Group works to repeal Oregon’s mandatory bike lane use law

Potholes and puddles are common in many Portland bike lanes. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon law that requires bicycle riders to use a bike lane when one is present has been a thorn in the saddle of advocates for a long time. Now a group has come together to repeal the law and they’ve made significant progress toward their goal.

ORS 814.420 “Failure to use a bicycle lane or path” says that when a road is striped with a bike lane, a person on a bicycle must use it. There are a list of exceptions, such as to avoid a hazard or to make a left turn; but most people — including many police officers — aren’t aware of them.

The ignorance of these exceptions and confusion around this law (also known as a “mandatory sidepath law”) mixed with a bit of anti-cyclist bias, can lead to road rage from drivers and/or unfair treatment by police. According to the League of American Bicyclists, the law “does nothing to benefit bicyclists and should be fought at every level.” The League specifically called out ORS 814.420 in 2014 as one of the reasons our Bike Friendly State ranking dropped a few notches. In 2010, the nonprofit Street Trust had a repeal of the law on their legislative agenda.

Since then, we’ve seen how the law can harm Oregonians.

Vivek Jeevan, Safe Lane Coalition. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

In 2013 we shared the story of a Medford man who was stopped by a police officer and cited for violation of the law. The rider said he was avoiding glass and other debris. A judge ultimately dismissed the case.

And this past December, a Portland woman was given a citation for not using the bike lane on SW 2nd Avenue. Despite her daily use of the route and knowledge of the bike lane’s hazards, the existence of exceptions in the law, and the fact that she was no threat to any other road users, the police officer still wrote her up.

That woman has since become a key volunteer with a group calling themselves the Safe Lane Coalition. They’ve begun a process to repeal the law at the Oregon Legislature and they plan to introduce the measure in the 2024 legislative session.

The group had their first meeting in the BikePortland Shed back in March and has met monthly since then. It is led by Vivek Jeevan, an active volunteer with BikeLoud PDX and a League of American Bicyclists certified safety education instructor. Before moving to Portland, Jeevan founded a nonprofit in Corvallis dedicated to traffic law education with a focus on vulnerable road users.

The Safe Lane Coalition has also enlisted the help of several lawyers, a former legislative director of The Street Trust (Doug Parrow, who wrote the bicycle safe passing bill that became law this past session), and has already received commitments of support from two Oregon lawmakers. One of them, House Representative Tom Andersen (D-Salem) plans to be chief sponsor of the forthcoming bill.

For the past three months, Jeevan and other Safe Lane Coalition volunteers have been working to polish verbiage, create a new website, and reach out to other bike groups across the state to grow the coalition.

As a traffic law educator, Jeevan feels Oregonians would be better off if this law was repealed. “Having a law that mandates bicyclists use facilities prevents cyclists from using their reasonable judgment to go around hazards,” he told BikePortland in an interview last month. “We should not be forcing cyclists into bad positions.”

And when bicycle riders do leave a bike lane for a legitimate reason, Jeevan says it’s often as car drivers or even police officers as antagonistic. Jeevan himself was pulled over for it. “I was planning to make a left turn and was merging over, and the officer didn’t like seeing a bicyclist in the traffic lane,” he recalled to me about the incident, saying that unnecessary police interactions and selective enforcement are a major source of concern.

And don’t think folks like Jeevan and the other advocates working on this are anti-bike lanes.

“It’s not that we don’t like bike lanes. We’re all working to build great bike infrastructure,” he said. “We just need the clear ability to go around hazards when they come up.”

Stay tuned for more on this effort.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Boyrd
Boyrd
8 months ago

Excellent work this group is doing. I wish them luck. They should get rid of ORS 814.430, while they’re at it. This is a law that only makes sense on rural highways or uncongested high speed arterials. In urban traffic, it is nonsense.

No reason that cyclists should be forced to ride as close to the edge of the road as practicable. Sometimes, when I’m riding in traffic, it makes sense to be in a middle lane to avoid traffic backups. The law allows some exceptions, just as the bike lane law does. But there shouldn’t be a presumption that cyclists have any less right to be riding in a road than cars do, and cyclists should not be discouraged from taking the lane if they think it’s safe to do so.

Fred
Fred
8 months ago
Reply to  Boyrd

Watch out for a tall white van with a large ORY sticker on the left back door and a corresponding GUN sticker on the right back door. The guy (of course it’s a guy) driving it honked me off the road the other day even though I was as close to the right edge as possible, on a street with just a white line and no shoulder. Apparently some drivers still think bikes shouldn’t be on ANY road with no bike lane, and it’s a problem.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Fred

I don’t know how you emotionally deal w that garbage all the time.

Mark Linehan
Mark Linehan
8 months ago

Hurray for Viv!

