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

Gran Fondo Italia Comes to Beverly Hills on 9/28

Gran Fondo Italia BH logoThe Gran Fondo Italia ride, an annual for-profit ‘packaged’ bike ride & marketing extravaganza, comes back to Beverly Hills with city sponsorship this September 28th. It’s the only kind of ride our city appreciates: hospitality dollars roll in while City Hall basks in ersatz Euro-gloss. Fittingly, premium riders will enjoy a dinner at the Montage Hotel and a Tuscan wine ‘goody bag.’ But those linen tablecloths and Tuscan wines won’t streets any safer for the everyday riders. If you’re concerned about safe streets in Beverly Hills, this Gran Fondo is as relevant to your commute as if it actually happened in Italy. 

The Laguna Beach-based organizers behind the Fondo promise “a strong ‘Italian feeling’ with Italian sponsors, Italian foods, and a great Italian atmosphere,” according to correspondence with city officials. “The spirit and passion of Italy, iconic Italian brands and products, and incredible destinations are all part of the experience with Gran Fondo Italia events,” their promo materials say. And the pitch to riders: “Grab your cycling friends and line up behind the Lexus lead car and police escort for a fantastic start to a beautiful ride through the Santa Monica mountains and back to the finish at Beverly Hills City Hall.”

But we need remind nobody that non-paying riders in Beverly Hills enjoy no lead car or police escort through our city. We’re subject to regular motorist harassment (as if we’ve got no right to the road) but no cop comes to our aid. Though we’re threatened by reckless drivers, speeders and red-light runners every day, there is no traffic cop on the beat as enforcement has decreased over the past five years, according to our analysis of BHPD data.

Santa Monica Blvd pavement irregularitiesIn fact, dangerous conditions greet riders every day especially along this big event’s main course – a few blocks of Santa Monica Boulevard between City Hall and Wilshire. For this key regional connector has languished over the past decade as the city has simply refused to repair it. Yet the Gran Fondo riders who brave only a few blocks of the rutted corridor won’t feel the full Beverly Hills welcome. That said, we will not be surprised to see some spot repairs made on the event section (that is, only where our event guests will see it).

It’s All About the Marketing

But then it’s all about the marketing anyway, as the Chamber’s letter to Council supporting the event says:

The event will provide an opportunity for local merchants to participate in the event and related activities. Attendees of the event will be able to easily dine at our restaurants and walk around and shop while in Beverly Hills. In addition, the event could be a nice occasion to bring the residential community and the business community together.

Yes, why not use cycling to bring residents and businesses together? Why not encourage two-wheeled travel to shops and restaurants? Great questions. But in the past, the Chamber has not been very receptive to notions of bike-friendly business districts. (We received an icy reception when we met with a Chamber official a few years ago.) Indeed the Chamber is actually driven by larger members anyway – hotels, restaurants, and banks for example – and so is not particularly representative of the smaller shops who would find support in a ‘shop local’ program. (The Chamber even once ran its own until it folded that tent when City Hall money ran out).

Of course City Hall is on board. “We are thrilled to host the Gran Fondo Italia and it is a great way to help promote our Centennial year internationally,” said Mayor Lili Bosse in an event press release. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the bike friendly activities in our city and build on our Healthy City Initiative, both for our community and for cyclists visiting from around the world.”

Should Local Bike Clubs Support a Marketing Event?

Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills organizers have reached out to local clubs for a little bit of promo love. “Dear Cycling Club: Help get the word out!” an email pleads. “The Gran Fondo Italia Beverly Hills is Sunday September 28. Please post the event on your website calendar. And feel free to use the image links (below) in your messaging.”

Gran Fondo Italia promo

Pasadena Athletic Association Club President Wesley Reutimann brought it to our attention and copied us on his reply to event organizers:

Thank you for reaching out to our club. As President of PAA cycling, a 350 member bike club, I am unable to promote this event or any other in the City of Beverly Hills as long as its elected leaders and City staff do not take the safety of ALL road users seriously. Over the past few years, the City of Beverly Hills has repeatedly failed to support local efforts to improve the safety of its streets.

At the same time, neighboring LA, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica have made significant investments to protect vulnerable road users like bicyclists (e.g., bike lanes on Santa Monica Blvd). Until the City can address these issues (e.g., existing bike lane gap on Santa Monica Blvd), I will be compelled to take my business elsewhere, as well as encourage that of our entire membership to do so as well. Please feel free to relay my message to your contacts in the City.

Bravo! Wes has been witness all along to our city’s resistance to safer streets for cyclists, and he’s lent his effort to secure bike lanes for Santa Monica. So he has a right to gripe.

And he’s right: Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Los Angeles and Culver City have each pressed ahead with bike-friendly measures while Beverly Hills has slapped down only a few block segments of sharrows and lanes and called it done. That’s par for the course for Beverly Hills: we talk a good game in our plans – for example, about multimodal mobility in our General Plan and we even encourage cycling in our Sustainable City Plan – but we seem to not be able to muster the interest to make cycling safe for folks who might want to bike to the cafe or store.

Heck, we’ve even got a Bicycle Master Plan that dates to 1977 (and it’s still legally in effect, contrary to what our transportation officials think) and it calls for all the right things: a citywide bikeway network; a designated bike route on Santa Monica Boulevard; and safe connections between schools and parks.

Yet city leadership won’t follow our own guiding policies. Most recently, City Council slapped back at the over 200 riders who spoke up in support of class II bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard. A majority of councilmembers essentially disparaged supporters and waved away their comments in support. One, Nancy Krasne, questioned whether lanes were even safe (despite evidence that they are more safe than streets without them). Read more about the SM Blvd project on our dedicated page.

We feel that city support for Gran Fondo Italia should be seen as a rebuke to anyone who calls for safer streets for cycling in Beverly Hills. Because really it’s the principle of the thing: why take unearned rewards by coat-tailing on an ersatz Euro sport ride event when policymakers can’t make a simple effort to create welcoming, complete streets?

So we appreciate Wes and his club for speaking up. “Cyclists have a lot of purchasing power,” he says, “and we shouldn’t be shy to wield it and encourage others to do so too.”

Has your club been on the receiving end of the organizer’s outreach? Has it declined to support the Fondo? Let us know. We hope you stand with Wes! (Update: Ted Rogers over at BikinginLA chimed in too: “While I’m normally willing to back any event that promotes bicycling, it just doesn’t make sense to support a bike event in a city that doesn’t support us.”)

  1. Three Feet for Safety Act Goes into Effect Today! Leave a reply
  2. How NOT to Make a Street Safety Video Leave a reply
  3. Strava App Data Maps Rides for Planners, Too Leave a reply
  4. Santa Monica Blvd Recap & Update Comments Off
  5. Beverly Hills Chamber Addresses SM Blvd Bike Lanes Comments Off
  6. City Disses Cycling, Promotes Sham ‘Heart Healthy’ Event 1 Reply
  7. The Wrong Signal to Send Comments Off
  8. Will Recommended Bike Facilities Ever See Beverly Hills Pavement? Comments Off
  9. Proof that Law Enforcement Needs Pro-Bike Training Comments Off
  10. Santa Monica Boulevard Update Comments Off
  11. Use the Joint Powers Agreement as Leverage Comments Off
  12. What We Can Do Today About Santa Monica Boulevard 4 Replies
  13. Sizing up the June 2014 Election Candidates for Supervisorial District 3 Comments Off