills for legislators) and Oregon House Rep. Rob Nosse has signed on as a sponsor. The bill was drafted with help and support from The Street Trust.

“We hope this law will pass through the legislature and become law before another legal judicial anomaly occurs to deny a bicycle rider their lawful right-of-way in the intersection,” Thomas says.

We hope so too.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Kelly
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Kelly

I don’t understand why Portland doesn’t just stripe the bike lane through the intersection using hash marks. Seems like that’s the obvious solution here. Drivers don’t know the laws, but visible stripes make it more apparent to them that they are crossing another lane.

maxD
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maxD

thanks for this important information. This seems non-controversial and like a total no-brainer, but you never know. Is the Street trust seeking support for this- emailing our representatives or something?

Jillian Detweiler
Guest

Kudos to Representative Rob Nosse who reached out to Ray Thomas and The Street Trust when he was contacted by a constituent about this issue! We were just starting to plot a legislative strategy when Rep Nosse volunteered to sponsor the bill. Let him know you appreciate his support for the safety and protection of cyclists!

B. Carfree
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B. Carfree

There is a downside to this proposal. Many cyclists who understand that being in a bike lane at an intersection where motorists can and do turn across the bike lane is an unsafe practice. If this proposal passes, a rogue cop may choose to cite us for taking the lane adjacent to a bike lane. Sure, we may be successful fighting such a citation in court if we can get the judge to understand the high risk of being in a bike lane to the right of right-turning traffic (or to the left of left-turning traffic), but that wastes a lot of time and, since few if any traffic court judges know how to ride bicycles, has low odds of success.

I’d love to see this issue addressed by a modification of this proposed law to explicitly state that cyclists can still abandon the bike lane to avoid right hooks or, better yet, use these court decisions to catalyze the removal of Oregon’s terrible mandatory bike lane use law.

JeffS
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JeffS

You placed a lane to the right of a lane which can turn right.

No amount of legislation is going to fix that failure.

MantraPDX
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MantraPDX

JeffS
You placed a lane to the right of a lane which can turn right.No amount of legislation is going to fix that failure.Recommended 0

I can think of many examples of two lane turning setups and I don’t see folks in cars struggling to navigate the infrastructure. I don’t always like being sandwiched between motor vehicles and the curb either, but what other designs could be used in the bike lane/intersection scenario that would be safer, Jeff?

Motor vehicle lanes are rarely striped through intersections and somehow drivers seem to understand they can’t just jump into another lane that’s already occupied by another vehicle. Clarifying this in the law will be a good thing for all road users, in my opinion.

Moleskin
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Moleskin

probably splitting hairs, but in some cases there is a bike lane leading into an intersection, and magically none on the other side. “Interrupted” could be construed not to apply in that case, which would be unfortunate.

Mike Sanders
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Mike Sanders

Kelly actually makes a very valid point. In NYC, it’s common practice to paint the sharrows all the way across the intersection, bounded on each side by dotted lines. (Also common practice in Paris, France.) This would carry out the intent of the proposed law. I’m surprised this isn’t common style elsewhere in this country. Los Angeles, for example, with its many wide intersections, should do that but doesn’t.

Glenn F
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Glenn F

Time to replace some judges!

Jason
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Jason

I think in the driver’s manual, it says not to carry out a lane change in the middle of an intersection. This implies that, while car lanes aren’t drawn in the intersection, they exist. Any judge who would defer the rights of cyclists on the basis that lanes disappear in an intersection clearly has bias.

MantraPDX
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MantraPDX

Jason
I think in the driver’s manual, it says not to carry out a lane change in the middle of an intersection. This implies that, while car lanes aren’t drawn in the intersection, they exist. Any judge who would defer the rights of cyclists on the basis that lanes disappear in an intersection clearly has bias.Recommended 2

Great point, Jason! When I first read about this verdict I had a similar thought: If we applied this logic to all vehicles just imagine what a mess it would create.

Seems to me the end game of this judge’s logic is a free-for-all at every intersection with no real legal guidance to assign fault in court.

J_R
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J_R

Thanks, Ray, for taking the lead on this.

For all BP readers: It will be really important to contact your legislators, and all member of appropriate committees, when the bill is introduced.

kristent
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kristent

Definitely thank you, Ray Thomas, for trying to get this through.

It’s sad that we need it, it appears that the “spirit of the law” only applies to some things but not to bike lanes. It’s clear that the intent of the bike lanes, especially ones that continue on the other side of an intersection, are to exist through the intersections like the rest of the traffic lanes. The two judges who decided bike lanes don’t exist in intersections clearly don’t understand the spirit of the law, and also common sense.

Fingers crossed it passes– it’s almost dumb enough not to (as in, people will say, “duh, of course they exist in intersections, we don’t need this”).

Fred
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Fred

A related question: True or false? If an operator of a motor vehicle in Oregon strikes a cyclist (or pedestrian) with the vehicle, the most the operator can be charged with is a misdemeanor – as long as the operator stops the vehicle, renders aid, cooperates with police, etc. The operator can be charged with a felony *only* if the operator fails to stop.

Is that true? It’s what a friend and fellow cyclist, who was struck by a vehicle and injured, was told by someone in the law-enforcement world (police, DA’s office, etc). In his case the driver fled (hit and run) and was therefore charged with a felony.

I’m wondering if a reader has experience with this issue, or whether it has been discussed before, here on BP or elsewhere (share a link, please). Thanks.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I’d like it better if they removed “by an intersections,” from it. That way any gap in the bike lane markings is covered.