John A
John A
8 months ago

A great example I get to experience every day going to work is on NE Irving headed west between 19th and 20th. The trees are trimmed so low, that from the shoulders up would be in the branches and have no choice but to take the lane on this stretch. Five years ago it was starting to be a problem and today it is impossible. Drivers sure get mad at me blocking them for half a block to get around it as they speed off to the on-ramp to I-84 just a little further up the street.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
8 months ago
Reply to  John A

Tree branches over the street must be no lower than 11 feet per city code. You can report low-hanging branches in the public right-of-way to BDS (trees on private property) or Urban Forestry (trees on public property):

https://www.portland.gov/bds/code-enforcement/code-enforcement-phone-numbers#toc-trees-and-vegetation-concerns

Sara
Sara
8 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I wonder if this is true for the suburbs as well… There’s a stretch of my commute on SW Walker that involves either getting hit with branches or merging into rush hour traffic

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
8 months ago
Reply to  Sara

Yes, it looks like Beaverton has a similar tree code:

https://www.beavertonoregon.gov/987/FAQs

Val
Val
8 months ago

They need to ride in bike lanes. They already think that they don’t have to fallow traffic laws. If they ride in the car lanes more people will be hit and it will be the cars falt. I mean look we already don’t teach our kids to look both ways anymore and when they run in front of a car it’s the drivers fault. So let’s not add more to the soup bowl!!

Naomi
Naomi
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

Bikes manage to share lanes with cars perfectly well in states far busier than Oregon. It’s called sharing the road. Cars don’t get special status. Kids crossing streets is simply irrelevant to the argument.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
8 months ago
Reply to  Naomi

I just returned from a 3-day trip to hilly Atlanta GA. I was surprised by how many bicyclists, scooter users, and electric uncyclists I saw mixed in traffic, even using the left-hand traffic lanes at night. Sure there were some bike lanes, even a couple barrier-protected kind, but most users were on unmarked streets and stroads. No idea of crash rates there. I even saw some bicycle users on the METRA subway. And lots of people walking in 95 degrees.

Pete
Pete
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Yup… sounds like what I saw in Italy and other parts of Europe. ‘Merica seems to like to segregate things… in this case, by travel mode.

Mark smith
Mark smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

Sounds like defense of car head life.

Fred
Fred
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

I nominate Val for comment of the week! I want to hear more from her.

VietOne
VietOne
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

Cyclists obey the law no more and no less than drivers of motor vehicles. There’s been no evidence to show otherwise.

John
John
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

Pretty disgusting, and infuriating as a parent of a toddler, to hear someone on here defending cars running over kids, especially on the heels of news of one of the deadlier months on the road. Car drivers are unable to safely operate their vehicles and clowns like you are going around blaming the victims. Ridiculous.

Leif
Leif
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

Cars already hit people in the bike lanes plenty, because they don’t think to check if that lane’s occupied before crossing it. A bike in the main lane is far more visible, and drivers are used to checking to see if the main lane is clear before entering / crossing it (because they don’t want to be hit by a car – those things are dangerous).

Ken
Ken
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

I wish I knew how to fallow traffic laws. It sounds like a really fun thing to do to them.

Pete
Pete
8 months ago
Reply to  Val

If they ride in the car lanes more people will be hit” – do you have empirical evidence? In California there isn’t a “mandatory sidepath” law like this, and bicyclists are allowed to ride in ‘car lanes’ (known more formally as “travel lanes” btw) using the same exceptions as Oregon, with the addition of one more: whenever a right turn is practicable. You see, the laws for drivers vary across states, and here you are not supposed to drive in bike lanes whereas there you are supposed to drive as far right as possible for 100′ before taking a right turn. (This is probably why so many California transplants to Oregon drive in bike lanes). From a practical standpoint, cyclists moving into the travel lane (safely) at intersections makes for a safe and mostly seamless traffic flow for both, from my experience there.

AAron
AAron
8 months ago

I agree with the law. Bikers too often make it unsafe for vehicles in the road way holding up traffic and congesting the road. Use the bike lane or get on a side walk. Unless you can travel at the speed of traffic.

qqq
qqq
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

If you think people biking shouldn’t have to use a bike lane if they can travel at the speed of traffic, then you don’t agree with the law, because the law says that’s illegal.

Lysdestic
Lysdestic
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

No.

dw
dw
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

You know that some of the big suburban arterials that you probably love driving on have light cycles that range upwards of three minutes? Is it so long because of bikes? No, it’s that long to get all the cars through. Because the cars are the congestion. The cars are causing the traffic. When was the last time a biker made you literally stop and sit still for three minutes? Riding on the sidewalk is unsafe 1) because you can run in to pedestrians and 2) you are less visible at intersections than when you are in the lane. Get therapy homie. Or better yet go for a bike ride.

