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

Back on the Priority List: The Beverly Hills Bike Plan!

City Council pictured in 2013.Among the ignominious developments over the last year in Beverly Hills, surely the one of greatest interest to bicycle riders was City Council’s decision not to include a bicycle lane on Santa Monica Boulevard. But on its heels came another decision that would have escaped notice if we hadn’t reported that the city had intended to step away entirely from an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. But we called it out, councilmember Lili Bosse took up the cause, and City Council agreed to make it a priority. Again.

The Backstory

Update to a bike plan? You mean Beverly Hills has a bike plan? Yes, we do, and it’s called the Bicycle Master Plan. It was written in 1977 and re-adopted in 2010 verbatim during our General Plan update. And yes indeed it remains in effect! But you’d be excused for not noticing: no city official dares mention it, and no planning or transportation policy has ever referred to it. Indeed it seems like city hall would want to simply wish the bike plan away.

Inconveniently, however, it has been identified for a much-needed update since 2011 when the near-forty-year-old plan was marked by City Council as an official B-level priority (for the 2012-13 fiscal year).

But ever since, our city has been (quietly) walking back any intent to update the bike plan. First any reference to the plan itself was deleted in 2013. Then in the subsequent year, Community Development Director Susan Healy Keene and Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz rephrased the item’s description to take emphasis off bike facilities generally and instead prioritize the small bike-share system intended to roll out in 2016 rollout.

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike plan

This iteration of the city priorities failed to include any reference to the plan itself outside of the title. It’s an empty container that merely suggests progress on the Council’s informal priority, a tourism-focused bike-share system.

When the plan update priority was downgraded, no announcement was made by the transportation staff. Indeed the title of the priority item itself (‘Citywide Bike Plan’) didn’t even change to reflect the new emphasis on bike-share.

We were only alerted to the new, diminished concern for cycling safety when the Traffic and Parking Commission declined in the fall to recommend the priority item to Council. Then, when we listened closely to the meeting tape, we realized, according to Kunz, that the city has no intent at all to update the bike plan. So we took it as fait accomplis that Council wouldn’t renew the city’s only bike-related priority item when re-setting priorities in December.

But then after we reported on it in November, councilmember Lili Bosse contacted us by email. “I completely agree with you,” she said. “I was planning on putting the update of our bike master plan ON our priority list!”

Street Safety Needs to be a New Priority

Fast forward to mid-December. Holiday season. Not too many eyes were on city hall. But that’s when City Council met to select priorities for the next fiscal year. In past years, the bike plan update item never made it past the B-level. (We can’t over the past six years the Traffic and Parking Commission ever discussing it.) Would it disappear entirely now?

We made one last plea for bike safety in Beverly Hills by regaling city executives and staff who attended this priorities-setting exercise with our analysis of BHPD traffic data. We noted for example that crash injuries in Beverly Hills the previous calendar year (2014) were 6% higher than average over the prior seven years. And we noted that police enforcement during that time declined precipitously. How precipitously? Look at the citations for red-light runners, among the most dangerous traffic scofflaws out there.

Chart of Signal citations between 2008-2014

Data from Beverly Hills Police Department monthly reports to Traffic and Parking Commission.

No wonder injuries are on the rise: signal violations are so pervasive, and go unpunished in Beverly Hills so frequently, that there is in effect no sanction for running a red light. Even in front of a motor cop.

Of course unprotected riders will always fare worst. Again, look at the data. In 2014, the number of rider injuries (48) was not only 37% higher than the baseline year of 2008; it  actually outpaced the 7-year average by 30% too. Moreover, rider injuries in 2014 represented 12% of all crash injuries. But if riders constitute less than 1% of road traffic in Beverly Hills, that would suggest an injury rate of greater than 12X that of auto-occupants. Even worse: the proportion of rider injuries (as a share of all injuries) actually increased by one-fifth larger than in 2008.

The trends suggest we’re making negative progress toward safer streets overall and for riders in particular. Not only is that bad policy; it contravenes our own city plans.**

City Council Agrees to Make Multimodal Mobility a Priority

Ultimately City Council agreed. Or more precisely  Lili Bosse, John Mirisch and Dr. Willie Brien agreed to make multimodal mobility and a bike plan update a priority. Here’s the priority item:

Bike plan update priority item.The councilmembers that did not support making multimodal a priority were Nancy Krasne and Mayor Julian Gold. The former likes to say she “loves the cyclists.” Yet she’s not stepped up to makes streets safe for riding in the way that riders say we need in order to feel safe. She’s been a staunch opponent of bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard, for example. And Mayor Gold has never evidenced concern for riders, nor for street safety in general. This physician appears unimpressed at the negative trend in collision injuries.

What’s interesting about Dr. Willie Brien is that he was not expected to support this priority item. He’s on record for supporting our small 50-bike bike-share system, but he’s not previously indicated any concern for multimodal mobility or street safety generally. Coincidentally, perhaps, he’s leaving town for a new gig in Texas and might not fear north-side NIMBY blowback. That might have made all the difference.

The other big step taken by the city was to prioritize complete streets improvements for South Santa Monica Boulevard. From the official priorities list:

priority-LSMThis is significant for a couple of reasons. During construction, curb parking will be eliminated from one side of this boulevard. Could that be a step toward incorporating bicycle lanes here to make this corridor a bicycle boulevard of some kind? Councilmember Krasne has long pointed to the south boulevard to accommodate bicycle riders, but with curb parking on both sides there was never an opportunity.

And second, this priority item is the very first time the term ‘complete streets’ has ever been used in a city document to our knowledge. Those words never even pass the lips of any of our transportation officials (let alone make it into print). So this is a significant step forward for multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills.

And it’s a step forward for safety too: a Los Angeles Times analysis of traffic fatalities and injuries showed that several South Santa Monica intersections are far more dangerous than they should be (even controlling for other factors like traffic volume). Making South Santa Monica ‘complete’ would be a real gesture of acknowledgment that we have a street safety problem.

Looking Ahead: Now What?

New priorities will only find action in the next fiscal year (after June). So it could be the Spring of 2017 perhaps before we movement on progressive mobility policies in Beverly Hills (especially with Community Development Director Keene at the helm, and we don’t have much faith in our transportation staffers either). How far behind the curve is Beverly Hills transportation when it comes to multimodal mobility? Our department is still crowing about meeting priorities from 2013!

From the city website: Transportation responds to priorities from 2012

Our transportation staffers fist-bump over years-old programs that met city priorities back in 2012.

There’s more we can do in the meantime. We’re urging the city to protect riders on the North Santa Monica corridor during the long construction period. But our year-long campaign to date has had little to show for it from the city. We’re also keeping an eye on bike-share implementation this spring. Care to get involved? We need your help!

*The 1977 Bicycle Master Plan was simply readopted – verbatim – as part of the state-required General Plan more than three decades after it had been originally adopted. Surely that’s a form of professional planner malpractice, right?

**Beverly Hills plans urge us to drive less and ride more. That’s the official policy statement of the city. For example, the General Plan’s Circulation Element (2010) calls on the city to create “realistic” alternatives to driving, like “taking public transportation, bicycling, and walking,” says the text. The Sustainable City Plan (2009) calls for “improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourage alternative forms of travel, especially to parks.” The plan’s goal? To “foster an energy efficient, walk-able community.” The plan concludes, “If there are safe bicycle routes and if secure bicycle parking is available then people will bicycle more.” If only someone informed our policymakers that we’re supposed to embrace the 21st century multimodal mobility future!

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