Articles Posted in Bicycle Accidents

In an exciting development for area cyclists, The Oregonian reports that Portland’s city council has “blessed a plan to build a protected two-way bike path on North Greeley Avenue between Interstate 5 and Swan Island.” The $1.9 million project will involve repaving Greeley as part of the construction process. If everything goes according to plan the path will be open in the fall of 2019.

The path will be a significant addition to Portland’s cycling infrastructure, creating a protected cycleway to replace what the newspaper says “might be one of the most dangerous bike lanes in Portland.” I have written in the past about the dangers of cycling on North Greeley. A video on The Oregonian’s website aptly illustrates what a hair-raising experience a ride along this road currently is. Traffic speeds past on a road where the existing shoulder is narrow and in poor condition. The paper notes that “two bicyclists have been seriously injured on the stretch of road between 2007 and 2016.”

Oregon already has strict laws designed to protect cyclists. ORS 811.050 designates failure to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane as a Class B traffic violation (meaning it incurs a fine of up to $1000). That is important to keep in mind on North Greeley where even after the new bike path is constructed drivers headed south will have to cross the bike lane as they enter the I-5 onramp.

Bike share programs have become popular across the country, and it is no surprise that famously bike-friendly Portland is part of the trend. That’s why the news that Motivate, the company that runs Biketown (and many other bike share programs nationwide), has a new owner should be of interest to anyone who cares about Portland as a cycling community.

The buyer is Lyft, a company best known for its car-hailing app. The Oregonian quotes a company statement promising “to help take bike share to the next level” with more bikes and more docking stations. With a single company running the bike share programs in cities across the country there is also the potential for rentals to become nearly seamless nationwide.

But Lyft’s emergence as a major player in bike share also raises questions. Let’s start with maintenance. When you return a rental car it is checked before being sent back out with another customer. When you roll a share bike into a docking station it usually just sits there until someone else checks it out or until the bike share operator moves it to a different location (regular and systematic redistribution of the bikes is a key element of any successful share program). Clearly no one is going to select a bike from the docking station if it has serious, visible damage. But there have always been legal questions about how bike share companies should deal with more subtle mechanical problems. Gears, the chain and the brakes can all be damaged in ways not immediately visible to someone who knows little about bike maintenance. It is worth asking what steps are being taken to guarantee a safe ride for bike share customers.

A court hearing in Bend earlier this month is bringing long overdue attention to some of the legal issues surrounding accidents and bike lanes. The Deschutes County proceeding focused on the death last November of a 31-year-old cyclist who was “hit and killed in an intersection by a FedEx truck,” according to a report in The Oregonian.

Prosecutors described bike lanes as the center of the case. “This is cultural,” the newspaper quotes the county prosecutor saying. “Many people just don’t think of them as lanes.”

According to the newspaper, the cyclist sped down a hill and through an intersection, colliding with the side of a FedEx semi-truck as it was making a right-turn from NW Wall Street onto NW Olney Avenue in Bend. The rider “was also traveling north on Wall, in a bike lane alongside the travel lane. (He) intended to go through the intersection and not turn right onto Olney Avenue,” according to The Oregonian.

A lawsuit filed by the family of a Portland cyclist who was seriously injured last December, in the words of The Oregonian, “by a car driving 60 mph in one of Portland’s most dangerous cyclist-vehicle crossings” has filed a lawsuit targeting both the City of Portland and the State of Oregon.

The lawsuit raises questions about the responsibility not only of the driver who struck the 43-year-old Portland bike rider but also about the city and state’s failure to address what has long been recognized as an exceptionally dangerous stretch of road for bike riders. The newspaper reports that the accident took place at a point on North Greeley Avenue where “the southbound bike lane crosses an on-ramp for Interstate-5 – a section where the speed limit is 45 mph but drivers often travel 55 to 60 mph.” According to the court filing (see link in the Oregonian article below) the biker “suffered a traumatic brain injury” as well as numerous broken bones and a collapsed lung, among other injuries.

