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

Are Fading Beverly Hills Bike Facilities a Metaphor?

Approved Pilot program bike routes map

The pilot program as approved by City Council: just two routes out of five under consideration.

In 2013 City of Beverly Hills chose two corridors for bike facilities under the city’s (very) limited ‘pilot project.’ Several block segments of Crescent Drive and Burton way were identified by consultant Fehr & Peers as suitable for class II bicycle lanes, while Crescent (south of Santa Monica) was also deemed suitable for sharrows. A year on, our facilities are showing their age: Burton Way bike lanes are disappearing before our eyes; and an ill-advised realignment of sharrows on Crescent Drive now puts riders at risk.

Are our city’s first-ever bike facilities installed under the pilot program (read the feasibility study) an indication of bike-friendliness, as our Mayor says? Or do they telegraph our city’s true regard for the safety of two-wheeled road users in Beverly Hills as revealed by councilmembers this past summer? In short, are these pilot improvements a metaphor for the slippage of bike improvements from a Council ‘B’ priority to off the agenda entirely?

Consider the bicycle lanes installed on several block segments of Burton Way. They were striped with ordinary paint. As a result, the pilot program bicycle lanes have faded – really faded – to the point of disappearing before our eyes.

Beverly Hills and Los Angeles bike lane striping on Burton Way

Witness the difference between the faded bicycle lanes on Burton Way in Beverly Hills (left) and the markings on that same corridor in adjacent Los Angeles (right).

Faded crosswalk at Wilshire & Santa Monica South

Pity the poor pedestrians who cross every day at this major juncture of Wilshire & Santa Monica Boulevard South!

Yet the city appears to have no appetite to restripe them. And to be fair, it’s a citywide problem: many of our crosswalks have faded to the point of putting pedestrians in danger. They take on a ghostly quality, which is surely not appropriate for a traffic control device. So you see it’s not just cyclists that get the back of the hand. That’s why Beverly Hills leads small cities in California in pedestrian collision injuries.

Will our bike lanes be restored to their original luster? Our deputy director for transportation was non-committal when asked. (Stay tuned for an update as we have another query into the division.)

Another problem area with regard to the pilot program is the sharrows implementation on Crescent Drive (below Santa Monica Boulevard North). Heading northbound on Crescent approaching Brighton Way, the sharrow is correctly positioned in the right lane. North of Brighton approaching Santa Monica South, however, the sharrow has been relocated to the #2 lane adjacent to the double-yellow. That puts passing motor traffic to the right of the rider crossing over the next intersection. But then north of the Santa Monica South intersection the sharrow again shifts back to the right lane, forcing a rider merge with that passing traffic.

Sharrow placement on Crescent Drive infographicAdd to the obvious safety implications the fact that passing traffic has an incentive to speed along this segment in order to make both the Santa Monica South and Santa Monica North green lights and you have a recipe for serious rider injury.

This was brought to the attention of Aaron Kunz, Deputy Director for Transportation, in early August. Of course transportation staff should have recognized the problem; for many months these sharrows have been misaligned But neither the plain evidence or even our communication has made the slightest bit of difference: riders still navigate this hazard as city hall takes no action to correct it.

City Hall: No Passion for Action on Road Safety

This pilot program in our opinion was too little, too late anyway. It was not intended to be much more than a gesture toward a bike-friendly claim. Indeed it doesn’t bolster our confidence that councilmember Julian Gold has appeared anxious for this pilot program – by definition it’s not permanent – to come back before Council for reevaluation. But to approve it and then wholly neglect to maintain it? That’s spitting into the eye of every rider who would follow our own city plans’ advice to opt whenever possible for bicycle travel over auto travel. You know – to reduce auto congestion and emissions!

Santa Monica's thermoplast bicycle lane markings

City of Santa Monica not only embraces thermoplast but pays more for pre-templated bike lane markings.

Thankfully we do have better examples on offer in neighboring cities. Both Santa Monica and City of Los Angeles, for example, are rolling out bike facilities citywide. They’re installed to be permanent – not as part of a pilot – and they’re installed according to Caltrans requirements. Moreover, these cities use thermoplastic, not regular paint, to ensure that such state-approved traffic safety measures stick around for more than a year. Santa Monica goes one better: new bike lanes there are high-visibility and some of them even buffered from adjacent motor traffic.

Calling ourselves bike-friendly and making Beverly Hills streets safe and welcoming to cyclists are not the same thing. We find the faded lanes and misplaced sharrows on Burton and Crescent to be an apt metaphor for city hall’s fading concern for rider safety as well as the future of the pilot program.

So often in Beverly Hills we like to talk the talk because it’s easy and cost-free.¬† But we prefer not to actually walk the walk because it’s harder and it costs money. Other cities make the investment in facilities and plan for a multimodal mobility future. Why not Beverly Hills?

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