Judge's ruling confounds local cyclists

Credit: KGW photo

Judge's ruling confounds local cyclists

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by Randy Neves

kgw.com

Posted on December 21, 2009 at 6:58 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 21 at 8:15 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Without painted lines do cyclists lose legal rights? That question is on the minds of Portland cyclists today after a recent court decision.

A Multnomah County traffic judge has thrown out a driver's citation because, in part, her collision with a cyclist happened in a gap between bike lanes.

On Hawthorne Boulevard, as they do most everywhere, bike lanes end and reappear at  intersections.

Crossing 10th Avenue, Carmen Piekarski, an employee in the City's Office of Planning and Sustainability, was riding in such a bike lane when a driver next to her admitted to police she made a last-minute right turn.

"I was point blank," said Piekarski. "It was terrifying. It was really terrifying."

There were witnesses.

Under statute, Portland Police made a decision at the scene to issue the driver a citation for "failure to yield to a rider on a bicycle lane."

"We're not going to issue a citation unless we believe there's been some kind of violation," explained Sgt. Greg Stewart.

But when the case reached Multnomah Judge Michael Zusman's court, he took a long critical look.

Because, in part, the point of collision occurred in one of those gaps between painted bike lanes, Zusman ruled the driver cannot be found guilty of the particular charge.

Zusman tells KGW Newschannel 8 in an email that he interpreted the law the way it was written.

"If the 'spirit of the law' is at odds with the plain language of a statute, it is within the exclusive province of the legislature to fix the problem," he said.

In other words, it's up to lawmakers to bring the matter into focus.

"So that means every intersection I go through without a bike lane I have no legal protection?" questioned  Jonathan Maus, publisher of BikePortland.org. Maus says the ruling is lighting up the comment section on his bike blog.

"So there was a lot of confusion. Yeah, there still is."

In this case, the judge threw out a "failure to yield" citation.

That has cyclists theorizing. Many believe the judge would not have thrown out the ticket if the officer wrote it for "illegal right turn" or "careless driving."

Zusman says it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the specifics of a ruling in this context.

Piekarski, the city employee knocked off her bicycle, understands why there's now "bike lane confusion."

"I still ride a bike and there's hundreds and thousands of other people out here who ride bikes and i think everyone wants to know."
Portland Police are unfazed.

They tell Newschannel 8 because the judge's ruling came from a "low court" and not an "appellate court" officers will not be compelled to change how they approach traffic laws in this case or any other.

 

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