Oregon Studded Tires: Laws and Initiatives

Portland has long been known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the entire country. Many proposals have been made to make cycling around the city safer, because Portland bicycle accident attorneys see hundreds of clients each year who have been injured by other road users. Frequently, this is because of unsafe cycling lanes or dangerous cycling intersections.

With money tight, however, many of the new proposals and long term strategies, such as the much-heralded Portland Bike Master Plan, are struggling to get the funds they need. One of the reasons for this is because Portland’s roads are so damaged by studded tires each year, the cost of the repairs means money that could be used to fund bike-road projects is being spent filling in ruts and grooves caused by the studded tires.

When you look at the correlation between bike funding and studded tires, it’s not hard to see why the money to create a safer cycling environment is not forthcoming. Official ODOT statistics show that studded tires create some $50 to $60 million worth of road damage in Oregon alone each year, and the ODOT only has about $11 million each year to repair that damage.

Does that mean the gap between the money needed to fix damaged roads and the money that is actually available is growing that much on an annual basis? You bet it does! In fact, the backlog of repairs to Oregon roads and bridges, if the funding was available today, would cost a staggering $4 billion to complete. Cyclists and Portland bicycle accident attorneys know that as long as that gap exists, sufficient funding will never be available for worthwhile bike projects.

Raising Awareness and Understanding Budget Limitations

One private citizen, Jeff Bernards, has been banging his head off a brick wall, figuratively speaking, for five years, trying to raise awareness of the issue of the damage caused by studded tires deflecting badly needed resources away from important transportation projects.

Bernards has gone so far as to contact the governor’s office, as well as several PBOT and ODOT officials, and admits he’s gotten nowhere. He now wants to pursue a ballot initiative to ban studded tires, saying there will never be enough money for the other projects as long as the state has to continue to repair roads that will only be chewed up and damaged again within a few months.

Bernards isn’t just plucking figures out of thin air to suit his arguments. In March, 2008, an ODOT spokesperson admitted in an interview that “studded tires can cut the lifetime of a paving project in half.” The ODOT has been trying for years to at least curtail the use of studded tires in Oregon, which were first legalized in 1967.

A number of proposals to at least cut back the use of studded tires have included:

  • Taxing the use of studded tires
  • A total ban
  • Introduce a yearly permit costing $20 to use studded tires (a proposal made in the state legislature in 2001, which was defeated)
  • Introduce either permit requirements or outright bans in different cities or counties

The major difficulties with banning the use of studded tires seem to be geographical as much as it is political. West of the Cascades, in the Willamette Valley, the weather is such that studded tires would seldom be required. East of the Cascades, however, is a different matter, and officials are worried that banning the use of studded tires completely could actually endanger the lives of people traveling through treacherous mountain passes. Efforts to place taxes, permit requirements or even city/county restrictions on the use of the studded tires have met with resistance for exactly the same reasons.

Initiative is gathering momentum

To get his proposal in front of the voters, Bernards must collect 87,213 signatures by July 6 of this year. To date, Bernards has managed to get 7,000 signatures, and while that doesn’t sound like much, Bernards is confident of reaching his target. He’s in the process of raising $200,000, the amount he needs to retain the services of a firm that uses paid signature gatherers.

At the moment, he’s only using volunteers. Bernards’ efforts are already getting a lot of support, and he’s confident that if he gets his proposals before the voting public, they’ll pass easily. The number one response Bernards claims to get when he asks people to sign is, “This is a no-brainer.” He says 84% of Oregonians do not use studded tires, and they only need a 51% result to get their initiative passed. Among some of the big names who have endorsed Bernards’ proposal to get studded tires banned is Portland Mayor Sam Adams.

Bernards admits that getting the ban on studded tires passed has motivations based in his passion for cycling. He said, “I think if the bike community could get this passed, saving local taxpayers millions, the public may be more inclined to support funding (for) the Bike Master Plan.” Portland bicycle accident attorneys would like to see more dedicated cycling lanes and safer bike intersections as well; several are firmly behind Bernards’ initiative.

Portland cyclists have a right to safe roads, just as motorists do. With increasing numbers of bicycles on our city streets, as well as a growing population and larger numbers of cars and other motor vehicles on the roads, it will be important to put in place strategies that make it easier and safer for cyclists to get around town.

The damage done by studded tires has meant that necessary road repairs aren’t being done, and in some cases, this has led to a cyclist being injured, either through the negligence of another road user, or because the city and county failed to provide a safe cycling path or intersection.

If you’ve been injured while out and about on your bicycle, and you want to know what your options are for filing a claim, contact a team of experienced and knowledgeable Portland bicycle accident attorneys. But do it quickly. Very strict statutes of limitation apply if you want to hold the city or county liable for the injuries you sustained, so talk to your personal injury attorney as soon as you have received the medical treatment you need.