Driving around bicycles

seeing a cyclist in front of you while driving - croppedA bicyclist is riding in front of me.  What should I do? 
It’s mandatory to reduce speed until it’s “reasonable and prudent” in the presence of bicycles, pedestrians, and all slow-moving traffic.  This law is called the Basic Speed Law, and is the first concept described in the Drivers Manual.  ORS 811.100

The cyclist has several reasons to ride in the center of the lane (see questions below), and has the legal right to determine his safest position.  ORS 814.430(2).

When are bicycles “impeding traffic”? 
Impeding cannot be applied when “proceeding in a manner needed for safe operation”.  Unfortunately, Oregon courts haven’t yet fully defined “impeding”, only saying it occurs in rare circumstances where:
1.) the slow traffic is significantly below the speed limit
2.) faster traffic cannot safely and lawfully pass
AND
3.) faster traffic is forced to remain behind the slow traffic for an unreasonable distance.  This distance hasn’t been clarified other than a court decision that “a fraction of a mile” is not impeding.

Slow traffic is responsible to comply with these open-to-interpretation laws.  Faster traffic has the clear responsibility to stay behind and pass when safe.
Explanation from a traffic lawyer, ORS 811.130, 811.425

Are bicycles required to use bicycle lanes?
Cyclists may always choose to use sidewalks regardless if bike lanes exist.  Their ability to use traffic lanes if bike lanes exist is the most convoluted of all Oregon bicycle laws.  Bike lanes are mandatory for cyclists to use (instead of the adjacent traffic lane) only after a study has confirmed the safety of the bike lanes, and the results announced at a public hearing.  No public signage is required to show which bike lines are mandatory and which are not.  ORS 814.420(2), Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists p 63-63

The City of Corvallis’s position is to intentionally not hold these public hearings.  Because of this, all bike lanes in Corvallis are strictly optional.  The City does significant outreach to inform all citizens of this fact.

For Oregon cities other than Corvallis, the only way to learn which bike lanes are mandatory is to call the local public works or local traffic engineers.  For mandatory bike lanes, cyclists must stay in the bike lane (instead of the adjacent traffic lane) unless:
1.) hazardous conditions exist in the bicycle lane.
2.) in preparation for a left turn.
3.) in preparation for a right turn where a right turn is authorized.
4.) as they pass someone else in the bicycle lane.
5.) when continuing straight at an intersection where the bike lane is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right.
ORS 814.420(3)

How can motorists safely pass bicycles? 
Unsafe passing is the #1 cause of bicycling fatality, so this issue cannot be overstated.  The often repeated phrase afterwards is “I thought I had enough room”.  Although it’s legal to pass bicyclists within the same lane or by lanesplitting (controversial even for motorcycles), these dangerous maneuvers put you at the highest risk of killing the cyclist.  The safest technique is to pass exactly as if you were passing another car: move entirely into the left lane, return to the lane well in advance of the cyclist, and use turn signals for every lane change.  These techniques, which apply to passing all small roadway users, are demonstrated in the Honda video below.

When the smaller bicycle or vehicle operates in the middle of the lane, that’s roadway communication to the vehicle behind that it’s unsafe to pass within the lane.  Change lanes to pass.

Do not pass near an intersection, on a hill, or on a curve.  ORS 811.410, 811.305

When can motorists drive in bicycle lanes? 
After yielding the right of way to cyclists and ensuring the bike lane is clear, motorists may travel perpendicularly through bike lanes when turning, going through an intersection, or entering/exiting a driveway or private road.  Motorists may never drive in and parallel to the bicycle lane.  ORS 811.435811.440, 811.050, Explanation from a traffic lawyer

When can motorists stop or park in bike lane? 
Typically never.  However, there are two main exceptions:  1.) As long as bicycle lane traffic is not obstructed, motorists may stop in a bike lane to allow oncoming traffic to pass before making a right or left turn.  2.) Motorists may momentarily stop or park in the bike lane when actively loading or unloading the vehicle with passengers or property.  This allows buses, mail trucks, and garbage trucks to stop in bike lanes.  In this situation, bicycle lane traffic must wait or pass.

Other exceptions: government vehicles necessary to perform roadway work, Department of Fish and Wildlife vehicles when releasing fish, and any vehicle under the instruction of a police officer.  ORS 811.550(23), 811.555, 811.560, Explanation from a traffic lawyer

Corvallis city law further states that parked vehicles, including parts of those vehicles, may not in any way impede traffic on bike lanes.  Corvallis Municipal Code 6.10.060.060

When motorists turn though bike lanes, are cyclists required to stay out of the way? 
Bicyclists have absolute right-of-way within bicycle lanes, similar to a locomotives’s right-of-way on a railroad.  It’s a class B traffic violation for motorists to ever obstruct traffic in the bicycle lane.  Explanation #1 from a traffic lawyerExplanation #2 from a different traffic lawyer

When turning, motorists must wait in their lane until the bike lane is clear.  Bike lanes exist all the way through intersections, even if they are temporarily unmarked inside the intersection.  For a collision inside a bike lane, the applicable law is titled “Failure to yield to rider on bicycle lane”.  ORS 153.021, 811.050;

Motorists must always yield to the bicycle lane when attempting a parking maneuver, entering driveways or parking lots, and exiting a vehicle.  Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists p 66

Motorists must even yield to “wrong-way” cyclists within bike lanes.  Although this cycling behavior is not advised, it’s not illegal.  Consider the bike lane to be a sidewalk for cyclists, and look BOTH ways before proceeding through.  Legal Guide for Persons on Foot p.33-34

How can I turn right when there’s a bike lane to my right?
Turning motorists must wait in their lane until the bike lane is clear.  Do not turn if bicycle lane traffic would in any way be osbtructed.

