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Another Conflict on E. 19th Ave

WBE reader “AW” wrote to me today about a conflict she had with a car driver on 19th Ave between Oak St. and Pearl St.  This conflict was very similar to a conflict I had with a car driver in that very same block last July, although we were going different directions.  This is an area where the road is so narrow that a bike must take the lane or ride in the “door zone,” and there is no room for a bike and car to exist side-by-side on the road.  Both AW and I were riding in the middle of the lane when a car flew past us, only to stop at the red light less then a block away.  In my case, the car passed so closely that I couldn’t even extend my arm out to my side (I know this because I made the unfortunate decision to punch the car in self-defense);  in AW’s case, the car fully crossed the double yellow line. This is where our stories deviate.

The scene of both conflicts. The red area is filled with parked cars every morning, making the road very narrow. (click to embiggen)

While this is a small area, it is a main route between the Amazon Bike Path and the Fern Ridge Bike Path via 18th ave, as well as being the southern terminus of the Willamette bike lanes. This area can also be seen as a case-study of how car drivers who are unaware of the law can create conflict.  Take the jump to read AW’s account, the police response, and a possible fix for the area.

I’ll let AW tell the story in her own words:  (emphasis mine)

This happened on my morning commute, so it was about 7am on Friday. I rode up Willamette from W. 17th and turned left on E. 19th, where I took the lane. I do this routine every morning. The light was red at Oak Street, and while I waited there a car pulled up behind me. The light turned green, and I started pedaling down E. 19th, still in the lane (there were cars parked along the right side of the street, and as you know it is narrow there). The car zoomed around me on the left, fully over the double yellow line (there was no oncoming traffic) and a woman glared at me from the driver’s seat as she went by. The light was again red at Pearl/Amazon Parkway, so I pulled up to her right and tapped on her window.

“I just wanted you to know that what you did back there was illegal,” I said as she cracked the window.

You have to share the road!” she yelled at me.

No, I have the right to be in the lane if it is narrow…”

This is what I was saying when she rolled the window back up and tried to ignore me. She hollered back once more that I was supposed to be on the side, and I once again said, “No, what I was doing was legal. What you did was illegal. I have the right to be in the road.” This is all we had time for before the light turned green and we both left the intersection, she continuing west on E. 19th. As she pulled away I made sure to notice the car make and license plate: A “champagne” colored Toyota, probably a Camry, with OR plate *******. She was probably in her 40′s, with medium length brown hair. (I’ve included this information in case any other people on bikes have had a bad experience with this driver.)

I think it is particularly ironic that she overtook me illegally, only to have to stop at a red light not a half-block later.

AW was aware of my earlier experience at 19th, and decided to e-mail the Eugene Police Department to find out what they recommend a person on a bike do in a similar situation. Here is the EPD response: (emphasis mine)

Thank you for your information. Unfortunately with a violation (which is what passing in a no passing zone amounts to) is not something that an officer can issue a citation for if it is not observed by the officer (unlike crimes). However, if you would be so kind as to forward the vehicle information I would be happy to bring that information to the attention of our Traffic Enforcement Unit (TEU) to be aware of.

Additionally, if this is a recurring issue that you encounter in this particular portion of your commute if you could let me know that as well, again our TEU officers compile such complaints and it helps us to identify and address areas of concern in an effort to make the roadways safe for all users.

As several WBE commenters have posted in the past, creating a police record of problems in a certain area – and certain problem drivers – can be very useful for future prosecution.  Eric Weinstien brought up the case of LA Doctor Christopher Thompson, who was sentenced to 5 year in prison last January for a vehicular assault which sent two people on bikes to the hospital:

If I can offer a lesson from Los Angeles, where there are a lot more of those “hostile” drivers: Dr. Thompson made a habit of harassing cyclists on Mandeville Canyon Road – a place where you have to take the lane frequently. He was convicted, in no small part, by multiple reports of his attempt to “teach cyclists a lesson.”

