SALEM, Ore.–

On March 10, the Oregon Senate unanimously approved SB 533, permitting motorcyclists and bicyclists to run red lights.

Sponsored by Sen. Chris Edwards, the proposal is designed to bring relief to bikers who find themselves at stop lights that won’t change. The cyclist or motorcyclist may proceed under his/her discretion if the red light “fails” to turn green after “one full cycle.”

The bill will also hold motorcyclists and bicyclists liable if there is a collision with other road users.

Bicycle advocacy groups have tried to legalize rolling through stop signs but this will remain illegal.

Motorcyclists approached Edwards with the idea last Spring.

“They told me how they would get stuck at lights that kept cycling through without turning green for them,” Edwards said. Under current laws, “they’re faced with breaking the law by proceeding in common sense fashion or holding up traffic. Neither is a good choice for them.”

Although Edwards’ initial draft of the bill included only motorcycles, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance lobbied for it to include bicycles.

The proposed law is helpful for the time being, but it’s not the end goal.

“Our preferred best solution is for lights to get fixed,” said Rob Sadowsky, BTA Executive Director.

Portland has experimented with tiny blue LED light detectors on several traffic signals to detect bicyclists. These lights communicate to bicyclists and motorcyclists when they’re in the right spot to be detected under the cement.

The new law should serve those in cities outside of Portland who do not have the detector lights.

“It’s a significant problem in a lot of places in Washington County,” Sadowsky said. “There are even some streets on the way to Intel where’s it’s hard to get a green light.”

Laws allowing motorcyclists to proceed at stop lights are not new. Known as “safe on red” laws, they’ve been welcomed by 14 other states, including Washington.

“It just makes a lot of sense to keep traffic moving,” Sen. Bill Hansell said. “We’re not breaking new ground here.”

Law enforcement agencies in other states have opposed these laws. The legislation has been criticized for being vague, difficult to enforce, and up to the discretion of the vehicle operator.

The city of Portland has yet to voice an opinion on SB 522, but Peter Koonce, chief signal engineer, is concerned that people do not know what counts as an entire cycle at a  traffic signal.

Signals are set to last “the absolute maximum” of three minutes.

“We strive to keep them to less than two minutes,” Koonce said. It would probably be better if [SB 533] required waiting two or three minutes at a red light before proceeding.”

Yesterday the bill was referred to Transportation and Economic Development.

Katrina Aman is an aspiring journalist who desires to be a person of positive influence. Particularly passionate about poverty alleviation and civil rights, she hopes her writing takes her where she can improve lives.