Cyclist’s Safety vs. Motorist’s Convenience

I have been thinking about vehicular cycling and the law ever since I started learning how to control the lane several years ago. However, my frustration with the law reached a new peak this week when I read this recently published article about Bicycles May Use Full Lane (BMUFL) signs and attended the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s Legal Clinic. The first half of this podcast covers almost everything that was covered during the Legal Clinic. My friend Gerald, who is also a vehicular cyclist and President of Bike PSU, and I asked Ray Thomas, who is a bike lawyer with decades of experience, about Oregon’s bike laws.

Before I continue, I should mention that I am not one of the vehicular cyclists that is against all segregated bike infrastructure. As my previous blog post discusses, I support segregated bike infrastructure that is safe, especially at intersections, which is very rare or doesn’t exist. The below diagram, which I found on Cycling Savvy, shows reasons why segregated bike infrastructure, especially bike lanes, isn’t safe. This animation, which was also created by Cycling Savvy, shows why lane control is so important for safety. Portland has plenty of on-street parking so I risk being doored while riding on door zone bike lanes every day.

Most common reasons to leave a bike lane

Most common reasons to leave a bike lane

Gerald and I were disappointed to learn just how bad Oregon’s bike laws are for vehicular cyclists. Even though neither of us have ever been pulled over by the police or given a ticket for vehicular cycling, we are concerned this could happen because the law is against us. As the below map shows, which I found on Dan Gutierrez’s facebook, Oregon isn’t the only state in the US to have laws against vehicular cyclists. Only two states, Arkansas and North Carolina, have equitable bicycling movement laws.

US States with Equitable Bicycling Laws

US States with Equitable Bicycling Laws

Using this legal bike guide, I will provide specific examples of how Oregon law is against vehicular cyclists. Since I didn’t want to overwhelm readers, I only copied the sections that I felt are most important so the entire statute is not copied. I also bolded the most important words.

ORS 814.430 Improper use of lanes; exceptions; penalty.
(1) A person commits the offense of improper use of lanes by a bicycle if the person is operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic using the roadway at that time and place under the existing conditions and the person does not ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway.
(2) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is not operating a bicycle as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway under any of the following circumstances:
(c) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or other conditions that make continued operation along the right curb or edge unsafe or to avoid unsafe operation in a lane on the roadway that is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side. Nothing in this paragraph excuses the operator of a bicycle from the requirements under ORS 811.425 or from the penalties for failure to comply with those requirements.

ORS 811.425 Failure of slower driver to yield to overtaking vehicle; penalty.

While ORS 814.430 legally allows cyclists in Oregon to control the full lane, it limits where and under what circumstances cyclists are legally allowed to control the full lane. ORS 814.430(2)(c) and how it relates to ORS 811.425 concerns me the most. If Oregon really cares about Vision Zero, the speed of the overtaking vehicle shouldn’t matter because the cyclist’s safety should matter more than the motorist’s convenience to get places quickly. Cyclists should be allowed to control the full lane on any road and drive as slow as they need to, especially when they are trying to avoid hazardous conditions. Unfortunately, we live in an automobile dominated society and our laws reflect this.

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