As I previously reported, some of the applicable laws for the car driver are ORS 811.065: Unsafe passing of a person operating a bicycle, ORS 811.135 Careless Driving for driving in a way that was “likely to endanger any person or property”, and ORS 811.420: Passing in a no passing zone since it was a double yellow line.  There was no bike lane there, so ORS 814.420 doesn’t apply, but ORS 811.425 Failure of slower driver to yield to an overtaking vehicle stipulates that a person on a bike needs to move out of the way only when there is an “area sufficient for safe turnout.” There was no such space due to parked cars.  The Oregon Department of Transportation Bike Manual also instructs bicyclists to “take the lane” in situations like this to prevent unsafe passing:

From the ODOT Bicycle Manual (click to embiggen) - E. 19th meets both of the criteria: the lane is narrow and the traffic should be moving slowly (towards a red light)

The conditions on E. 19th are clearly encouraging conflict between people in cars who are unaware of the law, and people on bikes who don’t want to get ran over or “doored“.  One possible solution for this area is to paint sharrows on 19th from Willimatte to (at least) High St.  The area is too narrow for bike lanes, but maybe a lane-wide bike marker will convince uneducated people in cars that people on bikes have a right to exist in the road.  I made this suggestion at October’s Ped/Bike Master Plan Open House, but it seems that this fix needs to be made sooner than later.

Unfortunately this isn’t the only area of town were people in cars seem to think that people on bikes don’t belong in the road, and are willing to threaten our lives to make their erroneous point.  AW included this story at the end of her e-mail: (emphasis mine)

I also had a “take the lane” interaction with a woman on northbound Hilyard Street near E. 30th several weeks ago. I was clearly in the lane, the woman was driving a minivan in the left lane, looked over her shoulder, saw me, and proceeded to merge right into me!

Have you had similar experiences at E. 19th or other places in town?  Do you think that sharrows would help alleviate the problem?  What can people on bikes do to educate people in cars that we have a right to “take the lane,” and that threatening our lives with their cars is not an appropriate way to start a conversation about traffic laws?  We’re all people first, and we shouldn’t use how others chose to travel – car, bike, walk, personal jet pack, etc -  as a means to dehumanize our neighbors.

4 comments to Another Conflict on E. 19th Ave

  • There’s something strange about yelling through a window to tell someone they’re not sharing properly.

  • H K

    Thank you Mike and AW! I’d love to see more articles like this that allow us to have a conversation about how to handle these situations which are, sadly, not unusual.

    I want to encourage people to to use the full lane when appropriate (door-zone bike lanes, narrow lanes, road debris, etc.). Even if motorists don’t know the law and make it uncomfortable when you exercise your right to the lane, the law is on your side and rights that don’t get exercised have a way of disappearing. Your safety comes first to someone else’s misinformed notions of sharing.

    To address Mike’s question, I’m of mixed mind about sharrows as they do serve to educate that people on bicycles are allowed to use the full lane, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that people believe that they only have to allow bicycles when a sharrow is present. No sharrow, no sharing if I may. I think enforcement should be used far more often to deal with these situations.

    I’m hoping other people will chime in with their thoughts and make this a good discussion.

  • Tim

    That response by the EPD is expected, by both citizens and the legislature. That’s why the very powerful ORS 153.058 was created: https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/153.058.

    The biggest caveat is that you /must/ be able to positively identify the driver several days later. Also, it really isn’t appropriate for situations like this, though this would obviously depend on how the whole contact unfolded.

    A helpful PDF detailing some other points about the statute: bikeportland.org/wp-content/images/bicycleActionPamphlet.pdf.

    I’ve never used this personally, but I’ve heard good stories (primarily from Portland) from those who have. And as with any crime, “You can beat the prosecution but you can’t beat the process.” That is, at least it forces the jerk into court.

  • This story takes on a particular sense of irony when one reads the R-G letter to the editor at the top of today’s opinions: http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/opinion/25441042-47/letters-care-deficit-health-eugene.csp