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

Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm?

Los Angeles intersectionToday the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed critical of efforts to plan for multimodal mobility. Titled, ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,’ by 29-year Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman. “As I’m sure you know, cyclists make up just 2% of all road traffic…[yet] your road diet would make congestion in our expansive region much worse than it already is,” the writer says of the city’s new mobility policy. Such measures will diminish quality-of-life, he adds, yet paradoxically he finds his cure to the region’s mobility morass in the very policies that today ail us.Why highlight an op-ed that rehearses stale ideas? Because it repeats a spurious argument we hear all the time from critics: equal access to roads for all road users is a giveaway to those who bike and a takeaway from those who drive. As if a motorist’s right-to-the-road – the whole road – were granted by the divine. (The crux of his complaint seems that he simply doesn’t want to share the road.)

We believe that this is the wrong way to frame transportation challenges and choices. Mobility is not the zero-sum game that opponents of road diets and bicycle lanes say it is. On the contrary, only steps that increase access for all users will make our transportation system(s) more efficient and, as important, more safe for road users. We think about it as an intermediate step toward the urban future we envision. We’re not there yet, but we won’t get there without sensible mobility policies. Have a read and then scroll down for our rebuttal.

This is not Mr. Feldman’s first rodeo. In a previous op-ed titled, ‘From Santa Monica, the lament of an “urban villager,”‘ he objected to increased residential densities (a key element of Santa Monica’s embrace of the ‘urban village’ concept). “My beachside community’s downtown core works fine for those who can afford to live there,” he lamented in January of 2014. “They can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to us. If Santa Monica’s policies are making the city so desirable to, well, the desirables, then we say Beverly Hills needs a bit of magical thinking too.

Feldman also took potshots at those who ride a bike because, evident to him, we clog his roads. And we misbehave! We ride either too fast or too slow; ride in the middle of the lane or alongside stopped traffic; and of course we blow every stop sign (a favorite bugaboo of critics who themselves undoubtedly obey every traffic control).

“Of course, sometimes we’re forced to drive — say when we need to buy food from a nearby grocery store,” he said in his first op-ed (with emphasis added). “Then we have to run a gantlet of empowered cyclists.” Empowered! Sounds like the ‘bicycle lobby‘ is making some impressive gains of which we weren’t aware.

Then as today, he can’t win! On one hand he’s “forced” to drive on city streets; on the other, officials are making that journey even more onerous by squeezing his roadways so others can use the blacktop. By helpfully offering Mayor Garcetti a menu of recommended options (like making main boulevards one-way to facilitate throughput and expanding surface parking to accommodate those who, like him, are “forced” to drive) he’s really just pleading to maintain the status quo – a century-long auto-centric planning paradigm that got us into this mess. “I’ll have some hair of the dog that bit me please!” he seems to say.

Our Reply to Mr. Feldman

To the Editor:

In ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,” Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman objects to increased residential density and contemporary mobility measures like ‘road diets’ and bus-only lanes. He says they exacerbate traffic congestion. I’m a walker, bicycle rider, and drive, too, and I find travel inconvenient. It’s often hazardous too.
Yet would Mr. Feldman double-down on the policies that over time have brought us to a near-standstill on the Westside today? I fail to see how eight lanes of one-way travel, with increased traffic throughput and higher speeds, will improve our quality-of-life. We’ll see more devastating crashes, that’s for sure. He seems to recommend as the cure more of that which ails us.

Most planners know better. This metro region will welcome millions of newcomers in the coming decades, each of whom requires housing and transportation options that make travel not only more efficient but safer too. Consult the recent Los Angeles Times analysis of county-wide crash injuries and fatalities to see that the hazards we walkers and riders face every day are not a bug but a feature: the’ve been engineered-in the design of our roadways. That must change.

We can no longer afford to view city streets as merely a playground for motorists. Indeed planners  150 years ago recognized that city streets are our greatest of public spaces. And cities including Santa Monica acknowledge as much in city plans. We must recover them not only for safe travel for road users but as an opportunity to collectively enjoy one of the greatest of human achievements, the city.

As Mr. Feldman observed back in early 2014 in this very paper, newcomers to Santa Monica’s downtown “can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.” That sounds great! A different approach to urbanization seems to be working very well for Santa Monica.

And today in your pages Mr. Feldman continues to celebrate the Los Angeles of old and, for good measure, then contrasts it with Stockholm, among the world’s most beautiful (and livable) cities. Yet the Stockholm of his description, characterized by a “compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units,” suggests the Swedes are doing something right too.

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles metro region we must daily accommodate the diminishing returns of an outmoded approach to urban planning, one based on principles more than a half-century old and less-relevant to today’s challenges than ever. And we want to double-down on that?

I have some advice for Mr. Feldman. I suggest you relocate to Beverly Hills if you want to bear-hug yesterday’s planning paradigm. Here you will share our civic leaders’ continuing embrace of mid-20th century auto-centric planning policies. Here you will enjoy every day the congestion that it has wrought. And here you can sit comfortably in your car, queued at a light or stop sign, while “smug urbanites” pass you by on a bicycle.

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