Ride Smart: Know the Law

Ride Smart: Know the Laws!

learning to rideMost of us learned how to ride a bike before we learned how to drive. That was sufficient for the schoolyard but not so good for safely riding city streets. Most riders are under-schooled in road rules yet we must safely co-exist with better-protected motorists. Consequently we must be more aware of the hazards.

But we also have to be more cognizant of the law. We must obey the vehicular code (even though technically a bicycle is not a vehicle) but there are also specific laws – often local ordinances – that apply only to us as riders. Read on for a brief overview of the State of California laws that apply, and then go to Local Ordinances Affecting Cyclists to understand how local laws affect us.

How Laws Regulate Cycling

Vehicle code bookThe California Vehicle Code (CVC) provides a legal framework for regulating travel on public roads. A cyclist must hew to most of the laws that regulate motoring (the ‘rules of the road’) and then a few more under the CVC’s Section 21200-21212. It is worth familiarizing yourself with the code. Let’s summarize the basics:

  • Ride on the street with traffic flow and follow the law as any motorist would. That means stopping at all stop signs and obeying traffic control devices.
  • Keep to the right of the roadway when practicable, which means you can pass on the left, drift to the left when there’s a right-turn lane, or maneuver as necessary to avoid dangerous conditions. If your lane is not wide enough to share with a bus, say, don’t share it; ride confidently nearer to the center.
  • Use hand signals to indicate your turns because you can’t expect motorists to anticipate your next move. Always execute your left turns from the left turn pocket (if available) or from a commanding position in the leftmost lane. Alternately, cross the intersection and wait for the crossing signal.
  • Ride attentively, predictably, and responsibly (no dual earbuds on the road – it’s against the law!).

Again, ride to the right where practicable. That does not mean wherever possible. Don’t ride in the gutter or otherwise hug the curb, especially if passing traffic poses a hazard. And if you’re cited for riding in the middle of the lane when it’s a) not wide enough to share and/or b) you feel that you couldn’t safely ride to the right, refer the judge to this section of the state law:

Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right- hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations: (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction. (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway. (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane. http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/ accessed 9/3/2010 (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. (CVC Sec. 21202)

To be clear, you’re required to yield the lane by riding to the right only when a reasonable person would find it safe to do so, or if the lane accommodates both you as a rider and large vehicles (trucks and buses).

A couple of additional pointers when riding our busy streets:

  • Hold to a straight line where possible (for example when passing parked cars don’t weave to the curb and back into traffic)
  • Refrain from sidewalk riding in any jurisdiction unless safety absolutely demands it
  • Wherever you ride, be extra careful at potential conflict points like driveways, shop doors and crosswalks
  • Children must wear a helmet that meets state safety standards but adults are not required
  • At all costs avoid physical conflict with motorists: instead get their plate and report it to police (and to the cycling community).

That last point is important: if you are stopped and cited for any reason, follow the suggestions of bicycle attorney Bob Mionske as you gracefully accept your citation to fight on another day in court. If you’re unfortunately involved in a collision, why Bob’s got advice for that too.

State Motor Vehicle Code Excerpts

A “bicycle path crossing” is either of the following: (1) That portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of a bike path at intersections …[or] (2) Any portion of a roadway distinctly indicated for bicycle crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.

— California Vehicle Code Sec. 231.6

[I]t is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug…A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars.

— CVC Sec. 21200.5

No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a brake…[or] equipped with handlebars so raised that the operator must elevate his hands above the level of his shoulders [or] that is of a size that prevents the operator from safely stopping the bicycle [and] supporting it in an upright position….

— CVC Sec. 21201

A bicycle operated during darkness upon a highway, sidewalk, or a bikeway shall be equipped with a lamp emitting a white light that illuminates the [way] in front of the bicyclist; a red reflector visible from 500 feet; a white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle; and reflectors on each side forward & rear of the center of the bicycle…

— CVC Sec. 21201

Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right- hand curb or edge of the roadway except (1) When overtaking and passing; (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection, private road, or driveway; (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe to continue; or (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

— CVC Sec. 21202

Any person operating a bicycle…shall ride as close as practicable to the right- hand curb or edge of the roadway except…[w]hen reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes)… A “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

— CVC Sec. 21202

Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

— CVC Sec. 21202

A person operating a bicycle upon a highway shall not ride other than upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached thereto…If the passenger is four years of age or younger, or weighs 40 pounds or less, the seat shall have adequate provision for retaining the passenger in place…

— CVC Sec. 2014

No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle or article which prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars.

