“Crossbike” Crossings Add Further Confusion to Intersections

On August 2, 2016  BikePortland featured a column titled “Say Hello To ‘crossbikes’ –Portland’s latest bikeway innovation.”  The feature included photos and PBOT’s description of a system that is designed to create “greater awareness” of bicycle crossings. So PBOT has now placed green paint extending the white crosswalk markings into the area where bike riders would ride to cross the through the street on eight “Greenway” intersections where the Greenway has a stop sign before it crosses a relatively low traffic volume through the street. While the diagram published by PBOT shows the green bars separated by some space from the white crosswalk paint marks, actual photographs of the intersections demonstrate that the green paint is actually applied so that it abuts the white crosswalk paint.

As the sign in the intersection photo of above shows the symbol of both a bicycle rider and pedestrian appear together in the diamond shaped sign. And the green and white paint markings combined make it appear that the “crosswalk” is being expanded to include the “crossbike”.  While one might argue that to the extent it is ambiguous whether or not a motorist must stop for a cyclist in a “crossbike” and the motorist stops when it is not legally necessary to do so, that is ok because it promotes passage of vulnerable roadway users. And as Jonathan Maus notes in his article “But if you’ve walked or biked at all in Portland you’ll know that people tend to happily stop at neighborhood greenway crossings already so these markings should only increase awareness.” But both Maus and Geller would certainly admit that the “crossbike” does not somehow expand the protection of the Oregon right of way in the crosswalk to the “crossbike” crossings. And remember that these “crossbike” crossings are all located at intersections where the street being crossed is a through the street and the bicyclists have a stop sign.

Legal Analysis

The Oregon Traffic Code clearly requires that a bicyclist must stop at a stop sign and wait to proceed until the way is clear by yielding to cross traffic on the through the street. ORS 811.260(15). However, if the bicyclist chooses to cross the street in the crosswalk then approaching traffic is required to yield to the bicyclist because in a crosswalk bicyclists have the same rights as pedestrians. ORS 814.410(2). (Note however that one still cannot leave a curb or other place of safety and move out in front of approaching traffic that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard per ORS 814.410(1)(a), I mention that in case anyone was tempted to do such a thing).

In my world, as a bike lawyer, I get involved when things go wrong, sometimes terribly wrong. AND if a bicycle rider in a “crossbike” moves out from the stop sign to cross the through street because, for example, approaching traffic from one direction has stopped for her, but then another automobile coming in the other direction does not choose to stop and hits the rider, or a car behind the stopped car pulls around and then hits the cyclist, the hard legal question must be answered of who had the right of way. AND  the answer has serious legal consequences for who will have to pay for medical bills and damages. And who might get a ticket.

If the bicyclist is in the crosswalk (defined in ORS 801.220) then the driver is required to yield the right of way by ORS 811.028. But if the rider is not in the crosswalk then the bicyclist has violated the stop sign law in ORS 811.260(15) by failing to stay stopped for traffic on the through street. As I noted  four years ago when we went through the last iteration of bicycle-friendly intersection enhancements, “Ambiguous Intersections.”

“Modern traffic planners are attempting to create new designs which have evolved beyond the old models for intersections. Sometimes ambiguity about who has the right of way is good. It’s what keeps pedestrians in crowds from crashing into each other. However, intersection design ambiguity that encourages cyclists to exercise a right of way they do not legally possess, and motorists to surrender their rights of way, can create dangerous situations for all traffic.”

I have to say that “crossbikes” create the same legal problems that  existed for the ambiguous North Going and Martin Luther King intersection- when everything works fine, great, but when it doesn’t the bicycle rider is likely going to be left holding the traffic citation for disregarding the legal requirements of the stop sign.

And to further complicate matters there are additional legal angles that have not been tested in court but that may apply which create additional confusion. Note that the PBOT diagram illustrates the “crossbike” intersection as having a separation between the white crosswalk paint and the green “crossbike” paint. But the photo of the intersection shows that the white crosswalk paint abuts the green paint of the “crossbike” and then more white paint abuts the green paint, creating a three-part, but uninterrupted, line.

