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 workshop #1 Recap

Complete streets workshop #1 flyerThe first Beverly Hills complete streets process community workshop was held on Monday, March 12th, to kick off the drafting of the city’s complete streets plan. This is the first step in the creation of a complete streets plan. More workshops and city meetings will follow, but this event suggested that Beverly Hills is ready for complete streets. Here’s my recap.

Complete Streets workshop #1 overviewJohn Lower, Associate Vice President of Iteris, the consultant to the city that secured the complete streets project, opened with an overview of complete streets principles: improved street accessibility regardless of age or ability; infrastructure upgrades to improve safety and efficiency for all users; and the opportunity to employ new technologies to improve mobility safety and efficiency. Technology is playing a key role in this process because mobility options like bikeshare and Bird scooters are becoming popular and City Hall is warming to autonomous vehicles (perhaps for a citywide taxi system as championed by Councilmember John Mirisch).

Mr. Lower’s PowerPoint presentation was somewhat dry; it was also light on vision. Which is unfortunate because a complete streets planning process encourages people to imagine what urban mobility could look like: high-visibility and/or protected bicycle lanes, world-class crosswalks, road diets to calm traffic, and policies to encourage active modes of mobility over auto use. Complete streets principles are best illustrated with before and after imagery, but Mr. Lower’s presentation was heavy on schematics and tables that are difficult to read in a large room. It was a presentation shackled to today when what we want stakeholders to do is to image tomorrow.

Still, Mr. Lower only had to set the stage for the main event: the roundtable breakout groups. (For more information on complete streets see the consultants December PowerPoint.)

Complete Streets workshop #1 postersLydia Kenselaar, a planner with an Iteris subcontractor, Alta Planning, then took the mic to suggest participants identify values and goals that should guide the planning process. She then suggested strategies to inform the draft complete streets plan. But she was asking us to imagine tomorrow’s ways of moving about the city without visual cues. And if one doesn’t know about the variety of measures that contribute to a complete street, one can only recall places like Europe (and Santa Monica!) to inform some recommendations. My table did draw on examples elsewhere and no one referenced the content of Mr. Lower’s PowerPoint presentation.


Each roundtable included 6-8 participants and was facilitated by a consultant’s staffer. Around the tables hovered city staffers, Traffic and Parking commissioners and, notably, public safety representatives. Also attending were councilmembers Bob Wunderlich and John Mirisch (both multimodal mobility supporters). My table was fairly representative of the entire room of about forty stakeholders: aged about fifty, on average.

Complete Streets workshop #1 breakout tableThe breakout tables were charged with identifying guiding values and goals in about 45 minutes. The exercise would feel familiar to those who have perhaps participated in the drafting of local plans: the urge to participate; round table with a poster to mark-up; some spirited conversation and a group member ultimately chosen to present the table’s ideas to the room. Then other tables follow suit, followed by a wrap-up statement. Everyone goes home and feels good about the process.

My table showed some collective interest to move beyond auto-era problems and into a future where mobility is safe, efficient and (for lack of a better term) ‘modern.’ As one of my tablemates said, “We want people to feel good about how they pass through the city.” That seemed to sum up the spirit at the table.Complete Streets workshop #1 my table

Breakout Tables

I’m not sure if my table was representative, but over the next 45 minutes my tablemates Melody, Kathy, Tom, Giada, Susan and (Traffic commissioner Pam Hendry) talked only briefly about goals. Issued included:

  • Crosswalks are dangerous (“I need to wear a reflective vest to feel safe”);
  • Few areas feel safe to ride a bicycle so we can’t reduce our car use;
  • Motorized bicycles present a safety issue to pedestrians;
  • Inaccurate maps and Waze-like apps prompt drivers to make unlawful turns; and,
  • Hotel black cars and limos hog meters south of Wilshire and disabled residents can’t park.

Complete Streets workshop #1 tabletopWe then moved quickly on to fixes. Recommendations made at my table included:

  • Busy commercial streets need a bicycle lane and better to place it between the curb and parked cars;
  • Create pedestrian-only streets or areas safe and enjoyable to walk;
  • Schools should be connected by bike routes to encourage bike-to-school;
  • Relocate 720 Metro bus service from North to South Santa Monica Blvd;
  • “De-prioritize vehicular traffic” on Beverly Drive and and add a bicycle lane;
  • Protect bicycle paths: paint is not sufficient (“in Europe they are raised to a different level from the street”);
  • Designate priority bike routes for a citywide bicycle network (like Berkeley) perhaps Charleville, Gregory and Carmelita;
  • Create a ‘flyover’ to allow riders and pedestrians to rise above busy, problem intersections like Wilshire-Santa Monica.

