Rules of the road

Mari Welch considers herself a frequent bicyclist, but she wasn't sure whether it was legal to ride against traffic in a bike lane. When she tried riding a short distance against traffic on Ashland Street last year, a truck turning out of the Ashland Shopping Center hit her, knocked her to the ground and dragged her into the street.

"A woman pulled out and didn't really stop. She got my front wheel with her truck and pulled me under her truck into the street," said Welch, a 22-year-old Southern Oregon University student.

Though insurance covered her ambulance ride and visit to the emergency room, and Welch wasn't interested in pressing charges against the driver, she was surprised to learn that if a citation had been issued for the collision, it would have been to her.

"The cop made it clear that I was at fault," said Welch.

Welch could have been cited for failure to obey a one-way, or for failing to bike in the right-most lane of her direction of travel, said Ashland Police Sgt. Tighe O'Meara.

"It's not anything I've ever taken action on," said O'Meara. "But you are opening yourself to getting a ticket."

Laws similar to this will be the topic of two legal clinics given by a Portland lawyer in Ashland and Medford next week, aimed at spreading awareness about bicycle and pedestrian laws.

Ray Thomas will speak at noon Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Carnegie Building in Medford, and at 6 p.m. the same day at Boulevard Coffee in Ashland.

Pedestrian and bicycle laws have changed over the years, Thomas said, and many people have fallen out of the loop.

"Even bicyclists and pedestrians don't know about these law changes," said Thomas, who wrote the guide "Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists."

When students are learning to drive, Thomas said, they are taught various automobile safety laws but usually aren't taught the laws of being a pedestrian or bicyclist.

"In high school we learned to drive because we wanted to stop walking and biking," said Thomas. "What we didn't learn about were those rules."

Thomas, who gives the hour-long legal clinics regularly, said people often are surprised by some of the laws on the books, such as one that says when a bicyclist wants to use a crosswalk, he must not go any faster than a normal walking speed.

So, if a bicyclist is at a crosswalk occupied by a woman pushing a stroller, for instance, the rider wouldn't be allowed to pull ahead and go faster.

"The bike would have to go the slowest," said Thompson.

Another overlooked law is that bicyclists are allowed to drive in any lane of traffic they want, as long as they aren't slowing down the flow of cars.

Thompson said that in Welch's case, the legality of riding in a bike lane against traffic is a tricky situation.

While he agreed that cars typically don't like bicyclists to do this, there is no law that specifically forbids it.

"The law doesn't say anything about it," said Thompson, adding that his legal clinic is not only useful for those on bicycles, but also for parents and families.

"We can be confident when we're out there," said Thompson. "Nobody wants to play a game where they don't know the rules."

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