— CVC Sec. 2105

Any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane [When] overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian…and passing cannot be done safely within the lane; When preparing for a left turn; When reasonably necessary to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions; When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

— CVC Sec. 21207

No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the event that any vehicle may be affected by the movement.

— CVC Sec. 21207

No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway except to park where parking is permitted, to enter or leave the roadway, or to prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.

— CVC Sec. 21209

No person shall leave a bicycle lying on its side on any sidewalk, or shall park a bicycle on a sidewalk in any other position, so that there is not an adequate path for pedestrian traffic. Local authorities may, by ordinance or resolution, prohibit bicycle parking in designated areas of the public highway, provided that appropriate signs are erected.

— CVC Sec. 21210

A person under 18 years of age shall not operate a bicycle…nor ride upon a bicycle or any other public bicycle path or trail unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets [ASTM or CPSC] standards. The parent or legal guardian having control or custody…shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for the amount of the fine…

— CVC Sec. 21212

A person under 18 years of age shall not operate a bicycle…nor ride upon a bicycle or any other public bicycle path or trail unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets [ASTM or CPSC] standards.

— CVC Sec. 21212

A person under 18 years of age shall not operate a bicycle…unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet… Any charge under this subdivision shall be dismissed when the person charged alleges in court, under oath, that the charge against the person is the first charge…under this subdivision

— CVC Sec. 21212

Read more about the city laws that affect us on our Local Ordinances Affecting Cyclists page. And refer to the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalitions helpful summary of the laws with relevant state statutes linked. Have a look at their handy LACBC Road Rules pocket guide [pdf]. Join the LACBC to get your paper copy!

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Complete Streets Walk Audit Recap

Complete Streets Walk audit overview of the roomBeverly Hills conducted a Complete Streets ‘walk audit’ on June 9th. It followed on the first Community Workshop (read the recap), the Workshop #2 (recap) and an Earth Day Complete Streets pop-up (pic). After those earlier conceptual discussions and associated mapping exercises, this event was a hands-on opportunity for participants to evaluate our environment for accessibility and safety.  And of course to make recommendations. “Everything is on the table” in terms of improvements, said Aaron Kunz, Community Development Department Deputy Director for Transportation.

What is a walk audit? A walk audit is simply an exercise that helps us focus attention on the built environment as it exists today. In conjunction with a complete streets planning process, a walk audit gets us out onto the streets where we can cast a critical eye on the features that may impede multimodal mobility. Are there barriers to accessibility, for example, that make it impractical or even hazardous to walk or ride a bicycle? (Read more about walk audits.)

The spirit behind the walk audit is summarized in this assessment tool from Delaware:

Everyone is a pedestrian! Most trips by car, transit, or bike begin by walking. Many roads are designed with only cars in mind, but at least one-third of Americans do not drive, including children, adolescents, many older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals….This includes economically disadvantaged individuals who do not own cars, people who do not drive, and/or persons with disabilities. Creating walkable, safe, and pleasant pedestrian areas creates transportation equity for mobility- constrained and special-needs populations. — Healthy and Complete Communities in Delaware: The Walkability Assessment Tool.

The walk audit is a fresh, and purposeful, look at streets that are a product of incremental engineering decisions over many decades. These decisions are generally taken without regard for the bigger mobility and accessibility picture. They may be triggered by traffic count thresholds and unfailingly overlook leading-edge best practices. Traffic engineering reflects our cultural bias, and for too long it prioritized efficiency over safety and, in particular, put the convenience of auto travelers front and center.

The culture is changing, however, and a walk audit asks us to consciously reevaluate the street and perhaps even bring a little bit of rigor to our assessment. What may need to change to encourage walking or bicycle riding? That’s what our own city plans say we should be doing.


About 25 participants, 10 staffers and several Traffic and Parking commissioners attended the session. Iteris consultant John Lower framed the issue and it was all about safety. “When we talk about ‘accidents’ we’re really talking about crashes: 94% of them arise from human error, and though our streets we can influence that behavior.” He went on to talk about the potential for ‘intelligent transportation’ (aka networked vehicles) to avoid that harm; and the need to shift more rides to transit by solving the ‘last mile’ connectivity problem: home to transit. “We want you to recognize these challenges and to buy in to possible solutions.”

Complete Streets Walk audit's John Lower with presentation

John Lower from Iteris gives the ins-and-outs of a walk audit.

This was a hands-on exercise, so we split off into groups to walk two segments of the business triangle, South Santa Monica and North Crescent Drive.

