The state of Oregon defines a pedestrian as “any person afoot or in a wheelchair,” which includes anyone from walkers, runners, and highway workers, to skateboarders and bicyclists. Oregon law permits pedestrians to cross the road at any point; however, local rules have the ability to make pedestrians rights somewhat unclear, as is the case in Portland, where pedestrians must use a crosswalk if one is available within 150 feet. If pedestrians are unaware of their rights and the rules which apply to them, a violation may entail potential legal traps or harsh penalties.
No state has ever used the Vulnerable Roadway User concept as a legal term, but members of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance wanted it instated for the protection of vulnerable user groups, such as the ones reducing energy consumption and pollution, while also improving their own health and fitness. Used in Europe by planners and safety organizations, the Vulnerable Roadway User Law applies to and protects people walking, running, using bicycles, farm tractors, skateboards, roller skates, roller blades, or scooters on the roadway. Before it was passed, Oregon state law provided only minor consequences for careless driving that seriously injures pedestrians or other non-motorized roadway users. Now, with the Vulnerable Roadway User Law in full effect, reckless drivers suffer enhanced penalties. Depending on the situation, the law mandates either community service and driver-improvement education, or a substantial fine and a mandatory one-year license suspension.
We have handled a number of cases involving bicycles v. motor vehicles over the years. Unfortunately, given the difference in mass and velocity, the bicyclist rarely fares well. While we have been quite successful in such cases, we would all prefer it if the accident was avoided in the first place.
With the beautiful weather upon us, and the ridiculously high gasoline prices, it make sense that many people are taking to bicycles as their primary, if not secondary, mode of transportation. It is becoming apparent, however, that a certain segment of these cyclists are either first-time riders, or have not ridden for a number of years. Moreover, many motorists simply do not take notice of bicyclists. Given that bicycles travel so much slower than vehicles, even if 5% of motor vehicles do not pay proper attention to bicycles, chances are good that a bicyclist will be passed by one of these motorists on the roadway. Thus, certain safety rules are important to keep in mind, newbies and veterans alike. Here are a few points to remember:
- Obey all signs & traffic lights. Bicycles must be driven like other vehicles if they are to be taken seriously by motorists. Never ride against traffic.
- Use hand signals. Hand signals tell motorists what you intend to do. For turn signals, point in the direction of your turn.
- Ride consistently. Ride as close as practical to the right. Exceptions: when traveling at the normal speed of traffic, avoiding hazardous conditions, preparing to make a left turn, or using a one-way street.
- Choose the best way to turn left. There are two ways to turn left: 1) Like a car: look back, signal, move into the left lane, and turn left. 2) Like a pedestrian: ride straight to the far-side crosswalk, then walk your bike across.
- Use caution when passing. Motorists may not see you on their right. Where there’s no bike lane, pass cars on the left. Be careful when overtaking cars while in a bike lane. Watch for parked cars pulling out and doors opening. Make eye contact with drivers.
- Avoid road hazards. Watch for sewer grates, slippery manhole covers, oily pavement, gravel, and ice. Cross railroad tracks at right angles. For better control as you move across bumps and other hazards, stand up on your pedals.
- Ride a well-equipped bike. Outfit your bike with a good bike lock, tool kit, fenders, and bike bags. You are required by law to use a strong white headlight (visible from 500 feet) and rear red reflector or light (visible from 600 feet) at night and when visibility is poor.
- Dress appropriately. Wear a Snell or ANSI approved hard-shell helmet whenever you ride (required by law for cyclists under 16 years of age). Wear light-colored clothes at night, preferably with reflective strips.
- Get a green light. If you come to a red light and see a symbol of a bicycle rider with a line above and below it on the street, position your bike directly over it. Wait and soon the light will turn green. If a car is already there, it will activate the light for you.
- Go slow on sidewalks. Pedestrians have the right of way on walkways. You must give an audible warning when you pass. Cross driveways and intersections at a walker’s pace and look carefully for traffic.
- Know the city ordinances for your community. Many cities have ordinances regulating the use of bicycles. For instance, bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalks in downtown Portland. Know your city ordinances! They can often be found online, or at your local library.
Personally, I ride a Specialized mountain bike. I try to avoid riding on the roadway as much as possible. However, I do enjoy taking my 16 month old around in her Burley bike trailer. Such trailers cannot be taken off road, so I am forced to ride the streets. I do my best to adhere to the above guidelines and so far, knock on wood, there have been no close calls.
So, the next time you are on a ride, have fun and be safe!