ON BIKE CULTURE IN EUGENE | Fine blogging since 2010 (with periodic long breaks)
I received an e-mail the other day from one of the fine people who read this blog. It began:
Hi. I’m an annoying commenter, and I got hit by an SUV!
I’m going to assume his getting hit had nothing to do with the fact that he’s been an “annoying commenter” here (though I heartily disagree with the “annoying” part.)
Anyway, our reader was OK, but he has a story to tell.
Let us go now to the intersection of Hilyard and East Broadway. It’s April 4, around lunchtime.
He is heading north on Hilyard. There is a red light. The bike lane on Hilyard ends when it meets Broadway. So what is our cyclist to do if he is planning to head straight through the intersection? He decided to “take the lane.”
I’ll let him pick up the story from here (edited somewhat for length):
Traffic was clear in the rightmost lane, and there weren’t yet any cars coming up to use it, so I rode to the center of the right lane and stopped. I stood at the light for 20 to 30 seconds, and I believe during that time I heard a vehicle pull up behind me, but I didn’t turn around to look.
When the light turned green, I pedaled away from the intersection heading north, still holding the center [of the] lane. About 10 to 15 feet into the intersection, I felt a car brush against my pannier, then my side, then a side-view mirror smacked me in the shoulder. I think I yelled “Hey!”
I veered into the crosswalk, checked his license plate and dialed 911 as I reached the sidewalk, only to see that he was pulling over at the train crossing where two [University of Oregon] officers were on-hand for some other reason.
Realizing that it wasn’t an emergency, I said something to the 911 dispatcher like, “I was just hit by a car, but it’s not an emergency, I’m sorry,” and got off the phone.
As I walked the 100 feet to where he pulled over, I could hear him complaining to the [UO] officers that I was in the center of the lane. … We were both angry and had bursts of conversation with one another. …
I’m going to interrupt the story for a minute to add a completely unrelated and probably irrelevant aside. This reminds me that I was recently forwarded a short post someone had spotted on Facebook. It said: “Saw a car hit a cyclist. The cyclist got up dusted himself off, and the driver got out of the car. Then they hugged. I love Eugene.”
Well, that doesn’t happen in every case. But what’s with all these cars hitting cyclists?
OK, back to our regular program:
We all stood around for 10 minutes or so waiting for the EPD officer to show up. … I managed to take a couple of pictures of the driver’s broken mirror.
One of which he kindly forwarded:
We should mention that our cyclist — while getting smacked in the back of the shoulder hard enough to break the mirror — managed to stay upright on his bike.
He goes on to describe the conversation that ensued after the Eugene police officer (#299, B. McDermed) arrived.
I told [McDermed] that I had taken the lane and was hit in the intersection while the driver passed me illegally. … The driver chimed in, “You’re supposed to be as far to the right as possible!”
I disagreed, and the officer said, “Yes, you’re supposed to stay as far to the right as possible.” I said, “No, as far to the right as is safe,” and he sort of shrugged in half agreement/indifference.
[There was] exchange of insurance information … (and the man who nearly killed me now has my home address. Yay.)
At this point, our cyclist and the driver of the SUV were apparently sent on their separate ways. No citations were issued. Our cyclist said he stopped at an urgent care clinic to be checked out. He then asked that the motorist’s insurance company pay for that visit. After a while, he said …
I got a phone call from the insurance company claims person. She told me that … they were finding him [the motorist] at fault.
A few things:
First: Let me say I am happy this cyclist was able to send me this e-mail himself.
Second: I think part of this has to do with what is a poorly designed intersection — if you happen to be a cyclist, anyway.
Third: I’d venture that most motorists in Eugene would have been fine with the situation. (In fact, I watched a cyclist “take the lane” in this very place just this morning, a car patiently following him until he was in the clear and had moved right.)
And fourth: You never know when you are going to cross paths with someone who thinks it’s OK to brush a cyclist with his SUV because he believes the cyclist is committing a traffic infraction (debatable) or is just rudely in his way. Or maybe it was purely an accident. Granted, we have only one side of the story here.
Anyway, the applicable law — or at least one of them — would be ORS 814.430, which reads, in part:
(1) A person commits the offense of improper use of lanes by a bicycle if the person is operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic … and the person does not ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway.
… except that a cyclist can move left and “take the lane” …
(c) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects … or … [when] a lane … is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side.
This seems like a good place for a resolution. (We bang our gavel several times.) Hear, hear! Attention! Order in the house.
As I mentioned, I went by there this morning and watched a cyclist — unknown to me — who used this very same technique, at this very same spot.
Here he is heading north on Hilyard, in the bike lane, approaching the light at Broadway:
Then he takes the lane as he pulls up to the red light, behind one other car:
He keeps the lane as he heads through the intersection (in this case, fortunately, the car behind him waits rather than trying to pass and/or run him down):
The cyclist drifts to the right as he clears the intersection, letting the first car pass:
… though, he appears to be signaling to get back in the lane. It’s pretty narrow on that stretch. A little ways further, he then turned right off of Hilyard and onto the little access road that leads to the Riverbank Trail.
I’ve contacted the police to see if they have anything to add here, and to ask if, based on these photos, they would have an opinion about whether this cyclist was afoul of the law. They said they’d look into it. I’ll add an update here if they get back to me.
(UPDATE: I did eventually talk to the police about taking the lane here. See the post.)