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. It was about balance and steering and fun, which was great for the schoolyard but not so good for riding the streets. Yet we turn kids lose on the streets and (even worse) the sidewalks every day even as they’re unprepared for the car emerging suddenly from the alley or the driver running a stop sign.

And as drivers, we adults are not generally conditioned to see the road from a rider’s perspective. We’re generally under-schooled in road rules yet we’re responsible for safely co-existing with  more vulnerable road users.

Consequently riders have to be more aware. Not only that but also more cognizant of the law because specific laws apply to us when we ride. 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!

Recent Posts

Time for Beverly Hills to Adopt a Complete Streets Policy!

bike chattanooga bike share map

One of Chattanooga’s steps forward: a bike share system!

Chattanooga, Tennessee beat Beverly Hills in the broadband arena a few years ago with citywide 1gigabit-per-second Internet. Back then nobody paid much attention: Chattanooga is hardly on the minds of many Angelenos. But our own city dithered on broadband, which left Time Warner with a broadband monopoly. Now Chattanooga leaps ahead with a real complete streets policy to make travel safer for all road users. Yet our our “world class” city can’t seem to entertain a discussion about street safety or plan effectively for multimodal mobility. What gives?

According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, streets “designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities” are termed ‘complete.’ In practice, the Coalition says,

Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations. – National Complete Streets Coalition

Safe streets and access for all road users regardless of mode of travel: what a radical prescription for mobility! The equity-in-access proposition is no stranger to transportation planners or the public alike; we’ve all heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It mandates nationwide disabled access to public and private facilities. But for the rest of us on public streets we’re left to fend for ourselves. And these streets are often dangerous by design.

ADA rampDespite its limited scope, the ADA reach is broad; it has required the only real improvements to the public right-of-way in Beverly Hills that we’ve seen in years: those ubiquitous studded sidewalk ramps (at right) that make crossing streets less hazardous for the visually-impaired.

The rest of us mostly get worn-out crosswalks, poorly-marked intersections and boulevards made for speed.

Complete streets features on Montana in Santa MonicaWe can do much more. Other cities install highly-visible zebra crosswalks using thermoplastic; they make their streets complete with bicycle lanes, signage and even flashing crossing signals (Santa Monica has incorporated all of these measures on Montana, at right).

Beverly Hills we are still marking crosswalks in the old ‘transverse’ style with ordinary paint. These crosswalks are not only less-visible to motorists; they fade with use too. Faded crosswalks? Can that really pass safety muster? It’s as if our transportation officials cared little for our safety. No wonder state collision figures show that we are one of the most dangerous little cities in California!

Our Problem: Zero Official Interest in Street Safety

Santa Monica Boulevard road conditionsWe at Better Bike simply haven’t been able to get our transportation folks to consider safety upgrades for bike facilities or crosswalks. But it’s not for lack of trying; we’ve repeatedly communicated our concerns to transportation officials. Yet key intersections and corridors (like Santa Monica at left) remain hazardous to walk or to bike.

Our streets can be made safer if the private-sector steps in, however. Curb extensions make crossing streets quicker and safer in the business triangle. State-of-the-art continental crosswalk markings (aka zebra crosswalks) better safeguard pedestrians from speeding or careless motorists there. And traffic control innovations like pedestrian scrambles (where all motor traffic is momentarily halted) heretofore unknown to Beverly Hills find favor there. In fact, outside of the privately-funded improvements for the business triangle, our neighborhoods see no complete streets TLC at all.

Curb extensions diagram via FHWA

Diagram courtesy FWHA’s best practices guide.

For contrast look at these two intersections. The one on the left is Beverly Boulevard at Santa Monica, which languishes from inattention. On the right, the privately bankrolled business triangle feels safer to walk.

Beverly and triangle intersections compared

Crosswalk across Beverly Boulevard (at SM) needs a bit of TLC compared to the triangle’s upgraded streetscape. Zebra stripes, painted curbs and a teaspoon of maintenance make all the difference for pedestrian safey.

Surely our transportation planner knows better than to leave our streets and crosswalks unimproved in this day and age. The information is out there, after all. We know that the zebra crosswalk, for example, is twice as visible to motorists at a distance, and thats both day and night according to an FHWA study. Where motorists zip through the intersection of Beverly and Santa Monica boulevards as if there were no crosswalk at all, the zebra might remind them that people do walk in Beverly Hills. Zebra crosswalks are that much more visible than are ordinary transverse-striped crosswalks when placed mid-block too.

West Hollywood has striped several crosswalks with rainbows (a thematic gesture) to raise awareness of crossing pedestrians. Santa Monica likewise is putting zebra crosswalks all over town (a nice complement to their new bike lanes, right). Los Angeles started with fifty zebra crosswalks two years ago and now the city is aiming for twenty thousand.  That’s because they do important safety work. At only $10k installed, after all, they’re a bargain compared to the damage arising from a single vehicle-pedestrian collision.

Our transportation officials Susan Healey Keene, Community Development Director, and Aaron Kunz, our Deputy Director for Transportation, need only visit nearby cities to see these innovations in place. And it won’t even take them out of their way: they live in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, respectively, so they’ve seen multimodal mobility planning up close. They just don’t do it here. As riders and pedestrians we can read about the virtues of multimodal mobility in our city’s plans; we just can’t experience at home.

