“Share the road.”
It’s everywhere in Portland. You see it on signs, bumper stickers, and license plates.
But what if a cyclist isn’t obeying the law? When can you drive around a cyclist, and when do you have to stay in your lane? As a cyclist, do you know where you can get a $500 fine in Portland for biking on the sidewalk?
In this post, I’ll spell out laws drivers and cyclists alike should know about sharing the road here in Portland, Oregon. If you’ve been in an accident, or you simply want a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer, give me a call.
Oregon Laws Cyclists Should Know
As the Oregon Driver’s Manual states, “Bicycles are considered vehicles. You have the same rights, duties, and responsibilities as vehicle drivers.” If you’ve been cycling in Portland for a while, you’ve probably already realized that many drivers have no idea how to share the road. Stay alert and on the defensive when cycling, and never bike drunk.
In general, stay as far to the right on the roads as possible, unless it’s a one-way street -- then you may ride on the right or left side -- or you’re turning.
Sidewalks & Paths
Riding on the sidewalk is illegal in downtown Portland in the following area: south of Hoyt Street and north of Jefferson Street, and east of 13th and west of Naito Parkway. (This is Portland’s core, where most pedestrians and tourists are.) You could get a fine of up to $500 for cycling on the sidewalk within this area. (Police officers are allowed to bike on the sidewalk anywhere.) Sidewalks on bridges are fair game, as long as you yield to pedestrians.
Writes Joseph Rose on OregonLive.com, “Under Oregon and Washington law, bicyclists riding on sidewalks must yield the right of way to walkers and give an audible signal before passing. The rules also apply to multiuse paths in city parks.” Rose suggests you yell “Passing!” or “Behind you!” to alert others.
Unfortunately, it’s against the law in Oregon to carry more people on your bike than it was designed for (ORS 814.460). So no friends riding on the handlebars. It’s also illegal to tow someone behind your bike while they’re on a skateboard or rollerskates (ORS 814.480). Both are Class D traffic infractions.
Leaving Your Bike in Public
You can’t leave your bike in public for more than 72 hours, even if it’s locked up. (The exception is at Portland International Airport, where there are designated bike parking areas.) You also can’t lock up your bike too close to a fire hydrant or police/fire call box in case of an emergency.
Until you’re 17 and older, wearing a bike helmet is the law! Exceptions are if you’re on private property or if your religious beliefs would be violated.
Oregon Laws Drivers Should Know
Be courteous and considerate of cyclists. Even if a cyclist is breaking the law, all drivers have what the law calls a “duty to exercise due care” -- basically, to be careful. So drivers don’t get a free pass to be reckless just because a cyclist is doing something illegal. Ultimately, drivers are much more dangerous than cyclists or pedestrians. Accordingly, harming a cyclist or pedestrian while driving your car is a Class A misdemeanor. (If you’re in an accident with a cyclist, call me for a free consultation about your situation.)
Cyclists are legally required to signal for at least 100 feet before they turn (ORS 811.395). So which arm signals mean what? A left arm extended straight out indicates an upcoming left turn. A left arm bent at the elbow with the hand pointed skyward means a right turn is coming up. In either case, slow down a little and give the cyclist room to make the turn.
Drivers are required by law to give anyone in a bike lane the right of way (ORS 811.050). So if you’re turning right and want to get over into the right turn lane, and you would cross a bike lane, always look over your shoulder to see if a cyclist is approaching. Slow down or stop until the bike lane is clear. The Oregon Driver’s Manual says, “Do not move into a bicycle lane in preparation for a turn.”
It’s also illegal to park in a bike lane unless you’re just stopping briefly to pick someone up or drop someone off (ORS 811.560).
If there isn’t a designated bike lane and you’re going 35 mph or faster, you have to follow certain rules when passing a cyclist on the left (ORS 811.065):
Leave plenty of room for the cyclist (enough room so that if s/he fell into your lane, you would not come in contact with him/her)
Return to your lane when it’s safe to after you’ve passed the cyclist
You can enter the lane of oncoming traffic only if no one is coming
And never pass a cyclist in a no-passing zone.
Cyclists In Your Lane
Cyclists sometimes leave the bike lane. After all, they have to make turns too. There are a few instances where you should watch out for cyclists leaving the bike lane. For instance, if there’s a hazard or part of the bike lane is blocked, expect cyclists to swerve into your lane -- they might not be able to make it to the sidewalk. If it’s during rush hour and there are lots of cyclists in the bike lane, a cyclist might enter the right car lane when passing other cyclists. Be aware for this too. And if a cyclist is turning left, s/he may get over into your lane from the bike lane for obvious reasons.
If the speed limit is relatively low, cyclists may legally ride in the street, as long as they can keep up with the “normal” speed (ORS 814.430). Otherwise, the cyclist should stay as far right as possible. In all situations, be aware that just because there is a bike lane doesn’t mean the cyclist will stay in it!
Conclusion: How to Stay Safe & Avoid an Accident
Tempers can run high on the road. Cyclists may feel threatened and ignored by drivers, especially those who drive dangerously. Drivers may feel irritated and inconvenienced by cyclists, particularly those who are aggressive. When people are running late or traffic is bad, tensions mount even more. It’s always best to drive defensively -- that is, looking for potential hazards, not feeling defensive -- and not rush. Try to tap into your most patient, gracious self. Everyone just wants to get where they’re going safely and efficiently.
Drivers should refrain from honking at cyclists unless the cyclist doesn’t realize you’re there. If a cyclist seems to be acting erratically, remember that there might be dangers to them that you can’t see, like broken glass. Leave a big cushion of space for cyclists. And if you do get in an accident, don’t drive off, even if you’re embarrassed or afraid. Ensuring the cyclist is unhurt is the right thing to do.
If you’re a cyclist or driver and have been in an accident, I can help.
Call me at (503) 227-3800 for a free consultation.