Portland rightly enjoys a reputation as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. But fatal accidents still take place, drivers still are not as aware of cyclists as they should be. Even when drivers are trying to do the right thing (as many in Portland are) riders often find themselves struggling through nearly impossible situations.
Take, for example, NW 10thStreet. As a recent article posted on the BikePortland website demonstrates, it is hard for a rider in this part of downtown Portland not to feel endangered. A photo accompanying the article shows a narrow thoroughfare that contains on-street parking, a traffic lane and a streetcar track (with the streetcar and the cars moving in opposite directions). Any cyclist following the law and riding with auto traffic is immediately placed in a highly dangerous situation (as BikePortland notes, the law does allow cyclists to use the streetcar lane, but for obvious reasons many hesitate to do so). The gap between the traffic lane and the parked cars is uncomfortably narrow leaving riders dangerously exposed to drivers who might pull out or open car doors abruptly. There is more space on the opposite side, beyond the streetcar, but that is an area reserved for pedestrians and, in any case, there would usually be no safe place for a cyclist to go in the face of an oncoming tram.
Oregon law is quite explicit about the rights and responsibilities of bike riders. ORS 814.400 begins: “Every person riding a bicycle upon a public way is subject to the provisions applicable to and has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle.”
Ironically, the downside of having a city with such good bike infrastructure is that drivers sometimes take it for granted. Some assume that cyclists will not be sharing the road with them even when the road does not contain a bike lane. More dangerously, some do not give riders the space to which they are entitled, feeling that bikes ‘ought’ to be in lanes that may or may not actually exist. As the BikePortland article notes: “For years, Portland bicycle riders have been forced to share the same roads with car, truck and transit operators… to move the needle for ridership we need to give people a more comfortable place to ride.”
As a Portland attorney who has long been an advocate for the cycling community, I would add that we also need to remind drivers of their own obligations. It can be easy to view ORS 814.400 as something focused on cyclists – a statute designed to remind them of their responsibilities. But the obligations it places on drivers are equally important, and if cars trucks (and, yes, transit) fail to acknowledge cyclists and their rights we need to be prepared to use the avenues offered by the court system.
In the long run, what all Portlanders need is better bike infrastructure, especially along roads like NW 10thStreet. But it is also important to remember that Oregon’s laws governing reckless and negligent driving apply just as much to accidents involving bicycles as car crashes. They exist to protect everyone using our roads, and not just to help keep traffic moving.
City of Portland: Bikes and the Law
ORS 811.140: Reckless Driving