A news report on TriMet’s new Division Street bus station designs that aired Monday on KGW warrants a discussion of Oregon traffic law and how best to manage a new type of shared space.
As we reported last last month, TriMet opened two new stations (at SE 130th and 135th) as part of their (still in construction) Division Transit Project. The agency spent years trying to come up with a design that would allow bicycle users to pass through, while not encouraging conflicts with bus riders.
The way I understood the new design to work was pretty simple. If there are people present, bicycle riders would need to stop and wait. That’s basic human decency and it’s Oregon law since the loading/unloading area is technically a hybrid sidewalk/crosswalk in this context.
But what if only the bus is present and there are no pedestrians anywhere to be seen?
My ears perked up when I saw the KGW story above. As a bicycle user rode through the station, the reporter said, “… It may take some time before everyone gets the new system. This guy rode right on through with a bus at the stop.”
KGW then shared an animation from TriMet and described it like this:
“Cyclists can ride through the station in their lane, but when a bus pulls up to the curb, cyclists are required to stop before the pedestrian crosswalk area, allowing passengers to safely get on or off the bus.”
This raised a red flag for me, because stopping when a bus is present is a lot different than stopping when a pedestrian is present. Stopping at a crosswalk/sidewalk (or station loading area in this case) for the presence of a bus has no basis in Oregon law and could result in lengthy stops for well-meaning riders and/or confusion by others who aren’t sure if they are required to stop or not.
I asked TriMet spokesperson Tia York to clarify.
At first she pointed out Oregon statutes that require bicycle riders to yield to people on sidewalks and in crosswalks. Those laws are important to follow, but they don’t the situation where a bus is present but people aren’t.
In a follow-up York clarified that, “When a bus stops at the station, people should presume there will be people coming and going to the bus in the marked crosswalks in the bike lane within a few seconds. For cyclists, that does mean stopping when the bus pulls up.”
I understand TriMet’s concern here; and I hope bicycle and bus riders are exceedingly cautious at these stations. But I also worry that this creates a confusing grey area that has no precedent or standing in the law.
For example, Oregon law requires people to enter the street and/or make a motion that they want to use a crossing before other users are legally obligated to stop for them. TriMet is saying bicycle riders must do something new and different: Stop and wait in expectation of a person leaving/entering the bus loading crossing area.
What if a bus operator is laying over? Or doing paperwork or some other behavior that requires a prolonged stop? This would put an unfair burden on bicycle users who would have to remain stopped until the bus left the station.
York said buses that use these stations will have much shorter stops than usual due to all-door boarding and the fact that the raised platforms don’t require kneeling. Bus operators also don’t have to wait for a break in traffic since the lane is bus-only.
Hopefully this doesn’t become an issue, but we know when it comes to traffic laws and etiquette, confusion breeds non-compliance, and non-compliance breeds contempt — especially when it comes from an oft-maligned group like “cyclists”. Perhaps a solution would be a special “STOP” light or paddle that flips out of the right rear of the bus that’s engaged by the operator only during active loading and unloading?
Please don’t misunderstand me here: Bicycle riders need to chill out at these stations and should never blow through them if people are near the station (whether a bus is present or not). I just want to raise the issue in hopes that it never becomes one.
Have you used these stations yet? What was your experience?
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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