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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Strava App Data Maps Rides for Planners, Too

strava logoReader Brent Bigler recently forwarded our way a Strava heatmap that shows the frequency of rides through Beverly Hills. Riders use Strava’s mobile app to track rides and training performance. And the data collected by the app in the aggregate is extremely useful to riders and planners alike. Let’s take a closer look at the heatmap and talk with Strava’s data jockey to learn more about what the data mean.

Everybody in Los Angeles, driver, walker and biker alike, has a favorite route to recommend. Riding Mid-City to Santa Monica? Take 3rd street, snake through the Civic Center parking structure, and you’ll pop out on Rexford Dr. near Santa Monica Boulevard. (Eastbounders take the Civic Center Drive turnoff at City Hall and then turn right to reach 3rd). Riding Beverly Hills to Venice? Try Beverwil south to National, then west to Overland and south again to Venice.

But you don’t need to take our word for it with Strava’s app-generated data. One look at the heatmap (filtered for bike data) shows that many riders take these recommended routes.

Strava Beverly Hills heatmap

Of course the most popular routes are through streets like Santa Monica, Wilshire, Olympic boulevards and Burton Way. But secondary streets get a lot of use too, and using Strava data could be a transformational tool for city transportation officials when identifying safe bike routes as our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan recommends.

Remember that when City Council a year ago approved limited  bike lanes and sharrows under a pilot project, they didn’t heed the advice of riders, who identified Beverly Drive, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Wilshire alternatives Charleville Drive and Gregory Way as the best routes for bike-friendly treatments. We also suggested that Elevado (rather than the staff-recommended Carmelita) offers good crosstown connectivity. These recommendations are supported by the Strava data.

Backbone missing piece map

Beverly Hills is the missing link in our regional bike route network.

Not to mention the need for class II bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. That was a proposal upon which a Council majority has frowned. Yet our Beverly Hills segment of this regional corridor begs for officials to close the gap in the Westside’s ‘backbone’ bikeway network.

More About the Heatmap

The Strava system uses a mobile app to track runners and riders via global positioning system (GPS) satellites. The GPS  “pulses” triangulate rider location (each pinpoints a user in space and time) and that data is then collected by Strava and aggregated to map the individual rider’s route as well as route popularity more generally. Strava at HQ maps the data points and out pops a heatmap of ride frequency.

Of course it’s not quite that simple. We asked Strava’s GIS lead, Brian Riordan, how the heatmap is generated. The data for the heatmap is displayed dynamically on demand. So that each time the map is resized, the ride data is redrawn and “re-normalized” at the scale of the regenerated map. Instead of merely moving the same data around in the browser, it is re-plotted to show subtleties in the relative popularity of displayed routes.

Strava map redraws according to zoomWe can see this from the screen capture at right (cropped to show only Beverly Hills). We begin with a broader view including West Los Angeles. When we zoom into BH, changing scale, differences emerge in the relative popularity of the secondary routes. We see it in the subtle color changes on these routes.

There are some caveats to the Strava heatmap, however. It’s not a real-time metric; the data is current only through October. And there is little the user can do to dice-and-slice this data: the heatmap only allows limited color tweaking and no capacity exists for the user to fiddle with thresholds to dynamically distinguish more heavily-traveled secondary routes from less-traveled secondary routes. Is the ratio of rides on Santa Monica relative to Carmelita only 2:1, or do SM trips greatly outnumber Carmelita trips by as much as 10:1? We don’t know. Likewise with Elevado and Carmelita: they visually they rank more or less the same, but is one more frequently ridden? A threshold slider might help us dynamically tease out the difference.

More About Strava

More important as a caveat is the data itself. Where is it coming from? Strava is embraced as a training tool or fitness tracker and so naturally appeals to sport-minded riders. We’d like to see the app find a representative user base including commuters and recreational riders too. San Francisco-based Strava is reaching a wider audience, Brian says, given the incorporation of smartphones into exercise regimens. So Strava data will likely be more representative (and more fine grained) going forward. (Check out the Strava engineering blog to see the uses to which the app’s data can be put.)

And what about all that good data? How can we make good use of it to create safe and practical bike routes? Strava offers a ‘Metro’ product to local governments like Beverly Hills and the County of Los Angeles (as well as advocacy organizations):

Using Strava Metro, departments of transportation and city planners, as well as advocacy groups and corporations, can make informed and effective decisions when planning, maintaining, and upgrading cycling and pedestrian corridors….Strava Metro data enables DOTs and advocacy groups to perform detailed analyses and glean insights into cycling and running patterns dissected by time of day, day of week, season and local geography. – Metro website

Needless to say, there is value to digging into the aggregated data especially a regional level where scale gives us a much broader picture of routes taken. Forget route recommendations: Strava essentially crowdsources the best routes!

What Does the Heatmap Say About Beverly Hills?

Looking at the mapped data for Beverly Hills, a few things are immediately apparent:

Santa Monica Boulevard is a regional connector. We knew it was. So why not designate and improve it as such? Today it is a dangerous ride, so dangerous, in fact, that Beverly Hills councilmember Nancy Krasne called riders there “organ donors.” Of course she refused to consider a separate bike lane there, calling it “unsafe.” But we see improving safety on this defacto regional connector a no-brainer.

Crosstown routes rule. Even major crosstown boulevards like Wilshire, Santa Monica and Wilshire see frequent riders despite these corridors being intimidating for all but the more experienced road-warriors. As for secondary routes, several come to the foreground. To the north, Elevado emerges as a favored route. Why not? It connects Sunset to Santa Monica via a handy shortcut through the Hilton property (via Whittier and Merv Griffin Way). To the south, Charleville appears to be a favored alternative to Wilshire (it also connects three schools) while Gregory, wider and less congested than Charleville, is a favored alternative to Olympic.

Beverly Drive is a favorite north-south route. Not only because it’s a commercial spine, but also because it connects to Beverwill and Culver City beyond. Unfortunately, Council refused to consider Beverly Drive for bike-friendly improvements. Surprisingly, Beverly Glen and Coldwater also see riders, but we expect given the grade in the canyons that these are spandex folks.

What’s most remarkable is that none of the most frequently-chosen routes in Beverly Hills at least as displayed by the Strava heatmap have received a single bike-friendly or safety-improving treatment like a lane, sharrow, or signage (except Burton Way). And yet they’re all popular because they take riders where we need to go. Of course that’s why many of them are congested with vehicles too. The difference is that City of Beverly Hills welcomes motorists but not riders despite our own Sustainable City Plan’s emphasis on multimodal mobility.

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