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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Lend Your Voice to the Beverly Hills Complete Streets Plan

Several years ago Metro added a condition to the transportation grants the deep-pocketed agency makes to localities: money is contingent on a Metro-approved complete streets mobility plan in place at the local level. Our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan won’t cut it, so City of Beverly Hills city stepped away from a decade of talk about a plan update and instead chose to focus on a brand-new complete streets plan. That planning process is under way now. Mobility advocates please lend your voice!

We need you to participate in the Beverly Hills complete streets planning process by both taking the city’s online complete streets survey (tell our complete streets consultants about your mobility preferences!) and attending one of the city’s complete streets public events. The first workshop was held in mid-March (read my recap) and the next scheduled event is Earth Day on Sunday, April 15th at the Farmers Market. Check the city’s complete streets website for more upcoming events.

Some Backstory on the Complete Streets Plan

So Beverly Hills has embarked on a complete streets plan process. Why now? The city kept an outdated bike plan on the books for four decades and made no other multimodal concessions aside from a few bike lane segments. Then the city heard that regional transportation agency Metro requires localities to have an approved complete streets plan if a local agency wants to tap Metro grant money. The city will receive not one but two Purple Line metro stations, so the city saw the light: adopt a complete streets plan or do without Metro’s pot of grant-funding gold.

Metro may be best known here for sparking the heated debate about a tunnel under Beverly Hills High School, but there can be no debate that Metro is the good guy when it comes to multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills: the agency forced the city’s hand where we bike types failed.

Multimodal advocates have dogged City Hall for years about safe streetsĀ  (and specifically the lack of safe facilities for those who ride a bike) but we were out in the cold. At least until found strong support among three councilmembers: Lili Bosse, John Mirisch, and Bob Wunderlich (now in office just a year). Bosse, in fact, was committed to multimodal back in 2016 when she forged (bare) Council consensus to make it a Council ‘A’ priority. The following year she garnered City Council support for a complete streets plan (her first official action as Mayor). And notably those three councilmembers supported a bright green high-viz bicycle lane for Santa Monica Boulevard too!

In the end Council support was unanimous, and last year the city selected Iteris engineering as lead consultant on the complete streets plan. It was backed by Nelson Nygaard and Alta Planning as subcontractors. Theirs wasn’t the most imaginative proposal, but the team is experienced and Alta has some bike plan bona fides. If this plan fails it is because we-the-people didn’t step up to make it our priority. Indeed the plan and the implementation program will be less the measure of our consultants than a reflection of our city’s commitment to the principle of complete streets: the ‘complete’ street is one that is safe and accessible for every road user regardless of age, ability or travel mode.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Storm drains like this one reflected the disrepair of Santa Monica boulevard as well as the city’s disregard for cyclist safety on that corridor.

Will the final plan be a leading-edge example of multimodal planning? Time will tell, but don’t sit this one out. We’ve come this far, over too long a time, against too much city-side opposition, to simply leave it up to staff and consultants to shape a draft plan for Council consideration this fall.


Interesting side story.

Caltrans, the state transportation agency, handed to City of Beverly Hills control over North Santa Monica Boulevard back in 2005. The boulevard was a shambles, so Caltrans forked over about $5M for repairs. Beverly Hills sat on that project for nearly ten years as bicycle riders endured clearly unsafe conditions. When it came time for a top-to-bottom reconstruction the city eschewed any outside money for the estimated $13 million job. Why? The city wanted no conditions attached to that money; the city didn’t want Caltrans or the Federal DOT requiring bicycle lanes or other complete streets design features.

Well when the city did finally reconstruct Santa Monica Boulevard (wrapping up this June) it will have a bicycle lane; and it will have high-visibility crosswalks. Because the city belatedly acknowledged that such features on a corridor like Santa Monica are required for bike and pedestrian safety.. They needed only glance at crash data to understand. Thing is the city was left holding the bag when the cost projections for Santa Monica reconstruction soared to $24 million and we could tap not a dime of outside money for it.

City Hall made no such mistake when it comes to Metro’s Measure E pot of grant-money gold. Transportation officials here may continue to view mobility exclusively through the windshield (they never did recommend bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard even though we got the lanes anyway) but they know a pot of grant money when they see one. With two Metro stations coming to the city we needed a complete streets plan post-haste.

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