This accident took place despite the rider checking the ramp carefully. According to the paper, he saw a truck approaching but correctly judged that he had a safe amount of space to make the required cross-over. What he could not see was a car passing the truck at high speed, and failing to heed the bike lane markings.

Over the years I have written a lot about the way bikes, pedestrians, cars and public transport all interact on Portland’s streets. In recent weeks something new has joined this mix: e-scooters. As a technology, these have been around for several years they are now appearing around Portland in far greater numbers after the city’s Bureau of Transportation issued permits to two e-scooter rental companies at the end of last month.

According to local TV station KGW, “the introduction of e-scooters is part of the PBOT’s shared scooter pilot program, which will last through November 20. As part of the 120-day program, permitted companies will be able to offer scooters for rent. The total number of permitted scooters will be capped at 2,500… People can rent a scooter through an app and drop it off anywhere in the city when they are finished.”

That all sounds simple and straightforward enough, but, as is so often the case, the details look a lot more complicated. During its recently completed 2018 session the Oregon legislature modified a lengthy list of statutes related to e-scooters (click here for the complete list). Unfortunately, when one looks at the actual text (see links below) several sections are frustratingly vague.

In many ways it is a small thing: the installation of tiny sensors on lampposts, first at a few key intersections and, later, around much of the city. But the Portland Bureau of Transportation believes that what it calls “Smart City PDX” is an essential step toward making the city safer for everyone who walks, bikes or drives a motor vehicle.

As outlined in a recent article in The Oregonian, the initiative initially will involve “installing 200 sensors along three high-crash corridors on the city’s eastside… The traffic  sensors will provide real-time 24/7 data to transportation staff, giving bureaucrats accurate information on the number of cars or pedestrians crossing a road at a given time and how fast people are driving.” This is in contrast to the city’s traditional reliance on “volunteers or infrequent traffic surveys” to collect similar information.

The Oregonian notes that the project is scheduled to last for 18 months, but it is easy to envision a situation in which this kind of data collection is expanded and becomes a regular part of the city’s planning process. Considering the number of accidents we have seen in recent years involving pedestrians and cyclists, any improvement in the data surrounding our streets is to be welcomed. The paper quotes the head of the PBOT saying that the information gathered through this project “will help city leaders ‘improve street design’ and make streets safer for all.” According to The Oregonian as of mid-June “at least 17 people have died on Portland streets in 2018.”

A recent blog post on the BikePortland website seeks to draw attention to Portland’s NW Broadway and Hoyt intersection, which the author calls “dangerous by design.” It is among the sites that BikePortland has long sought to highlight as the city continues its efforts to make one of America’s most bike-friendly cities even better.

BikePortland’s editor/publisher notes that he has been writing about the dangers posed by NW Broadway and Hoyt for several years. As May came to a close he got an email documenting a very scary incident in which a car making a right turn “tried to thread the needle between two groups of cyclists by speeding up a bit.” This forced one rider to slam on his brakes and crash into a truck (the cyclist was seen limping at the site but apparently did not require medical assistance).

As BikePortland notes “this is a very heavily-used bike route.” That would seem to make it the sort of place where drivers are particularly aware that bikes are part of their surroundings, but because of the way the intersection is laid out the intersection continues to be an especially dangerous spot. The post reminds readers that a car turning across a bike lane cannot simply put on its blinker and go. People in the bike lane have the right of way, and for a moving car to cut through groups of cyclists moving across its path is no more legal or acceptable than a driver “threading the needle” between pedestrians at a crosswalk. ORS 811.065 and ORS 811.050 specifically lay out the responsibilities of drivers when sharing the road with cyclists. The latter specifically concerns how drivers are supposed to act vis-à-vis bike lanes.

