Oregon’s network of bicycle lanes, paths, and multi-use trails is extensive enough to be an attractive alternative to roads and sidewalks for operators of motor-assisted electric scooters, bicycles, and mopeds. On the other hand, non-motorized users of these facilities sometimes resent sharing these protected areas with motorized vehicles, even if the motor is a tiny one. Interference with a quiet ride or walk is almost guaranteed when one is overtaken and passed by a loud and smoky two-cycle engine skateboard or go-cart that leaves a blue oily haze hanging over the trail as it disappears into the distance. While Oregon law does allow motorized contraptions on bike lanes and paths under certain circumstances, many of the folks bringing these machines onto scenic or commuter corridors are violating the Oregon Vehicle Code.
As a general rule, it is illegal to operate motor vehicles on bicycle lanes or paths. However, motor vehicles may cross over a bicycle lane when making a turn, entering or leaving an alley, private road or driveway, in the course of official duty, or when a farm vehicle is pulling into a bicycle lane to allow faster vehicles to overtake and pass. In addition, a motorized wheelchair may be operated on a bicycle lane or path and a motor assisted scooter may be ridden upon a bicycle lane or path, but only if it has a gas engine smaller than 35 ccs or an electric motor that produces less than 1,000 watts, and the machine is not capable of speeds greater than 24 miles per hour on level ground. ORS 801.348. A moped, which generally has a higher motor output than a motor assisted scooter or bicycle, may not be operated on a bicycle lane or path at all, unless it is being operated exclusively by human power. ORS 801.440(1).
An electric assisted bicycle may also be operated on a bicycle lane or path so long it has fully operative pedals for human propulsion, an electric motor with power output of less than 1,000 watts, and a top speed less than 20 miles per hour on level ground.
Operation of a motor vehicle on a bicycle lane or path that does not qualify for one of the exceptions is a Class B, Traffic Infraction with a maximum fine of up to $300.00.
In addition, operators of motorized scooters or mopeds which fail to qualify for any of the exceptions mentioned above may also be running the risk that they are illegally operating a motor vehicle that must be registered, licensed, and insured. Sometimes sellers of these vehicles fail to let purchasers know the legal requirements for operation; what is sold as a toy is actually a motor vehicle that cannot be operated legally on any public road without a license plate and driver’s license.
A recent case in our office involved an accident in which our client was operating a two-wheeled electric powered scooter with a 3,000 watt motor (too powerful to qualify for use in a bicycle lane). The driver of a small van failed to see our client as the scooter approached the van from the right in the bicycle lane, and the driver then turned right in front of the scooter; the resulting collision created a number of legal issues. Since our client did not have a legal right to be in the bicycle lane, he therefore did not have a right to pass the small van on the right side. Further, because the motor was too powerful to use in the bicycle lane, the electric vehicle was legally required to be registered and insured and our client was supposed to have a driver’s license. As a result, an accident that would have been clearly the fault of the driver of the small van if our client had been on a bicycle, became an accident in which our unlicensed and uninsured client was operating a motorized scooter illegally in the bicycle lane.
Operation of motor vehicles on bicycle lanes and paths is attractive for many people who would rather ride than stride or pedal. However, Oregon law imposes strict restrictions on the types of motorized vehicles which may gain access to these areas and users would do well to make sure their vehicle complies with the law.