These upgrades, by the way, are often funded by Measure R, the 2008 voter-approved transportation tax. That’s a pot of free money for safety. So why isn’t Beverly Hills using it to improve our streets?

One Solution: Adopt a Complete Streets Policy

What Beverly Hills lacks (in addition to a comprehensive mobility vision) is a policy that specifies how our streets can be made safe and accessible. Complete streets, recall, mandates that all means of public conveyance should not only be designed for safety but also to allow everyone to access them. So what does complete streets look like when implemented? Pretty much what we see in more advanced cities. Consider this intersection organized for equitable access and striped for safer transit:

Complete streets intersection

An example ‘complete streets’ intersection: bicycle lane, shaded crosswalks, and well-marked pavement.

It has the key elements that make this intersection safer to navigate. Note that the rider-on-a-bicycle is not considered a vehicle for planning purposes; instead the non-motorized road user is accommodated with a class II bicycle lane – a facility that acknowledges riders need protections that motorists in steel boxes don’t. Often that means a separate lane for non-motor travel.

Planning Commission Gateway field trip

Even our Planning Commissioners on a field visit to Wilshire & Santa Monica boulevards can’t make it all the way across on the white hand signal.

When it comes to adopting a complete streets policy, unfortunately, each state and city is on its own. California did its part with a 2008 complete streets law; but localities are a mixed-bunch today. And Beverly Hills itself has taken no step forward. How far behind the state-of-the-art are we? Consider the sorry state of two key intersections: Wilshire-Santa Monica and Beverly-Olympic. These are not only hazardous for riders to navigate; they’re not very safe for motorists or pedestrians too.

Chattanooga Steps Up

While Washington has yet to OK a national complete streets policy, cities like Chattanooga pick up the slack by adopting their own complete streets policy. There, City Council is set for a second reading of its complete streets ordinance intended to foster a “safe, reliable, efficient, integrated and connected multimodal transportation system that will promote access, mobility and health for all users, and will ensure that the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system are accommodated.”

That’s a mouthful. But the thrust of the new policy is that appropriate steps to make streets safe need to be taken throughout the planning, programming, design, construction and operation phases of any road project. But the reach of the city’s law is even greater than that:

The Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Economic & Community Development, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, and other relevant departments, agencies, or committees will review and modify current city standards, including but not limited to subdivision regulations, zoning codes and ordinances, to ensure that they effectively implement Complete Streets principles; and such groups shall incorporate Complete Streets principles into all future planning documents, manuals, design standards, checklists, decision – trees, rules, regulations, programs, neighborhood redevelopment projects, and other appropriate endeavors.

Moreover, the ordinance directs the city to “foster partnerships” with jurisdictions at every level to “develop facilities and accommodations that further the City’s Complete Streets policy.” It directs transportation officials to identify “current and potential future sources of funding” for complete street improvements. And this well-thought out legislation also mandates the development of performance measures and the publication of a “periodic report” to Council showing the city’s progress. Bravo!

Policy is key, of course, but standards matter too. The new Chattanooga ordinance takes the step that we’d like to see every transportation-planning jurisdiction embrace: the rejection of the outmoded AASHTO design manual in favor of the NAACTO guide when formalizing design and construction standards.

Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga. Ready for the complete streets treatment!

Broad Street, downtown Chattanooga after the complete streets treatment!

The new policy should greatly improve a major corridor like Broad Street downtown, which connects key destinations but today is little more than a motor vehicle thoroughfare. Add complete streets (visualized at right) and turn folks loose with the city’s bike share program, Bike Chattanooga, and you’ve got the recipe for a two-wheeled urban renaissance.

The city is banking on it. And that makes us proud; we knew Chattanooga back when it was something of a cultural backwater. No more a backwater: it’s all growed up! Now with 1 gigabit broadband, bike share, online ride-safe tips and soon a complete streets policy, this formerly-provincial city has upped its competitive game. Not bad for the 4th largest city in Tennessee! How long before the ‘Nooga becomes its own brand?

Time for a Mobility Coordinator in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills has taken none of those steps. It’s time for us to up our game. Thankfully good models for safe streets policymaking are out there…if only our policymakers would embrace the effort. Here is what complete streets could look like for Beverly Drive, by the way:

This complete street allows for a bike lane. Reverse-angle parking increases cyclist safety too.

This complete street allows for a bike lane by removing a traffic lane and reverse-angling the street parking. That increases cyclist safety by eliminating the blind spot.

Even short of adopting a complete streets ordinance, our city can take a crucial step to make streets welcoming and safe to walkers and riders: we could create a position for a non-motor mobility coordinator (as Los Angeles has done). A generic ‘transportation planner’ position doesn’t cut it; we need a specialist, someone versed in complete streets principles, bike-friendly facilities and finding the funding for them. In the past we’ve simply looked to an intern to do that important work. That won’t cut it anymore for Beverly Hills, however; we’re one of the most dangerous little cities in California.

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