The Oregon Vehicle Code defines “crosswalk” as “any portion of a roadway at an intersection or elsewhere that is distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface of the roadway that conform in design to the standards established for crosswalks under ORS 810.200.”  So if the combined crosswalk and “crossbike” markings are connected then could it not be argued that the “crossbike” is actually brought within the legal definition of the “crosswalk” and therefore the bicyclist can be viewed as having the legal right of way just like they would if they were riding across the street in a wide marked crosswalk? Of course, this does not excuse darting out in front of approaching traffic per ORS 814.410(1)(a)’s prohibition against moving out in front of traffic so close as to “constitute an immediate hazard”. But it does bring into play an additional legal protection from  ORS 811.020 which states that drivers are prohibited from overtaking and passing a vehicle stopped for pedestrians (which includes bicyclists) in a crosswalk. This reasoning would be that since PBOT decided to paint the lines without an interruption then they have inadvertently created a much more favorable legal position for bicyclists than they realized or intended.

However,  there may be a legal “color problem” at work here because just as the crosswalk legal definition in ORS 810.200 requires  only “markings or other markings” it also stipulates that it must “conform in design to the standards established for crosswalks under ORS 810.200.”  ORS 801.220 states that crosswalks must “conform in design to the standards established for crosswalks under ORS 810.200. ORS 810.200 says that the OTC “shall adopt a manual and specifications of uniform standards for traffic control devices…” (810.220.1.a). IF the adopted manual is essentially the MUTCD and the MUTCD says the following crosswalks must be marked with white paint, then there may be a problem of definition. The MUTCD says,  (emphasis added):

Section 3B.18 Crosswalk Markings


01 Crosswalk markings provide guidance for pedestrians who are crossing roadways by defining and delineating paths on approaches to and within signalized intersections, and on approaches to other intersections where traffic stops.

02 In conjunction with signs and other measures, crosswalk markings help to alert road users of a designated pedestrian crossing point across roadways at locations that are not controlled by traffic control signals or STOP or YIELD signs.

03 At non-intersection locations, crosswalk markings legally establish the crosswalk.


04 When crosswalk lines are used, they shall consist of solid white lines that mark the crosswalk. They shall not be less than 6 inches or greater than 24 inches in width.”

The standard that crosswalk lines “shall consist of solid white lines” seems pretty clear.  Of course, it was never PBOT’s  intent that the crossbikes be treated as crosswalks, only that to the extent any ambiguity, and resulting confusion, about right of way benefited cyclists by motorists stopping even when not required by law, then ok.  Of course, to me,  this opens up the conversation about simply extending the crosswalk lines in white to include the area now currently green. In that instance then there is a big wide crosswalk. As far as I know there is no maximum width for a  marked crosswalk (but ORS 801.220 does stipulate that UNMARKED crosswalks can be no narrower than 6 feet and no wider than 20’).

If the wider crosswalk expands to include the “crossbike” within it doesn’t that just expand the coverage of the umbrella of right of way in a good direction? IF we wanted to make the “crossbike” into an arguably fully legal “crosswalk” without the legal ambiguity then we would just cover the green paint over with white and be done with it, or put some green at each end of the white paint just to denote the new design.

Of course one also has to beware that they may not want to proceed into the “danger zone” when there is oncoming traffic that may not decide to stop. While the right of way in the crosswalk is clear legally, one does not know that traffic will stop until it actually stops. One technique for crossing is to use the crosswalk law crossing technique created by a joint effort of the former BTA and the then Willamette Pedestrian Coalition in 2011 to get the traffic to stop before venturing in front of traffic. That law, ORS 811.028(4) created a legal “trigger” to get the traffic to stop:

“A pedestrian is crossing the roadway in a crosswalk when any part of the pedestrian’s body, wheelchair, cane, crutch, or bicycle, moves into the roadway in a crosswalk with the intent to proceed.”

The legal trigger is to take the right of way by placing some body part or extension of the body off the curb into the roadway like a swimmer testing the temperature of the water with their toe before they jump in to create the legal obligation for traffic to yield and stop, then once the traffic is stopped in both directions, to cross the roadway in the crosswalk. This technique can be easily used and taught to others and is on its way to becoming a national standard we are urging other states to follow in their own laws. (Note, we understood this law is not perfect; we tried before in two different legislative sessions to get the hand signal law passed, it failed both times- we created this law as an alternative and it did pass both the house and senate and was signed into law by the governor on 23, 2011).

SO as things stand the “crossbike” crossings are not clearly legal crosswalks, but maybe arguably so with their solid multicolored paint lines. IF they were painted a solid white or had a touch of green at each end it would probably be clearer. If they were painted according to the PBOT diagram with an interrupted line then they would be less likely to be legal crosswalks. For now, the best course of action is to follow the PBOT signage and assume cars do not legally have to stop. This is going to play out on the street with some possible confusion, but as the sign says, “What if drivers do stop? Cool, give them a wave and ride on”.  But also be prepared for the confusion that is experienced in regard to these hybrid intersections