Elly Blue pedaled her bike across the damp grass at Colonel Sumners Park after work on Thursday, December 8, and zoomed up a hill toward her crew. In the bright lights of a tennis court, a dozen of her fellow bikers were assembled, waiting for Blue to kick off the night's "Super Legal Bike Ride."
Blue—dressed for the clear, cold night in a stocking cap and a yellow-and-blue striped scarf—had set up the Super Legal ride with the help of other bikers, in the weeks since a Portland Police Bureau enforcement action at SE 26th and Clinton. There, on November 16, cops handed out more than two dozen $237 tickets to bikers—plus more to motorists—for failing to make a complete stop at the four-way stop.
So tonight, bikers who'd heard about the Super Legal ride on cyclists' listservs would return to SE 26th and Clinton, following the law to the letter along the entire route. Once there, they'd perform a "bicycle ballet," with each cyclist circling around the block and going through the intersection again and again. Blue billed the demo as a "single-file, full-stop, take-the-lane, letter-of-the-law, cheerful-and-polite, show 'em what would happen if we all stopped at every light and sign every time, sort of ride."
The point? Blue hoped the ride would show motorists and cops what traffic would be like if bikes followed the law exactly—which means bikes behave like cars.
"If every bicyclist came to a full stop," and rode single file along with cars, she said—explaining their theory—vehicle traffic would slow down dramatically. "We're not advocating that bikers go through stops. But if bicyclists were able to treat stop signs as yield signs, traffic would flow more smoothly and safely."
In 2003, bike advocates backed a State House bill that would have made the law more bike friendly, allowing rolling stops at stop signs. The bill passed the House, but died in the Senate Rules Committee. It's unclear if bikers will push for the bill to be revived.
"This ride is independent of an actual movement to have the law changed," Blue said.
At Colonel Sumners Park last Thursday night, biker Morgan Patton said he'd recently received a ticket for not having a headlight on his bike. A friend of his had earned a ticket for running a light. Since then, Patton had been following every bike law. "And since I've been doing that, cars get really pissed off!" he said. "It's ironic that they get upset."
Moments later, Blue pulled out hand-lettered signs made for the event. Bikers took turns stripping off their gloves and taping the leaflets—with slogans like "Share the Lane, Not the Law," and "Keep Rollin'—Allow Rolling Stops for Cyclists"—to each others' backs, then fired up their headlights (and a portable stereo), lined up single file, and headed south toward SE Hawthorne.
Progress to SE 26th and Clinton—via Ladd's Circle, and a tricky stoplight at SE 20th and Division—was slow. At every stop sign, the bikers halted and crossed the street carefully, one by one. Perplexed drivers rolled down their windows, and tried to wave the entire procession through intersections. Shouting back, bikers told the drivers they were obeying the law, and rotating the right of way. (Along the way, a bike commuter joined the Super Legal riders: He had received one of the November 16 citations that prompted the ride.)
At the four-way stop at 26th and Clinton, the cyclists waited behind cars for their turn, stuck out their left arms to signal, and pedaled left. For 20 minutes, the bikers rotated through the intersection, crossing in every direction. Vehicle traffic—which had been flowing smoothly when the bikes first arrived—quickly backed up. Police spokesperson Sgt. Brian Schmautz—the only cop in sight—watched from under the Clinton Street Theater marquee. "We've got no issues with anyone following the law," he said.
The next day, Blue sent out a report on the ride: "It seems to me that motorists passing through 26th and Clinton might have thought either that there were just an unusual number of cyclists out tonight, or that we were staging a traffic safety action to promote full stops at the intersection. Each message is also a great one, so I'm not complaining."