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Judge: No Bike Lane? No Legal Protection.

The Portland Mercury: Judge: No Bike Lane? No Legal Protection.

POSTED BY SARAH MIRK ON FRI, DEC 18, 2009 AT 5:10 PM

BikePortland posted a story today that riles my nerves. BikePortland editor Jonathan Maus gives a rundown of a traffic court case where a driver right hooked cyclist (and city employee) Carmen Piekarski at the intersection of SE 10th and Hawthorne.

The driver admitted that she did not check her blind spot before turning, witnesses supported that story and so did police who filed a citation against the driver. But after hearing the arguments, Multnomah County Court Judge Michael Zusman overturned the citation. Explaining his position, Judge Zusman wrote:

“Because Defendant’s alleged failure to yield to a bicyclist was in an unmarked portion of the roadway, a required element of the violation charged is absent and the Defendant cannot be adjudged liable for the violation.”

WTF? That ruling could mean that traffic violations that injure cyclists are only punishable if they happen in marked bike lanes. Bike lanes, like car lanes, aren’t marked through intersections. Regular traffic laws shouldn’t just disappear because the paint runs out. Maus quotes three bike-savvy legal experts who feel the same, including local lawyer Mark Ginsberg:

“For the judge to find that bike lanes don’t continue through the intersection, he’d have to find that car lanes don’t continue either… We have statutes that say it’s illegal to change lanes in an intersection. I believe that lanes continue through intersections. The fact that the lane is not painted doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

I live off Hawthorne and ride the stretch of road east from downtown most days of the week. Despite the well-marked lanes, it’s a dangerous couple blocks, since many cyclists use it and cars are constantly turning right across the lane. I’ve had a couple close calls there myself and it’s disheartening to know that the traffic laws I’m used to could apparently vanish in the intersections.