The former has long served as an expedient path for pass-through traffic but which came at the expense of safety and enjoyment of the corridor. There is now interest to refashion it as a village-like ‘local street.’ Crescent Drive is a busy pedestrian conduit between City Hall and the triangle and has already been identified as a bike route in our bike route pilot program. Both offer clear challenges! I participated in a South Santa Monica Boulevard walk audit so I will describe what we saw and talked about.

Not two minutes after we left the library we were confronted by a major safety challenge: the Burton Way / Rexford intersection.

Complete Streets Walk audit: Rexford and South SM intersection

South SM Blvd at Rexford looking west. Despite the faded sharrows, this intersection was created by drivers for drivers.

There is no better illustration of why riding a bicycle into Beverly Hills feels so hazardous: the marked bicycle lane on Burton ends with a couple of fading sharrows, which provides no guidance to a rider though that intersection. Worse, those sharrows exist in an optional right-turn lane (in the distance in the image above). Why queue impatient motorists waiting to turn behind a rider who may be continuing straight to go westbound? Why make that optional turn lane so extra wide? See the aerial:

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Burton and Rexford

This intersection at Rexford and Burton would be so much safer for riders if the bicycle lanes continued through; and westbound riders were not merged into three lanes of motor traffic.

Better would be to narrow the turn lane to accommodate a marked bicycle lane to the left of the turn lane. It’s good when every road users knows where they are supposed to be. And then on the far side of Rexford that lane could have continued (instead of turning into a third vehicular lane). After all, this is where the boulevard narrows; do we need three through-traffic lanes? The poor sap on a bicycle dutifully follows the sharrows and then finds herself in a meat grinder of harried motorists. Crazy!

Those heading eastbound anticipate the beginning of marked bicycle lanes on Burton, but when they come off of South Santa Monica there is no bicycle lane that protect them. There is no marking to guide them through the intersection. Somehow we are expected to (again) share a too-wide optional right turn lane.  Why no bike lane? There is width sufficient for it. As it is it is a ‘right-hook’ nightmare for the cyclist.

For pedestrians crossing Rexford westbound (as we were) the danger at this juncture was clear: the wide-radius right turn from Burton onto north Rexford allows drivers to negotiate the turn at high speed. Speed kills when vehicles collide with pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Pedestrians faced the same hazard (and greater danger) at the South Santa Monica / Crescent intersection. The ‘diamond’ shape seen in the aerial is created by two acute corners and two wide, obtuse angles.

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Crescent

Who would engineer an intersection like this? No doubt our transportation engineers cross on foot regularly. It’s the SW corner of City Hall. They never did a forehead slap to say, “What were we thinking?”

The westbound driver turning north onto Crescent can take that northeast corner at high speed. (Same with eastbound drivers turning south on Crescent.) This is the southwest corner of City Hall and yet it feels to be the most dangerous place for walkers or riders in the entire city. Three of the four crosswalks there are not high visibility and the north-side crosswalk is arguably not even disability-accommodating due to the many pop-up bollards.

What’s the fix? The city could create a pedestrian scramble at Crescent to shorten the crossing distance between City Hall and the triangle. Here’s a before/after animation:

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Crescent reimagined as a scramble

A before/after view of today’s crosswalk looking southwest and a pedestrian scramble. This should have been the first scramble installed anywhere in the city! (Reload the page to refresh the animation.)

Alternately, or in addition, squaring off the crosswalks relative to the curbs would help too. Not only would that shorten the crossing distance across wide South Santa Monica Blvd; it would also require that eastbound drivers stop well in advance of the corner on the red before proceeding around that oblique angle turn. Win-win.

A bike box

The bike box is a reserved space for cyclists that facilitates an advance start ahead of motorists.

The intersection is also hazardous to a westbound rider who would turn left onto the bike route at Crescent. The choice: merge across two through traffic lanes and into left turn pocket. Dangerous because this is a high-speed corridor (and there is no enforcement). Or cross Crescent to the northwest corner and wait for the southbound signal (aka box turn). Why not put the city’s first bike box just before the crosswalk at Crescent? That allows riders to bunch near the front of the car queue and is very handy for accessing the left turn. The riders are visible to all drivers queued at the signal and riders get a jump on the movement. It’s a no-brainer if the crosswalks are squared off: that makes more room for a bike box.

The peril for bicycle riders only begins at Crescent. Once west of the Wallis, the road narrows considerably. Here traffic is dual-lane with no curbside parking. Boy do drivers fly through here – like water shooting through a crimp in a garden hose! What we need is traffic calming.

Walk audit: South Santa Monica west of Canon

No ‘village’ street should look – or feel – like South Santa Monica Boulevard between Beverly and Canon. Bad for all road users

I suggest a road diet! Take these dual lanes down to single-lane and create a buffered bike lane in each direction.

