Our mail carrier delivered a letter today that, when opened, filled us with emotion. Confusion, frustration and anger are at the top of the list. Rob witnessed an accident in June. He was commuting home from school on his bike and he was traveling eastbound on SE Hawthorne just east of the Hawthorne Bridge. The accident took place between Clever Cycles, a bike shop that retails some of the best soft and hard goods for bike commuters/family transporters/cargo haulers, and an intersection featured in this great video from StreetFilms.org. Hawthorne is the east/west thoroughfare for bike commuters in Portland.
The accident happened just feet in front of Rob as a Toyota Prius made a right turn from SE Hawthorne onto SE 10th and hit a cyclist (CP). The Prius driver (EM) immediately began to downplay the severity of the accident while CP complained of head pain (yes, she was wearing a helmet). Police and an ambulance were soon on the scene. A shop owner offered to store CP’s bike, CP was taken away in an ambulance, Rob gave a statement to the police officer and EM was cited.
Rob was called to testify in court in late August, but the citation was rewritten because it did not specifically indicate that a cyclist had been hit. The citation was changed to ORS 811.050, “Failure to yield to a rider on bicycle lane.” The court date was rescheduled. Rob went back to court in late October. He gave his statement and also heard part of EM’s testimony. Rob came home exasperated with how EM claimed that CP had hit her car. He was also saddened to hear about all the medical bills and lost wages CP has endured since she was hit.
The judge did not rule on the case that day and we have been waiting to hear the news that EM was indeed found guilty. Instead, the judgment letter that arrived today states that EM was found not guilty. EM admitted that “she made a last minute decision to turn on 10th and did not check her blind spot before making the turn”. CP and Rob did not see her signal, but EM claims to have used her turn signal. EM contacted CP on the front right panel of her car and CP went over the hood.
The limitation in establishing EM’s guilt stems from the ambiguity about whether a bike lane exists in an intersection. The bike lane is painted on either side of the intersection, but is interrupted as it passes through the intersection. EM was cited for failure to yield under ORS 811.050. But, both ORS 811.050 and the entire ORS Chapter 811 lack a definition for “bicycle lane”. ORS 801.160 explains that “bicycle lane means that part of a highway, adjacent to a roadway, designated by official signs or markings for use by persons riding bicycles except as otherwise provided by law”. So, officially there is no bike lane in an intersection, and therefore, no protection for cyclists. The judge followed the letter of the law with the way the statute is currently written. Car lanes are not painted through intersections either, but it is implied that they continue. Why is a bike lane any different?
It is the end of 2009 in the bike commuting capital of the US. I can’t believe this issue is just now surfacing. Cyclists lack the protection of a bike lane while traveling through an intersection from one designated section of a bike lane to the next. I had no idea. There is a great post on BikePortland.org with a video about Oregon’s crosswalk laws, which protect pedestrians at every intersection. There is also an animation below the video about the green bike boxes that have been added to some intersections in town. The bike boxes do provide additional protection for cyclists as you are about to enter an intersection and they illustrate how far Portland has come to protect cyclists. Why doesn’t the protection extend into the intersection? The ORS should be updated to provide better legal protection for cyclists who are hit by negligent or ignorant drivers. If “Every Corner is a Crosswalk” in Oregon, then every intersection should “Contain the Lane” for cyclists.