When turning, remain within your lane at all times such that you don’t drift into or cut through the bicycle lane.  The path of the turn shouldn’t interfere with bike lane traffic that may be approaching the intersection or also turning right.  At large intersections where lane markings disappear, as you leave your lane and as you enter your new lane, never cross over the solid white lines that designates the bicycle lane.  These concepts are illustrated below.  ORS 811.050811.440; Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists p.66p.89-94

turning Fig 2-4

Where should a bicyclist ride within a traffic lane? 
Bicycles are only required to “ride as close as practicable to the right edge of the roadway” if the lane is wide enough that a “bicycle and vehicle can travel safely side by side”, which traffic organizations teach is 16 feet.  Most lanes are ~12 ft wide, with very few reaching 16 ft.  On lanes of normal width, bicycles may ride anywhere in the lane.  To be maximally visible to motorists, bicycle and motorcycle education programs teach to ride in the “left tire track” of cars.

In the rare situation where a lane is wide enough for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side, bicycles may still occupy the center of the lane or the “left tire track” position when:
1.) traveling at the normal speed of traffic
2.) in preparation to turn left
3.) passing a vehicle or bicyclist
4.) avoiding hazardous conditions (explicitly stated in the law as “including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or other conditions”)
ORS 814.430

Must I yield to bicycles in crosswalks and sidewalks?
Yes.  In sidewalks and crosswalks, cyclists have the same rights as pedestrians.  Cyclists do not need to dismount the bicycle.  ORS 811.055, 814.410(2); Explanation from traffic lawyer #1, #2, #3, #4

Speed restrictions: If motor vehicles are approaching, the cyclist’s speed must be no greater than an “ordinary walk” on approach and entry into crosswalks and on approach and crossing into driveways, parking lots, and private roads.  Even though motorists are required to stop, the law states that if the cyclist travels faster than a walk, the cyclist will be responsible for any collision.  However, the law states that this does not relieve motorists from the duty to exercise due care.ORS 814.410

Caveat: Local ordinances can ban bicycles on certain sidewalks.  Corvallis has signs posted at those locations.  Other Oregon cities don’t have signage, yet still enforce a sidewalk ban, often leading to confusion.  Corvallis Municipal Code 6.10.060.090(2)Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists p 117-118

What’s the meaning of the sharrow marking sharrows in the middle of the road downtown and around campus? 
This is a national road sign, used where bicycling on the right side of the road has been deemed unsafe.  It indicates the city’s recommendation of where the cyclist should ride.  Its purpose is to prevent bicyclists from injury by keeping them away from the “door zone” of parked cars or keep them centered in a lane that’s too narrow for a car to pass.  Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Section 9C.07

Can bicycles pass cars on the right within the same lane?
Yes, when safe to do so. ORS 811.415(2)(c)

What is the law regarding helmet use? 
Anyone under 16 years of age must wear a helmet unless it violates a religious belief.  In civil court, lack of helmet is not applicable to reduce the amount of damages or constitute a defense when a cyclist is injured.  ORS 814.485, 814.486, 814.487, 814.489

Can bicycles ride side-by-side in the same lane? 
Yes.  ORS 814.430(2)(e)

Do bicyclists have to signal their movements? 
Bicyclists must signal continuously for at least 100 ft before executing the stop or turn, unless its necessary that both hands be used to safely operate the bicycle.  ORS 814.440

How should a bicyclist make a left turn?
To turn left, bicyclists have two options: 1.) Just as motorists do, change lanes into the leftmost lane before turning or 2.) use the crosswalks for part or all of the turn.

It’s acceptable (and encouraged by ODOT) to use a crosswalk to reach a bicycle lane, then reposition the bicycle 90 degrees into the bicycle lane.

Bicyclists should not turn left from the right side of the road, even if it’s from the bicycle lane.  ORS 811.340, 811.550(23), ODOT Bicycle Manual p. 7

What is the law regarding bicycles carrying loads? 
Rider must have full control and have at least one hand on the handlebars.  A bicycle cannot carry more people than it’s designed or safely equipped for. ORS 814.450, 814.460

Are bicyclists required to have lights?
During limited visibility conditions, a bicyclist must have a white light in front and a light or reflector in the rear.  This applies on sidewalks as well.  ORS 815.280

Are bicycles required to use shoulders?  
Riding on a shoulder is allowed but not required.  Shoulders are not bicycle lanes, and are not maintained to ensure safe passage.  Anyone travelling on a shoulder gets stuck without right-of-way at every intersection.  ORS 801.480, 801.608, Oregon definition of roadway

Are bicycles allowed on freeways and interstates? 
Yes.  Motorists must reduce speed and yield appropriately.

However, state law describes seven specific sections of freeways/interstates where bicycles are prohibited: six around Portland and one near Medford.  See links for full details.  Adequate signage must be present to warn about this anomaly.  OAR 734-20-0045

Are pedestrians allowed in the bike lane? 
Oregon statutes do not specify.  The closest statement is that pedestrians should not osbtruct traffic on the roadway when there is a useable sidewalk or shoulder.  Legal Guide for Persons on Foot p.33ORS 814.070(1a & 3)