Today’s Ask WeBikeEugene segment answers a question that I asked myself:
I had an interesting interaction with a car driver a few weeks ago at the intersection of the Fern Ridge Bike Path and City View St, where the path has a grade level street crossing and also switches sides of the river. This interaction went far better than an interaction I wrote about last summer, but also raised an interesting question: Exactly who has the right-of-way when the bike paths crosses the road with a crosswalk, the biker or the driver?
In practice, whoever has the right-of-way at these crossings really doesn’t matter. The WBE-recommended method for handling these crossings on a bike is to slow down, make eye contact with any approaching drivers, and then do whatever the driver expects you to do – either cross or stop. Obviously if they stop, you go, and if they go, then you stop. This method keeps everyone alive and happy, and has served me well for years – but what does the law say?
I’d like to begin by sharing my story, which illustrates why this is an important question.
I was approaching the intersection of the Fern Ridge Bike Path and City View St. on bike at the same time as a woman driving minivan. We both slowed down as we neared the intersection. The woman driving the car gave a short little “chirp” honk while making eye contact with me when I was about 10-15 feet away from the intersection, which I interpreted as a friendly “you can go” honk. In response I nodded, smiled, and entered the intersection. Then she started honking in an angry fashion and threw up her hands in disgust. I realized right away that she hadn’t meant to honk me through, but had honked because she didn’t think I was going to stop at the crosswalk. Another cyclist was behind me, and he yelled at her “It’s a crosswalk, you have to yield!”
She was pretty pissed, but I knew that this was just a misunderstanding and I wanted her to stop shooting angry mind bullets at me. I finished crossing the road and river and stopped at the re-entrance to the path hoping that she’d stop too and we could talk. The cyclist behind me continued on, which was probably a good thing, but the driver pulled her van up next to me. She jumped out of her van and yelled “Didn’t you see the yield sign you have?” I replied, “Yes, I was going to stop, but I thought you honked me through.” She wasn’t ready to listen to me yet and went on a tirade about how I scared her to death and how she thought she was going to kill me. I didn’t really get that part since she honked the first time before I even got near to the intersection and had already slowed to under 10 mph. I just smiled and kept repeating “I understand, I’m sorry, I was going to stop but I thought you honked me through.” Eventually she listened, said “Oh”, gave me a weak smile, and then got back in her van and drove away. In retrospect I think she was more scared than angry, which gives us some interesting insight into some of the weird behavior we sometimes see from automobile drivers.
The point of my story is this: No one knows what the heck to do or expect at these crossings. That is why it doesn’t actually matter what the law is, because nobody knows it, anyway. The best practice is to do whatever the drivers expect you to do at these crossings (if you can figure that out). That being said, let’s figure out the legal answer anyway!
I asked Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Lee Shoemaker, Eugene Transportation Planner David Roth, and Portland Bicycle Lawyer Ray Thomas what the law says about these crossings.
Ray Thomas responded: (emphasis mine)
This is an apple and oranges dilemma.
The apple is that a crosswalk creates right of way for pedestrians per ORS 811.028.
The orange is that the “bike path” contains “yield” signs but they contradict the crosswalk message.
So you have two different conflicting signs that don’t integrate with each other legally or logically.
I guess one could argue a bike must yield, but if the rider dismounted then the biker is a pedestrian and cars must yield. SO the signage goes in two different directions without providing any guidance whatsoever about who does what.
A solution would be to say “bicyclists yield”, but that is a little crude and confusing and if the biker put a foot on the ground then they are a pedestrian because the vehicle code defines pedestrian as someone “afoot” or in a wheelchair.
Another wrinkle is that “multi use path” is not defined in the Oregon Vehicle Code and the traffic laws therefore do not apply to these new creatures; instead “due care’ creates the standard, vague as it is.
Lee Shoemaker’s response adds to the answer: (emphasis mine)
It’s not an intersection but a mid-block crossing. We mark the crosswalk so pedestrians can have the right of way. You get the right of way by stepping into the street, but you can’t just step into the street in front of a driver who won’t have a reasonable chance to stop. Bicyclists need to enter the crosswalk at a walking speed and then they have the same rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian. They also have to yield the right of way to pedestrians and make an audible warning when passing.
The yield sign on the path is primarily for bicyclists so they don’t blast out onto the street. [...] On the roadway, we add path crossing signs to alert motorists as well as marking the crosswalks. I get a lot of questions about who is supposed to yield the right of way in this instance. My personal experience is that a lot of people will stop for me. I don’t think your experience is unique. I like to make eye contact but it doesn’t guarantee they are yielding as you experience.