When breakout tables convened for the summation the top recommendations by table were

Table 1: Improve the quality-of-life, implement measures with a positive environmental impact, and reduce auto traffic though transit use.
Table 2: Reduce pass-through traffic & neighborhood spillover, improve pedestrian safety, and address driver aggression.
Table 3: Improve safety, improve the quality-of-life, and install bike lanes & facilities to make mobility more efficient.
Table 4: Improve safety & reduce collisions, improve quality-of-life (restore a ‘village’ atmosphere), and make on-street mobility improvements.
Table 5: Improve safety, better the environment by reducing auto traffic (via ‘active mobility amenities’), invest in ‘smart’ technology lighting & signals.
Table 6: Improve safety via protected bicycle lanes, calm traffic, and create more pedestrian areas incl. South Beverly. (Note: I was not a very active participant at my table #6 and these recommendations were suggested solely by my tablemates.)

Other suggestions included: make the business triangle pedestrian-only (which recalls one City Council candidate’s call to close Rodeo Drive to vehicles); separate pedestrians from traffic at the busiest intersections using flyovers; make city data public (which I suggested along with table #4); and implement a ‘vision zero’ program to reduce traffic crashes by improving the design of streets. There was something for everyone unless you are an Auto Club booster!

Wrapping Up

City Transportation deputy director Aaron Kunz brought the proceedings to a close quickly by commenting on the “great turnout” and noting the timeline for the complete streets plan process. It should conclude with a draft plan by early fall and be in the hands of City Council for a final vote by October. Of course it’s a long way from this workshop to a final plan. In the meantime there will be more workshops, online survey responses, monthly Traffic and Parking Commission meetings for additional public comments (first Thursdays), and one or more City Council meetings.

Was it worth attending? This kind of pro-forma community input event (‘workshop’) suffers from familiar shortcomings: an informational presentation that is not so informative; too little time to really talk in depth about the issues; table facilitators who may not be very experienced; and a volume of public input can seem overwhelming unless a wrap-up facilitator can properly organize it into a coherent framework. Without an experienced facilitator the tables produce a laundry list of proposals that may or may not survive the event. But in the end we have no choice to attend – and to press our electeds and officials through other channels too so that our streets become safe and more accessible (i.e., ‘complete’).

My Take-Away

There were a few things I took away from this workshop that I didn’t expect that suggest Beverly Hills may have turned the corner on mobility.

Most astonishing was the sense that Beverly Hills has collectively turned the chapter on auto-era mobility. Nobody suggested the city should expand a road or otherwise seek to make driving more convenient. Nobody spoke up for drivers period. No bike advocate needed to lead the discussion to focus on measures that support active mobility because the room was already there.

Safety was the prevailing value. Of the six tables presenting, five cited safety as a top value or put safety at the center of the short-list of recommendations. That is truly remarkable considering that city officials never mention the increasing toll of crashes or suggest the need for a policy to address what residents have long complained about: feeling unsafe on city streets.

No business owner showed up to defend curbside parking or call for an expansion of curb parking. Yet that is what’s on City Council’s April 10th agenda: a plea from South Santa Monica businesses to expand curbside parking on the street once Santa Monica Boulevard construction is complete. No champion spoke up tonight for a proposal that would short-circuit the complete streets process by changing the function of that street in advance of a plan (which is supported by city staff).

NIMBYs stayed home. The not-in-my-backyard crowd has long exerted undue influence over city policymaking. That was evidenced in caricature fashion when northside residents turned out two years ago to try to tank SM Blvd bicycle lanes. Though recommended by the federal and state DOTs for improved safety for riders, and though championed by 100+ pro-lane speakers at City Council, those naysayers nearly carried the day. None showed up tonight.

Perhaps most significantly, there was no sense that complete streets is a zero-sum endeavor. New mobility measures need not come at the cost of any particular road user (for example motorists). Instead there seemed to be acknowledgement that mobility could be both safer and more efficient.

Complete Streets workshop #1 empty bike racksThe zero-sum argument (drivers vs. everyone else) has been trotted out again and again across the Southland to stymie efforts to improve street safety but tonight it carried no weight in this first complete streets community workshop.

The the next workshop I’m hoping that we’ll have more bike-minded attendees. Not too many showed up (notwithstanding the number of recommendations for pro-bike infrastructure). Witness the City Hall bike parking area. We need to see a few more bikes here next time!

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