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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Beverly Hills Should Take the Foxx US DOT Challenge

US DOT Mayor's Challenge logoSecretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, appointed by President Obama in 2013, is continuing the efforts predecessor Raymond LaHood to make street safety the Department’s priority. “In 2013, more than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed, and more than 100,000 were injured,” Foxx says in a recent post. To reverse the trend he’s announced his Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets in conjunction with last week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting. Will Beverly Hills take the challenge?

Recently US DOT has upped its game on street safety. Where the department in the past focused less on health and welfare and more on moving people and freight, in recent years leaders have stressed the human toll taken on our roadways by errant drivers. Specifically, the department has focused on non-motor traveler safety through its Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety initiative, as well by issuing safety-focused bulletins, surveys, and advisories.

Just recently, for example, Secretary Foxx noted that in the past decade the number of people killed on our roads has declined by a quarter. In the past five years alone, however, the number killed while walking or riding has increased 15%.

To underscore that disproportionately high representation of cyclists among road injuries and deaths, US DOT has undertaken public education and outreach efforts (like its Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation) to highlight safety and pointed to deficiencies in the designs of the roads themselves that likely contribute to the problem. To that end, the agency offers evaluation tools to help professionals diagnose built environment.

Secretary Foxx’s “Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” falls squarely into the department’s recent safety efforts and puts it right to executives who help set local priorities for transportation officials. The officials have a professional responsibility to provide for the safety of those who walk and ride a bicycle, but as the challenge suggests, they’ve not always met the charge.

It is all part of the US DOT’s mission, which is to provide Americans with “a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.” Now, ranking safety as job #2 may not be our preference, but it is a leap beyond the department’s priorities during the automobile era.

‘Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets’

 

“As a former mayor, I know that our nation’s mayors with their ground-level view and community-specific resources offer us an effective way to get that done,” Foxx says. “The Challenge will showcase best local practices to improve safety, share tools for local leaders to take action, and promote partnerships to advance pedestrian and bicycle safety.” The initiatives identified in the Secretary’s challenge include:

  • Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles in the design of roadways to make streets safe and convenient for all road users;
  • Incorporate “on-road bike networks” during routine street resurfacing and deploy safety innovations appropriate to context;
  • Revisit and improve safety laws and regulations and collect non-motor traveler data; and,
  • Educate road users and enforce against bad behavior.

Let’s look at these ‘challenge’ provisions one-by-one. Embrace ‘complete streets’ principles? Yes we can! In Beverly Hills today, none of our city plans or mobility policy statements includes a reference to ‘complete streets‘ (or even reflects the spirit of the principles). Traffic-calming for example? Outside of the business triangle you won’t find a single complete streets improvement implemented to slow or calm traffic. In fact our policy is to speed traffic through. As for other ‘complete streets’ measures like curb extensions, continental crosswalks, pedestrian refuges and narrowed travel lanes? Beverly Hills uses none of them. Yet these sensible measures moderate traffic flow and reduce the incidence – and severity – of collisions (according to US DOT).

Incorporate “on-road bike networks.” Here we have a golden opportunity with the imminent reconstruction of North Santa Monica Boulevard. That boulevard should be the spine of a future bike route system (it connects schools and parks) but the city has resisted including bicycle lanes (necessary to separate bikes and cars) as part of the massive project. Advocates have put forward a plan, however. As for ‘networks,’ we’re invited by our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan to identify and create a network of streets safe for riding. We’ve not updated that plan (though it remains in effect); and we’ve taken no step to think holistically about how two-wheeled travelers can safely access our streets.

Improve local safety laws and collect non-motor traveler data. Yes and yes. Beverly Hills has local ordinances concerning cyclists on the books that are out-of-date. For example, city law requires riders to always ride to the right without acknowledging that conditions may preclude it (hence the state law’s “when practicable” stipulation). And our municipal code makes bike registration mandatory even though such bike licensing laws have been declared unenforceable. Other areas of the code like that governing bike parking need a facelift too.

As for data, the city’s budget says that the Community Development department has the responsibility for annual “traffic engineering studies, speed surveys, traffic volume counts and compile accident data at the City’s 500 intersections and crosswalks.” Does the city do collect that data? No it doesn’t. Our Traffic and Parking Commission does receive a monthly BHPD citation and crash data report, but commissioners ask few questions; staff simply files away those reports. And we wish the city compiled crash data by intersection. We’ve asked BHPD for that kind of data and their system can’t generate such reports.

And that last of the four initiatives – educate and enforce road user behavior – would be welcome here too because there is no safety education. We’ve begged our transportation officials to post a simple safety tips page on the city’s website, but in five years they haven’t done it. (We’ve even offered to compose it gratis but we found no taker in City Hall.) Basic tips to help drivers and riders learn our rights and responsibilities in order to safely share the road would seem to be the minimum envisioned by Foxx’s challenge to Mayors.

As for enforcement, red light cameras are remarkably prolific and consistent generators of citations day-in-and-day-out. Evidently our drivers continue to be regular scofflaws. Yet citations in nearly every category have declined over the years (BHPD says it’s short-staffed). Witness the downward trend in the last few years:

Citation trends 2008-2013 graph

Even within a given year (2013 for example) there is a pronounced slack-off at the beginning and end:

Citation trends 2013

Heck, drivers run red lights all day every day at every intersection in the city. At least write them a ticket!

Let’s Hope Our Mayor Takes the US DOT’s Challenge

In March a new Mayor takes over in Beverly Hills: Dr. Julian Gold will have the helm for a full year. That’s enough time to prod our incoming city manager to do more than simply warm the chair; he or she should be directed to immediately implement the Secretary’s suggestions right away. Maybe then we’ll do something about this shameful lack of progress on reducing collisions (see the chart below). Another mark of distinction is that Beverly Hill’s relatively high incidence of crash injuries keeps us tops among smaller cities in California in the crash injury rate category.

All collisions 2008-2013 graph

Crash injuries in all categories show remarkable resilience in the face of state and federal safety education programs and law enforcement initiatives. Call it a Beverly Hills achievement!

Either our transportation officials aren’t cognizant of current best street safety practices, or they view it as simply unimportant. So let’s hope that the next Mayor takes the Foxx challenge. We’ll check back in with Mayor Gold after he attends the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets this coming March. What will he proposes in the way of safety policies for Beverly Hills? Our own municipal neighbors take these steps now to make their streets safe; why can’t we do it here?

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