A recent analysis by NPR News is drawing attention to a traffic safety paradox. Pedestrian deaths nationwide are at near-record high levels and the reason may partly be because of advances in auto safety.

“After two years of marked increases, the number of pedestrian fatalities in the US is holding steady with nearly 6,000 pedestrians killed in 2017, according to estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association.” NPR writes that these numbers, are “tapering off” over the last year or so but remain at a near 25-year high. Moreover, these high numbers come “as deaths from other types of traffic fatalities are dropping,” a situation that analysts attribute to improved vehicle safety technology. These, NPR writes, “make crashes safer for people inside cars – but just as deadly for pedestrians.”

We all know that cars are far safer than they were a generation or two ago. Better construction, anti-lock braking systems, air bags, more advanced seat belts and better child seats (along with laws requiring drivers and passengers to use them) have all made surviving a crash far more likely. But outside the car things are very different. Cyclists are far more likely to wear helmets than they were 20 or 30 years ago, but in the case of a serious crash involving a bike and a car that may not make much difference. Pedestrians, as NPR notes, are just as likely as they have always been to die or suffer serious injury when hit by a car.

On Thursday evening, according to Bike Portland, “a quarter-mile of Portlanders lined Southwest Naito Parkway’s temporary protected bike lane” as a form of protest at plans for its removal. The temporary lane is scheduled to be removed on Monday, October 1, but a separate blog post from the advocacy group notes that “the city has worked up a rough engineering concept that includes a bike path and protected two-way bike lanes between Salmon Street and Harrison Street.” Regardless of how one views the bike lane proposals on Naito Parkway the fact that Portland is even having civic conversations like these is a good sign for out community.

This week’s protest comes at a moment when there is a significant amount of activity surrounding bike safety here in what is often called the country’s most bike-friendly city. But it also comes at a moment when government data is reminding all of us that despite its bike-loving reputation Portland could do much better.

Chapters 814 and 815 of Oregon’s legal code (see links below) are often presented as a reminder of the obligations cyclists have when using our roads. It is important to understand, however, that they place an even more significant level of responsibility on drivers of cars and trucks. Because the legal code considers bikes vehicles it is the responsibility of all other vehicle operators (i.e. drivers) to treat them with the same caution and respect they use around cars, trucks and motorcycles. As a widely reported government study noted last month, cycling deaths have been on the rise nationwide. The 818 cyclist deaths on our nation’s roads in 2015 (the latest year for which data is available) represented a 12 percent jump from the previous year.

One of the deadliest stretches of road in our city will see radical changes beginning today. According to The Oregonian automated speed cameras “will be activated along the 3/4 –mile stretch of Southeast Division Street between 148th and 162nd avenues.” This comes just four days after the city council voted to lower the speed limit along a broader stretch of the road, running from Southeast 87th Avenue to 154th Avenue.

While the speed limit cameras have been in the works for some time (a state law approving their use was passed in 2015) the choice of Southeast Division as the site for one of the first sets installed is evidence of how much of a problem this stretch of road has become. Last week The Oregonian quoted Dan Saltzman, the City Commissioner who oversees the Portland Transportation Bureau, referring to Southeast Division as “a death corridor.” The newspaper noted that of Portland’s 44 traffic fatalities last year five took place on this one stretch of road. The 2016 tally of fatal Portland auto accidents was the highest since 2003, and the concentration of so many deaths in such a small area made a strong case for action.

According to KGW the city transportation division “used a little-known state law to enable the Portland City Commission to quickly lower the speed limit. Commissioners used their emergency safety authority to reduce the speed limit with Thursday’s vote.” Normally it is state officials who control the setting and changing of speed limits. The move drops the speed limit in the area from 35 mph to 30 mph, but it is only effective for 120 days. Saltzman and other city officials said the statistics along Southeast Division cried out for immediate action. The city government hopes state officials will move to make the new lower limit permanent before the four-month measure expires and are preparing to file required paperwork requesting the change.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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