A woman riding a bike was pulled over and cited by a Portland Police officer Monday afternoon. It happened on Southwest 2nd Avenue as she rode north just after crossing SW Washington. Her offense? She was not riding in the bike lane.
Believe it or not, Oregon has a law that requires bicycle users to use a bike lane whenever one is available. ORS 814.420 states, “a person commits the offense of failure to use a bicycle lane or path if the person operates a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.”
It’s a type of law — known as a “mandatory sidepath rule” — many states have moved away from. The national nonprofit League of American Bicyclists vehemently opposes laws like this and has fought against them at the federal level. They’ve also specifically called-out this law in Oregon as a reason for notching us down several rungs in national bike-friendly state rankings.
A big problem with mandatory sidepath laws is that they leave enforcement open to discretion of police officers — some of whom are unsympathetic to bicycle riders, don’t fully understand bike-related law and don’t have any bicycling experience themselves. It’s also just a waste of resources to pull someone over for operating their bicycle in a general purpose lane in downtown Portland where speeds and volumes are relatively low and bicycle riders travel at the same speed as other road users (and of course there are rampant, illegal, dangerous, yet harder-to-see-because-it’s-so-normalized-and-ubiquitous, behaviors by car and truck drivers).
The woman ticketed Monday said SW 2nd Avenue has been her regular commute route home for the past eight years. She usually avoids the bike lanes because they are “a death trap.” “That entire stretch is hazard after hazard,” she shared with me this week. “I wish the police would refocus their efforts to ticketing the 5-10 cars parked in the bike lanes I come across on my 1.5 mile commute.”
Adding to the frustration around this incident, it happened in a location where the bike lane is arguably less safe than other lanes (another reason this is a bad law).
Bike riders will often opt out of using bike lanes because they are so often full of debris, potholes, or inherent engineering hazards that make bike lanes less safe than other lanes. The 2nd Avenue bike lane specifically is also known to be full of puddles and leaves this time of year. This matters because ORS 814.420 includes an exception that says a person is not required to use the bike lane if they are, “Avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions.”
Back in July, BikePortland reader crazytraffic99 posted a video to YouTube that clearly captured one of these hazardous conditions:
While tickets for not using the bike lane are “very rare” and “not useful” according to Portland bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg, who specializes in helping people with these type of infractions, unfortunately they are still being written.
In this case, the woman who received the ticket reports that the officer who pulled her over didn’t talk much during the stop. She said he seemed like, “just a typical cyclist hating driver.” When asked to describe more about their conversation, she said the officer stated that he first noticed her while she rode eastbound on SW Alder, in the left lane outside of the new bike/bus lane. She did this because she was turning left at SW 2nd (a clearly legal thing to do according to ORS 814.420). Here’s more from her account of their conversation:
“He wasn’t happy I was riding down Alder on the left side (since I was turning left on 2nd and not crossing the Morrison Bridge). So after I turned onto 2nd and moved to the outside of the left lane to eventually turn right onto the Burnside Bridge, he turned on his lights and pulled me over at 2nd and Washington. He stated that there was a bike lane on 2nd and I was required to be in it, because motorists weren’t expecting me to be in their lane.”
The bicycle rider says she plans to contest the ticket when her day in court comes up in December 2023. “I will fight it,” she said, “If I don’t die in the next 13 months.”