Tuesday, December 8, 2009


so here we are in portland, oregon, a platinum bike-friendly city.

and we do have transportational bicyclists on staff at PBoT, and we have striped bike lanes and green bike boxes and bike boulevards with at least a little traffic calming, and a plan to increase the mode share to 25 pct. over the next twenty years.

but we also have a far to the right law, ORS 814.430, and a mandatory sidepath law, 814.420, each of which has the usual exceptions for avoiding hazards or preparing to make a left turn, but neither of which has an express exception for lane control -- taking the lane in order to prevent an overtaking motorist from passing unsafely. there is a safe passing distance law, but it applies only on roads where the overtaking motorist is going 35 mph or better, and it specifically does not apply where the bicyclist who is being overtaken is in a striped bike lane.

and we have no local control over speed limits.

years ago, the police effectively shut down critical mass in portland, and we now have a reasonably credible statewide advocacy organization, jackets and ties, and in fairness we do have BTA to thank for pushing through the exceptions to the far to the right and mandatory sidepath laws, such as they are, and the safe passing distance law, such as it is.

but BTA has become the complacent two- or three-hundred pound gorilla, shutting out other voices, whether intentionally or not. frankly, maybe the biking "community" in portland has become complacent as well.

okay, so politics is the art of compromise, and what BTA has achieved is an improvement over the way things were. but the purpose of compromise in politics is to consolidate your gains and continue to work for incremental change, not to just sit back and accept half a loaf.

it took more than fifty years for motorists to achieve a position of dominance on our roads (and of course it took marketing and consumerist capitalism), and it may take awhile to unwind all that. but we need eventually to get to a place where motorists are continually aware that they are operating dangerous machinery and they need to watch the hell out for people they might hurt or kill. we need to get to a place where motorists are the secondary, not the primary, users of public space. BTA is not going to get us there, because they do not see that as the goal. and of course PBoT is not going to get us there unless there is pressure from the grassroots.

so what is needed is an edgier, angrier voice for bicyclists and pedestrians, a bad cop to BTA's good cop. the agenda might include not only getting rid of the far to the right and mandatory sidepath laws, but also getting local control of speed limits (and then leaning on the city to implement some lower limits), and maybe creating a fund from which pedestrians and cyclists can recover when they are struck by uninsured or underinsured motorists.

1 comment:

  1. Good. I'm glad that someone in Oregon is working to restore cyclists historic driver rights. There are other LCIs in Oregon who would likely be allies in this effort. Kat Iverson and Hal Ballard, as well as Sami Fournier, come to mind. I suspect you already know this, but just in case you didn't...