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!

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Complete Streets Comes to Beverly Hills

Those of us waiting for Beverly Hills to update its Bicycle Master Plan may soon have cause to celebrate. On this, the 40th anniversary of the plan, which was adopted in 1977, the city appears poised to give it a refresh – and more! Rather than simply update the bike plan, the city will undertake a complete streets planning process.

The change in direction was announced in the spring with an information update to our Traffic and Parking Commission.

The Traffic and Parking Commission has been contemplating a Bicycle Master Plan update since 2010 and even once had organized an ad-hoc committee to do it. Ultimately the committee was tasked with installing bicycle racks (just 42 installed to date!). So the plan that was penned at the crest of the bicycle renaissance of the 1970s was left to age as an appendix in the city’s master plan. Instead the commission focused on the regulation of parking permits, valets, and taxicabs. (Fun fact: onetime chair of the commission, Lester Friedman, is now a sitting Beverly Hills councilmember.)

This complete streets effort traces its genesis to the City Council’s designation of a new mobility plan as an A-level priority in January of 2016. That initiative was spearheaded by current Mayor Lili Bosse, who remains the most vocal supporter of pro-bike improvements and safe streets on our City Council. Bosse had pushed that priority to the top of the city’s priority-setting exercise options list and then persuaded then-councilmember Willie Brien to get on board too. (Councilmember John Mirisch, who knows a complete street when he sees one, was already in favor.)

(Who did not step up for safe streets? Our current Vice Mayor Julian Gold. Like Brien he is a physician, and has presumably seen more than his share of two-wheeled crash victims, but he couldn’t make safe streets his priority.)

Then when Lili Bosse took the Mayor’s chair this past March, she quickly acted on that A-list priority and moved the one issue dearest to riders atop of the City Council agenda: striping Santa Monica Boulevard for bicycle lanes. In June Council unanimously agreed to stripe Class II lanes and even decided to make them high-visibility!

That was the most tangible sign of the city’s commitment to safe streets that I’ve seen in the seven years I’ve been hounding City Hall for it.


So, Beverly Hills complete streets planning process is soon to kick off. But why did it take so many years after surrounding cities adopted their own complete streets plans? After all, West Hollywood Culver City, Santa Monica and Los Angeles each adopted plans in 2011 or earlier; (West Hollywood and Santa Monica are now embarking on a round-2 updates.)

The roots go back even further to AB 1538, the California Complete Streets Act, which the legislature passed and the governor signed in 2008:

Commencing January 1, 2011, upon any substantial revision of the circulation element, the legislative body shall modify the circulation element to plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of the streets, roads, and highways for safe and convenient travel in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.

That same year, California DOT released a directive titled, ‘Complete Streets: Integrating the Transportation System.’ The intent was to “provide for the needs of travelers of all ages and abilities” and to direct localities to ensure “opportunities to improve safety, access, and mobility for all travelers” across all modes. The directive recognized bicycle, pedestrian, and transit as “integral elements of the transportation system” and by mandated ‘complete streets’ principles be incorporated early, from  planning through delivery.

It was a good time for complete streets but Beverly Hills wasn’t buying. The state’s Complete Streets Act was in place when Beverly Hills adopted its current General Plan and mobility element. The Act even required our city to include complete streets in it!  But we put it off to the law’s deadline… which is now.

But there was an even more pressing reason we’re on board with complete streets right now. Metro requires a ‘certified’ complete streets plan of every locality as a condition of disbursing grant money for Metro-funded transportation projects. Beverly Hills had one.

Remember, Metro has a BIG pot of money, and Beverly Hills wants its piece. So, now we’re embracing complete streets! But we’re in body if not in spirit: our complete streets request-for-proposals (RFP) says almost nothing about the reason any locality should incorporate complete streets principles into plans: SAFETY!


What’s next in the complete streets plan process? Well, our complete streets RFP went out to bidders in June and eight proposals were received by July 1st. City Council is due to review them in September. But before it does, we want to be sure we get a look at those proposals so that we are prepared to comment.

First, we understand, the proposals will be vetted by a committee including the chairs of the Planning Commission and the Traffic and Parking Commission. That’s good for us! Both chairs (Gordon and Seidel) are excellent commissioners, and Seidel himself is a rider.

Next the proposals go to the Traffic and Parking liaison committee. Not so great for us. Gold sits on that committee, as does former TPC commissioner and current councilmember Les Friedman. Neither has exhibited much enthusiasm historically for complete streets. However the liaison is a public meeting and we will want to be prepared to address the merits of the plans.

One of the risks of the RFP process was that collective ambition for a complete streets plan could be scoped down and our imagination attenuated – leaving us with a weak plan and poor prospects for implementation. That is always a possibility. Thankfully Lili Bosse will remain our Mayor until March, when – we hope – the framework of the plan is established.

Until then, a handful of us have been at it since the draft RFP was released in the spring. And we will be there to see it through to City Council. That will be the ultimate test of the city’s commitment to safer streets and we will be there watching.

Santa Monica bicycle lanes, after all, was a great victory for mobility in Beverly Hills, but it was simply a down-payment on an overdue tab: safe streets for those who walk, ride and drive in Beverly Hills. We’d like to see that debt paid with interest!

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