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 infrastructure is best thought of as an extension of the law. Bike lanes are a good thing, but the role played by Oregon’s reckless driving statute, ORS 811.140, is equally important. Indeed, drivers ought to welcome the construction of new bike lanes like the one on North Greeley precisely because they reduce the number of ways in which a reckless driver can get into trouble. When one considers the size of civil claims that motorists can expose themselves to if they are not careful around cyclists, the $1.9 million in public money earmarked for this project is small by comparison.
As a Portland bicycle lawyer I am happy to see this kind of progress being made. Yet the fact that it took so many years to get the city to address a one-mile stretch of road is a reminder of how far we still have to go – even in one of America’s most bike-friendly cities and along a notoriously dangerous thoroughfare. Cyclists should applaud the city council’s move, but they also need to know that the law is on their side when the people with whom they Share the Road fail to take as much care as they should.