David Roth summarized what behavior is expected: (emphasis mine)
So, basically if you are on a bike approaching and planning on crossing a legal crosswalk (such as those on the Fern Ridge Path), you need to slow to more/less a walking speed and then you are considered a pedestrian with the rights of a pedestrian crossing a crosswalk. It often comes down to a judgment call, however if you follow the above rules, a driver should be stopping for you. As you experienced, this is not always well understood by drivers or cyclists.
Confused? You aren’t the only one. Allow me to summarize:
Legally you aren’t supposed to be riding in crosswalks at greater than walking speed, and if you are going faster than that, you forfeit the rights provided to you by the crosswalk. If you slow down to walking speed (around 3 mph), then you are provided the rights of the crosswalk. If you put a foot down you become a pedestrian, but this may not be necessary.
Thus, regardless of the presence of a yield sign, if you are going greater than walking speed then you must yield. If you are going slower than walking speed, the car driver must yield, but only after you’ve “activated” the crosswalk. A pedestrian activates a crosswalk by stepping off the curb. The law doesn’t specify how a slow-moving cyclist would activate a crosswalk (maybe the front wheel?)
To make this even more confusing, drivers don’t have to yield if you enter a crosswalk on the other side of a median/pedestrian island until you activate the crosswalk on their side. Since most (all?) of these crossing are divided, only the cars adjacent to you have to yield until you get halfway across.
It is also illegal to pass a pedestrian in a crosswalk on your bike, which is something I do often.
What this means, although it may go against our inner beliefs, is that every time a driver yields to us before we enter the intersection and/or when we are riding faster than walking speed, they are doing us a favor (even if they don’t know it). Legally, they don’t have to do that. Send them a wave and a thanks!
I’ve posted the applicable laws below for your perusal. I highlighted the important parts (with guidance from Dave Roth). For a full list of bicycle traffic laws download Pedal Power from Swanson, Thomas, and Coon.
814.410 Unsafe operation of bicycle on sidewalk; penalty.
(1) A person commits the offense of unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk if the person does any of the following:
(a) Operates the bicycle so as to suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and move into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.
(b) Operates a bicycle upon a sidewalk and does not give an audible warning before overtaking and passing a pedestrian and does not yield the right of way to all pedestrians on the sidewalk.
(c) Operates a bicycle on a sidewalk in a careless manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.
(d) Operates the bicycle at a speed greater than an ordinary walk when approaching or entering a crosswalk, approaching or crossing a driveway or crossing a curb cut or pedestrian ramp and a motor vehicle is approaching the crosswalk, driveway, curb cut or pedestrian ramp. This paragraph does not require reduced speeds for bicycles at places on sidewalks or other pedestrian ways other than places where the path for pedestrians or bicycle traffic approaches or crosses that for motor vehicle traffic.
(e) Operates an electric assisted bicycle on a sidewalk.
(2) Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, a bicyclist on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk has the same rights and duties as a pedestrian on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.
(3) The offense described in this section, unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk, is a Class D traffic violation.
[1983 c.338 §699; 1985 c.16 §337; 1997 c.400 §7; 2005 c.316 §2]
811.028 Failure to stop and remain stopped for pedestrian; penalty.
(1) The driver of a vehicle commits the offense of failure to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian if the driver does not stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian when the pedestrian is:
(a) Proceeding in accordance with a traffic control device as provided under ORS 814.010 or crossing the roadway in a crosswalk, as defined in ORS 801.220; and
(b) In any of the following locations:
(A) In the lane in which the driver’s vehicle is traveling;
(B) In a lane adjacent to the lane in which the driver’s vehicle is traveling;
(C) In the lane into which the driver’s vehicle is turning;
(D) In a lane adjacent to the lane into which the driver’s vehicle is turning, if the driver is making a turn at an intersection that does not have a traffic control device under which a pedestrian may proceed as provided under ORS 814.010; or
(E) Less than six feet from the lane into which the driver’s vehicle is turning, if the driver is making a turn at an intersection that has a traffic control device under which a pedestrian may proceed as provided under ORS 814.010.
(2) For the purpose of this section, a bicycle lane or the part of a roadway where a vehicle stops, stands or parks that is adjacent to a lane of travel is considered to be part of that adjacent lane of travel.
(3) This section does not require a driver to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian under any of the following circumstances:
(a) Upon a roadway with a safety island, if the driver is proceeding along the half of the roadway on the far side of the safety island from the pedestrian; or
(b) Where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead crossing has been provided at or near a crosswalk.
(4) The offense described in this section, failure to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian, is a Class B traffic violation. [2005 c.746 §2]