Rexford L
Rexford L
8 months ago
Reply to  dw

It’s safer for a bicycle to hit a pedestrian than it is for a car to hit a bicycle. The biggest thing is when bicyclists are riding in a vehicle lane and completely ignoring ALL the laws motor vehicles have to abide by!

Fred
Fred
8 months ago
Reply to  Rexford L

What laws are these scofflaw cyclists ignoring, exactly? – the laws of physics? I take it you do know that cyclists can now do an “Idaho stop.” Cyclists do NOT have to obey the same laws as motorists do, in every case, so please learn what the law actually says before you make assumptions.

Mark smith
Mark smith
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

Sounds like cat head defense and you are a Lars Larson listener

Matt
Matt
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

Even riding at the speed of traffic, I’ve been honked, at, threatened, and close-passed. It’s a symptom of “Must Get In Front” syndrome, a form of vehicular psychosis.

Before you criticize somebody, walk (or ride, in this case) a mile in their shoes.

John
John
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

It’s not unsafe unless the drivers make it unsafe. Your perspective is all wrong.

Karl Dickman
Karl Dickman
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

I have been honked at, tailgated, punishment passed, or otherwise menaced, while riding my bike at 15 in a 15, 20 in a 20, 25 in a 25, 30 in a 30, 35 in a 35, and 35 in a 25. Anger at cyclists using the roads has nothing to do with the speed that they are traveling, and everything to do with the fact that they are there at all.

Dimitri
Dimitri
8 months ago
Reply to  AAron

Don’t you think you’re confusing unsafe with inconvenient? I see this all the time, with car drivers complaining about everything from bike lanes, to road diets and medians. Those things make the street safer by making it less convenient for you to drive unsafely. Same goes for cyclists right to use the road, they’re not making it less safe, the drivers choose to make it unsafe since the onus is on them.

Bryan
Bryan
8 months ago

When quoting Jeevan, you wrote, “… necessary police interactions…” Did you mean, “unnecessary?”

Naomi
Naomi
8 months ago

I moved recently to Oregon and wasn’t aware of this terrible law. I don’t see how Oregon can call itself a “bike friendly state” if it doesn’t have fair road use laws. I’m already not impressed by the police in the greater Portland area, so I hope this ridiculous law will get repealed. *Then* I’ll feel safe going on long rides.

Mark smith
Mark smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Naomi

Oregon has a long and documented history of racisms. So the police always want a back door way to find a reason to pull someone over. Yes the most vocal examples are white people. But those who are minorities who don’t fight know all to well how easy it is get arrested while riding not white. This law has got to go.

Fred
Fred
8 months ago
Reply to  Naomi

Hope you stick it out here a while longer, Naomi. Oregon is disappointing in many ways but it’s largely a progressive state that is moving in the right direction overall, thanks to progressive people like the group meeting in the BP shed.

Mark smith
Mark smith
8 months ago

It’s a curiosity why the “verbiage is being polished”.

Seems quite simple to me. “Rider may use whole lane or the side path at the discretion of the rider based on the rider’s interpretation of the safest route to use. Rider may alternate as needed. Rider is defined as anyone riding on one or more wheels”.

Seems simple enough to me and I saved the committee hours of pointless emails. And this avoids the police “finding a reason” to pull over a cyclist.

Why do cyclists threaten the government? Because if we all rode bikes we would need less government and zero traffic cops.

Really???
Really???
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark smith

I have seen multiple bike on bike accidents on campus, true the injuries are less severe in most cases. But I see people riding on the wrong side of the road, crossing against red lights (and getting hit by a car who was travelling legally on a 55mph rd), riding the wrong way in one way traffic, riding on the sidewalk when there is a bike lanes, and myriad of other things…enforcement of laws will always be a necessity as long as there are people to break them…fantasyland can be fun tho

Fred
Fred
8 months ago

Great work by the group – thank you!

I’m waiting for the first cyclist to be cited for not using the new downhill “bike lane” on SW Capitol Hwy between Taylors Ferry Rd and Multnomah Village. It could be me, since I’m not using that death trap with its 32 entering driveways, 8 streets entering from the right, and even telephone poles in the middle of the bike lane! You can easily roll downhill at the 25 mph speed limit, which cyclists should be allowed to do.

qqq
qqq
8 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Besides all that being true, it’s also a reminder of another reason for changing the law.