Kory Klem made a good point at the last workshop: make South Santa Monica Boulevard single-lane west of Beverly. Then, remove curbside parking on the north side to make room for a bicycle lane. Kory noted that removing the north-side curb parking would help to accommodate both bike lanes AND back-in parking. That would increase parking capacity on the south side to make up for the less-efficient parallel parking lost on the north side. Here’s the diagram:

Kory Klem's South SM Blvd proposal diagram

Diagram of South Santa Monica Boulevard east of Wilshire. Credit: Kory Klem.

It is a win-win-win. 1) It would (properly) send drivers to the garages (just behind the stores) rather than invite them to circle continuously for an open meter. 2) It would vastly improve the pedestrian experience on narrow north-side sidewalks. A buffered bicycle lane would put motor traffic fully 8 feet from the curb (today west of Canon it abuts the curb). And finally, 3) It would provide bike lane connectivity though this most difficult area. Safety first!

We are halfway there: eastbound travelers already see the road narrow to one through-lane on the blocks before Beverly. (This was a recent change to accommodate eastbound right-turn-only lanes at busy intersections.) Why not expand on that concept to create single-lane travel from Moreno through these choke points and clear on to Burton? That way we could have contiguous bike lanes from Century City to the eastern Boundary near Robertson. Win #4: Reverse angle parking makes it safer for cars backing out and the adjacent bike lane need not be buffered from motor traffic: parked cars are the buffer. No bicyclist would be in harm’s way.

Other Issues

My group identified several other issues that I will touch on briefly. Like sidewalks that are unpleasant to roam – especially between Canon and Beverly. (Ironically the area used to be rife with pedestrians as the streetcar station was located adjacent.)

And half-blocks north of the boulevard provide little to the pedestrian. These are important connectors to Beverly Gardens Park, but they are unsightly (and with the exception of Alfred Coffee there is little to catch the eye).

Walk audit: SM-5 garages

Walk audit: SM-5 garages and ancillary use KILL a street vibe.

Walk audit: Dead zone on South Santa Monica.

Not much here beckons a pedestrian except shade.

There are whole blocks that are ‘dead’ from a pedestrian standpoint as this part of South SM west of Camden shows. Indeed an entire chunk of the triangle seems to have been simply carved out from our designated pedestrian area according to the map.

Why? No doubt there is a story to it! If I know Beverly Hills, it was easier to carve it out than to suggest to commercial property owners to prioritize the street. As a result the whole corridor west of Camden dies on the vine.

Wrap Up

From there we headed back to the library on the south and shady side of the street. As we paused adjacent to one of the city’s so-called pedestrian plazas (probably the short end of a development bargain for a behemoth tower), we stumbled on some public art. It was an older couple in bronze. With fear in their eyes. Our Community Development Director immediately identified the figures as frightened pedestrians. There is no better metaphor on a walk audit though a part of the city so badly in need of complete streets!


At the library we pored over maps and devised our recommendations. (I’ve elaborated on some of ours above.) Here are a few pics. Send me the results of your table!

Walk audit: Ron and Mark with staffer Gina

Presenting our recommendations for a road diet and bicycle lanes.

Walk audit: Sharon and Lou's table talks safety

Walk audit: Sharon and Lou’s table talks safety

Walk audit: South Santa Monica mapping

Walk audit: mapping tomorrow’s South Santa Monica Boulevard

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Walk audit: mapping tomorrow’s Crescent Drive

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Making a safety list and checking it twice for an improved Crescent Drive

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Building a boulevard profile for tomorrow’s Crescent Drive. Will it or won’t it include bicycle lanes? It’s a bike route already!

The walk audit was a chance to surface all manner of ideas, including some that did not anticipate adding bicycle lanes to either South Santa Monica or to Crescent Drive. That is a foreshadow of the challenge we face in coming up with a complete streets plan to makes our streets safe and accessible while also needing to accommodate stakeholders more concerned about motoring.

Do your part to keep up with the process and consider the online survey and provide your comments to our Traffic and Parking commissioners. (Visit the transportation division to leave a comment.)

TPC Chair Nooshin Meshkaty is the most safety-minded commissioner we’ve ever had. At this walk audit she took to task the transportation staffers and consultants who fail to step up, and, in my view, who too long let our streets descend into madness. “Professionals with ideas we should not stop at anything. People have suggestions but we need leadership,” she said. “Take our city through the future. Guide the vision of the residents. It is not just crosswalks but about the future. Guide our community to that.”

Make your comments specific and reference problems that need to be fixed. The draft complete streets plan is set for release coincident with the third (and final) community workshop on August 22nd. The clock is ticking!

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