Sunday, December 20, 2009

hey, thanks for the paint

the hot topic this week on is this story about a traffic court judge dismissing a ticket for failure to yield to a bike in a bike lane.

classic right hook at the intersection of SE Hawthorne and 10th. motorist makes an abrupt right turn, taking out the cyclist who is right beside her, in the striped bike lane . . . except there is no striped lane through the intersection itself, so the judge pretty much had to dismiss the ticket. coulda maybe hit her with failure to signal her turn or failure to keep a proper lookout, but these were not charged.

some disagreement in the testimony whether the motorist threw a signal. certainly not a hundred feet before the intersection, as she admits she made the decision to turn at the last moment, and she also admits she didn't make a head check, so it should not be impossible for the cyclist to make a negligence claim, though a jury might find some contributory negligence in riding right alongside a moving car that just might -- you never know -- turn right or whatever (and would the cyclist have seen a signal anyway?)

a number of people posting comments are angry with the judge, but his decision is technically correct, and it has no bearing at all on whether the cyclist can recover damages from the motorist in a civil action.

what did he decide? the statute under which the motorist was charged -- and we are talking here about a class B traffic violation, maximum fine three sixty -- is ORS 811.050, failure to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane. the judge ruled that since the lane is not striped through the intersection, the cyclist was not in a bike lane when she was struck. literally correct.

the facts here would have supported failing to signal a turn (maybe) and failing to keep a proper lookout (which the motorist admitted), and these should have been charged. then you would have seen the same memo from the judge explaining why the third charge, failing to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane, would not stick, but you would have had a conviction on one or both of the other charges. the failure here is on the part of the prosecutor.

but what about the citizen initiated complaint statute, ORS 153.058. couldn't the cyclist have pressed these other charges independently? nope. if the prosecutor charges one thing and you think some other or additional offense should be charged, 153.058 will not help you. the court will dismiss your complaint under subsection (6) if the prosecutor has charged something arising from the same conduct. so in effect, the prosecutor ran out the clock on this one. thanks large.

the real issue is this:

1. the city has striped these lanes in a way that tells bicyclists to ride inside the right hook.

2. the stripes give bicyclists and motorists wrong information about where bicyclists should be.

3. this misinformation is given the force of law by the far to right and mandatory sidepath statutes.

when approaching an intersection, a bicyclist should never be inside the right hook, regardless whether the motorist has indicated a turn. if the cyclist asserts the travel lane, this is not an issue.

a bike lane should not be striped solid up to the intersection, and a motorist turning right should be permitted to merge across, rather than waiting to make a hook at the intersection itself.

the facilities people talk about how engineering and design can shape behavior, and this is certainly true, but this particular facility, which is common throughout the city, shapes exactly the behavior we see here: the bicyclist inside the right hook and the motorist turning across. yes, the motorist should have signaled (though if you are riding alongside, you will not see the signal), and yes she should have done a head check, etc., and her failure to do these things are what she should have been ticketed for.

but the situation was created by the poor design of the facility.


  1. Question:

    Riding in the bike lane, say coming up Broadway in SW, there are several green boxes located throughout the "hotel zone," which I appreciate as they supposedly alert drivers that I may be on their right.

    Given that my trajectory can sometimes be faster than that of the traffic to my left, I find myself approaching the green box and the imminent intersection at such a speed so as I end up surprising the drivers who want to make a right turn and conceivably don't know that I'm going to be there. I am sympathetic to the drivers' situation since as they approached the intersection, I wasn't in the box, but then, in the time they have been waiting for pedestrians or whathaveyou, I have caught up to them and now am in danger because the driver has pulled into the green box part way and I have to either swerve to the right (which I usually do, though admittedly that still puts me in danger of the right hook) or to the left (which I rarely do, since now the motorist behind the one turning is not expecting me to be doing this and would put me in danger that way [I usually also don't do this as to avoid looking reckless and unpredictable, which angers most people, motorists and cyclists alike]).

    How might I most safely and lawfully navigate this situation? Currently, since I end up a little hotheaded as I pump my way up Broadway, I swerve around the automobile to the right and express via pointing to the green box that they have not properly regarded me, but there is a guilty part of my conscience that feels bad in that it was difficult for them to guess I would be there (having caught up with them from behind). I just want them to watch out for me and my fellow riders (especially in the green box, *of all places*), but I want to do so within the law and with utmost respect of all users of our shared roadways. Your thoughts?

  2. how i handle broadway is i don't use the bike lanes at all, but simply take the travel lane (usually the right lane, but sometimes crossing to the left if i have a left turn coming up). this keeps me entirely out of the right hook situation, and often allows me to pass on the left as a right turning motorist is waiting for pedestrian traffic to clear the crosswalk. the green boxes are of no use to me.