If I’m remembering correctly there was some discussion about this path (or similar ones) where people who ride faster don’t like some new bike facilities for the same reasons other people DO like them. For instance, people biking with kids may prefer a path that’s closer to (or involves) riding on sidewalks, if it means more separation from cars, and things like driveway crossings or extra stops aren’t bad because they’re biking slow. Those same things (like you said) can make riding in the lane preferable for people wanting to go faster who are comfortable in traffic.

Almost all the reasons why the sidepath law is bad focus on how it removes the option of riding in traffic for people who can’t–or don’t want to–use the bike lane, for various legitimate reasons.

But another group who benefits are people who WANT to ride in bike lanes. First of all, it means people riding slow, riding with kids, etc. don’t have to share the lane with faster riders (who now won’t be forced to ride in it).

Second, it means if there’s a demand for bike facilities that emphasize separation from traffic over speed, jurisdictions are free to provide those, without the issue that they’ll be forcing ALL bike riders into that type of lane. It could free up the possibilities for creating a wider range of bike facilities, because it will no longer be the case that all riders will be forced to use whatever is provided.

Matt
Matt
8 months ago

I flat out do not use bike lanes when they’re in the door zone–a major hazard that has resulted in cyclists’ deaths. I encourage all cyclists to likewise never ride in the door zone, bike lane or no.

Eddie Edwards
Eddie Edwards
8 months ago

I would never support the repeal of the bike lane law. Instead they should begin to educate Oregonian on the use of the Lane

MarkE
MarkE
8 months ago

Check with Amsterdam to see what has worked so well with bicycles and car traffic there.

Steve Jonaas
Steve Jonaas
8 months ago
Reply to  MarkE

Have you actually rode a bike in Amsterdam?? Outside of the tourist core downtown it is quite a different situation. And even downtown there is a TON of car traffic, you WILL be interacting with motorists in automobiles. Also motorcycles use the protected lanes there so good luck dealing with the aggressive delivery-men who have no qualms about splitting the slow moving groups of tourist cycles honking and swearing.

To hear the tourists tell it, Netherlands is a car free utopia. Ridiculous, it has highways as big and unfriendly as any American city. The ignorance is astounding, it’s like everyone has done museum, cafe, museum, bier hall etc. and then got on a KLM back to Porltand. Silly.

John Schubert
8 months ago

FYI, there is a huge difference between a “mandatory sidepath law” and a “mandatory bike lane law.” This article is about the latter, but you called it the former.
Some states have both, some have neither, some have one, some have the other.

If LAB is actually working for elimination of this law, that’s a welcome change. LAB didn’t lift a finger to help when Florida passed its mandatory bike lane law, and if I recall correctly, they were zero help in Washington State.

Ed
Ed
8 months ago

If cyclists aren’t required to use bike lanes, then there is no value to the bike lane. Without a bike lane, on any road with a speed limit over 25, the bicycle is now obstructing traffic. This means drivers will pass you, and you’re going to be worried about getting run over. But that is the inevitable result of refusing to use a bike lane.

The issue isn’t that the bike lane requirement exists. If the bike lanes are not planned properly, or if they are not maintained, that is a separate discussion. But, requiring a bicycle to stay in the bike lane is literally the exact same thing as requiring a car to stay in the motor vehicle lane. If you have a problem with being told to stay in a bike lane, then you don’t have a problem with a car jumping the sidewalk.

qqq
qqq
8 months ago
Reply to  Ed

Cars ride on sidewalks every time they go in and out of driveways. On streets that have bike lanes, cars drive in them every time they turn in or out of a driveway, every time they parallel park on the street, and every time they turn on or off that street onto another street Delivery vehicles park in bike lanes constantly.

And every one of those instances is legal, because the law recognizes that there are many valid reasons for vehicles to be in bike lanes.

Each of those times when vehicles are legally in the bike lane, nobody is saying, “If vehicles aren’t required to use vehicle lanes, then there is no value to the vehicle lane”, because it would be stupid to say that.

The change to the law is being proposed because there are many valid reasons for people to NOT ride in a bike lane–or more accurately many MORE reasons than the law currently allows. So the law should reflect that, just as laws reflect the many reasons why it can be valid for vehicles to be on sidewalks or in bike lanes.

qqq
qqq
8 months ago
Reply to  Ed

“If the bike lanes are not planned properly, or if they are not maintained, that is a separate discussion”

No it’s not. If they’re not planned properly, or not maintained–to the point it’s not practical of safe to ride in them–then it should be legal to move out from them into the lane. That’s common sense, and exactly what the law revision proposes.

Bill B
Bill B
8 months ago

I can’t be the only cyclist who avoids the bike lane on NW Broadway just south of Hoyt. That pinball machine of a bike lane is death trap.

Cyclists need options on the mean streets of Portland. Thank you Viv and all others here who are advocating for the safety of cyclists, and a future when others will feel it’s safe to ride!