Do Cyclists Lose Their Right To The Road When Off The Bicycle?

Woman in jeans standing next to a blue bike

Bicycle riders are granted an important right to travel upon Oregon’s roads from the “Bicyclist Bill of Rights” contained in ORS 814.430. This law provides that bicyclists have a right to take the entire traffic lane while maintaining the normal speed of traffic; if they go slower the bicyclist must proceed as close as practicable to the right side of a two-way road, (or on either side of a one way street). However, if some hazard exists (the statute lists many hazards including “fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, and surface hazards”) the bicyclist may take the entire lane until the hazard is passed. However, when a bicyclist dismounts from their bike and begins walking on the roadway then a whole set of different legal rules become applicable which significantly restrict the legal right to the road. This article explores some of the legal differences between bicyclists and pedestrians on the roadway.

It is a common sight to see a tired bicycle rider pushing their bike up the last part of a long steep hill on the right edge of the pavement, or walking a bicycle with a flat tire or other mechanical problem to a patch of shade or some place to get help. Unfortunately, while the Oregon Vehicle Code provides certain exceptions for motorists on freeways with disabled vehicles which enable them to walk to the nearest freeway exit even though pedestrians are prohibited from the freeway, there is no statutory protection allowing bicyclists to remain on the roadway when not riding the bicycle.

In a recent case, a tired bicyclist was pushing his bicycle along the road near the top of a long hill and was struck by an inattentive overtaking motorist. When the bicyclist made a claim for medical expenses against the motorist, the driver’s insurance company argued that the bicyclist had become a “pedestrian” when he started pushing the bike and was mostly at fault for the accident because pedestrians are required to walk off the road on the left shoulder.

The Oregon statutes state that “an adjacent sidewalk or shoulder must be used, and, if none is available, a pedestrian must proceed along and upon the shoulder, as far as practicable from the roadway edge.” On two-lane roads without a sidewalk the vehicle code requires that the pedestrian take a position on the left shoulder ” as far as practicable from the roadway edge.” If the highway has neither sidewalk or shoulder, then the pedestrian must proceed “as near as practicable to an outside edge of the roadway, and, if the roadway is a two-way roadway, only on the left side of it.” ORS 814.070.

ORS 801.485 defines “sidewalk” as “that portion of the highway between the outside lateral line of the shoulder and the adjacent property line capable of being used by a ‘pedestrian’ on the side of the highway which has a shoulder.” If there is a shoulder the sidewalk is defined as “that portion of the highway between the lateral line of the roadway and the adjacent property line capable of being used by a pedestrian.” ORS 801.480 defines “shoulder” as “the portion of the highway, whether paved or unpaved, contiguous to the roadway that is primarily for use by pedestrians, for accommodation of stopped vehicles, for emergency use, and for lateral support of the pavement surface. The legal definition for “bicycle” is contained in ORS 801.150 and provides that it is a vehicle designed to be operated on the ground on wheels and to be propelled exclusively by human power. ORS 801.385 defines “pedestrian” as any person “afoot.” The general rule contained in ORS 814.040 requires that pedestrians yield to a vehicle (which includes bicycles) anytime the pedestrian is on a roadway except in a marked or unmarked crosswalk. If the pedestrian is in a marked or unmarked crosswalk, then the legal requirement flips and vehicles must “must yield to the pedestrian, so long as the pedestrian does not “suddenly leave a place of safety and move into the path of a vehicle so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.” ORS 814.040(1). If there is an available shoulder the statute requires the “pedestrian” to use it, not the left edge of the roadway. While the law always requires that all pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists use “due care” in every situation (ORS 811.005), the specific statutory rules for pedestrians eliminate any right to proceed on the paved portion of the roadway if a shoulder or sidewalk is available.

In situations where a bicyclist has a mechanical problem or becomes fatigued, the law appears to require that the person move with their bike over to the sidewalk, or if no sidewalk is available, to the left shoulder of the road. While pushing a fully loaded touring bike with a flat tire through loose gravel and debris on a shoulder may be a miserable experience, it does appear that Oregon statutes require it. A practical person attempting to make decent progress will likely walk on the left side of the road in remote areas where there is no motorized traffic, but if motorists approach, the rider would be well advised to move off the paved roadway and onto the left shoulder.