We will sober up and be serious for a moment, as the police have called back.
See, since I first started posting about the Hilyard-Broadway intersection (first about a collision between a cyclist and an SUV back in April; later about the design of the intersection itself), I was wanting to talk to a traffic cop.
I wanted to find out what they thought about cyclists “taking the lane” through that intersection. Did they have an opinion about whether it’s legal?
After some e-mail back-and-forth and a little phone tag, I answered the phone the other day to be greeted by Sgt. Derel Schulz, who runs the Eugene Police Traffic Team.
It was an interesting conversation — because I soon realized I was talking to someone whose interpretation of the cycling laws in question is a bit different than you typically hear in cycling circles.
The first law applicable here is ORS 814.430, which you could call the “take the lane law.” It says essentially that cyclists have to stay to the right edge of the road, but it also spells out several exceptions — situations where it is legal to move into the car lane.
There are some cyclists who see this statute as carte blanche to “take the lane” whenever they want to. Remember this guy? (He was in the post about sharrows last summer):
What it says on his fender — “Bicycles allowed full lane” — isn’t quite the whole truth. Bikes are allowed the full lane in certain situations — for instance, if there are “hazardous conditions” to be encountered in staying to the right.
And here’s something you should know: Eugene’s traffic sergeant seems not as loosey-goosey about 814.430 as the guy in the photo above.
For instance, in that first post about the collision at Broadway and Hilyard, I showed you this photo, of a cyclist I happened to see one day “taking the lane” in that intersection.
Schulz said he didn’t see a reason for the cyclist to be that far out in traffic. He said it looked like there was plenty of room to stay right. He said he thought this cyclist is in violation of 814.430.
Schulz stated that just because a cyclist “philosophically” believes it is safer to be in the lane doesn’t mean its legal if there is not a clear hazard present. The examples he gave of a qualifying hazard would be a door on a parked car swinging open or a storm grate that would be unsafe to ride over.
I have always felt that smart cyclists are concerned not only with present hazards, but also with potential hazards — like a car door that has not swung open but might.
As Schulz pointed out, the language of the law is subjective. We are all going to have different ideas about what constitutes “hazardous conditions.”
At one point in the conversation, though, I thought I was about to get Schulz to say that it would be OK to take the lane on that narrow part of Hilyard just north of the intersection. The law also allows taking the lane if the road is too narrow for a car and cyclist to pass safely side by side.
But then the conversation took a turn.
See, there is another law, 814.420. We’ll call this the “bike lane law.” More or less, this statute says that (with some exceptions) if there is a bike lane or bike path provided, you need to use it and not be in the car lanes. So Schulz concluded that the “take the lane” law didn’t apply on the north side of the Broadway, because there is a path — a “multi-use path” that is signed as a bike route. That would be that big wide sidewalk. You can see it in the photo above, where there is a pedestrian waiting on the corner.
I pointed out that there is not a good way to get on the multi-use path as you come through the intersection. He said a cyclist should use the crosswalk and get on the path, rather than ride straight through the intersection. (That would be the Option B, from my earlier post about the design of this intersection. Here’s the diagram again.)
It was never my instinct to use this option, and I don’t think I ever have. Next time I’m in that neighborhood, I’m not sure what I’ll do.
All of this is not to say Schulz had no sympathy for cyclists riding through here. He seemed to agree the design of this intersection left a lot to be desired. In fact, toward the end of the conversation he started redesigning it himself:
We he would have done, he said, was continue the bike lane through the intersection. Then he would have made the “multi-use path” just a regular narrower sidewalk. By making the sidewalk narrower, there would have been room to continue the bike lane at least up to the EWEB access road, where many cyclists end up turning to head to the Riverbank Trail.