A Few Rules of the Road
Cyclists are entitled to ride any road where expressly not prohibited. We must ride with traffic and keep to the right (if safe to do so). We must obey traffic controls and signal for turns. Common sense often prevails, but beyond the laws we know from the motor vehicle test it gets hazy pretty quickly. We once had to license our bikes, for example, but who knew until you were cited? Some cities prohibit cycling on the sidewalk and others in the crosswalk itself, but which cyclists think to check the municipal code before they casually pedal into another jurisdiction?
Cyclists are unwittingly subject to a tangle of local laws that only becomes clear when we’re cited. While ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law, wouldn’t most cyclists be surprised to know that they’re regulated at all? After all, when we slapped on the training wheels nobody told us to drive like a motorist. There is no state licensing of bike riders, so we’ve passed no test. State auto licensing is scanty with regard to the fine points of motoring, much less cycling. In fact, if it weren’t a clear and present danger for cyclists, it would be laughable that neither most riders nor most motorists are formally educated at all about sharing the road.
To the extent we’ve learned anything at all, it’s come through hard-won, seat-of-the-pants experience or voluntary cycling instruction.
In California, bicycles are considered ‘devices’ under the vehicular code. What does this mean in practice? That we’re entitled to ride the public rights-of-way but as we know we actually occupy a rather subordinate position. There are vehicular laws, interpretations of said laws, and then informal rules of the road – and cyclists must apprize themselves ofthe difference.
Finally there are the laws of physics, chief among them that big mass trumps small mass in a collision. When we get edged aside by a motorist, or we try to squeeze through a confined space (regardless of our right to pass) we’re reminded of just how subordinate that position is on the road. But we should at least know our rights even if we don’t always have the opportunity to express them in practice
The Bike Writers Collective has published a ‘Cyclists Bill of Rights.’ It’s a great resource that might help us talk our way out of a citation, but don’t stop there. Look at the local regulations. The LA Bike Blog, for example, recently summarized the local laws city-by-city with regard to sidewalk riding. It emphasized the patchwork of regulations that cyclists must abide but which motorists generally don’t have to deal with.
Prohibitions, Prohibitions, Prohibitions!
To nail down some of the cycling prohibitions and rules here at home, I took a look at the Beverly Hills municipal code to pull out the bike-relevant sections. Enjoy!
Licensing (Sec. 5-5) [This section is no longer operational]
- LICENSE REQUIRED: It shall be unlawful for any person to operate or use a bicycle, as defined in section 39000 of the Vehicle Code of the state, upon any street, public path or way, or other public property in the city unless such bicycle is licensed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. (1962 Code § 3-1.01 et seq.)
LICENSE PROCEDURE: Issuance of bicycle licenses shall be governed by the following procedure:
- Submission of a completed application for a bicycle license on the form designated by the director of finance administration
- A complete description of the bicycle, including frame or serial number and proof of ownership shall be submitted with the application.
- Payment of the fee prescribed in section 5-5-5 of this chapter shall accompany the application.
- Upon compliance…the license [shall] be affixed to the frame of the bicycle in such a manner that it cannot be removed without breaking the seal or affixing device. (1962 Code § 3-1.01 et seq.)
- Licenses issued under the provisions of this chapter shall expire on January 1 of the third year of issuance….All revenues collected from licensing under the provisions of this chapter shall be used in manner as designated in section 39004 of the state Vehicle Code. (1962 Code § 3-1.01 et seq.)
5-5-7: CHANGE OF ADDRESS OR TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP:
- Any person selling or transferring a bicycle shall file notice thereof with the city on the form designated by the director of finance administration within ten (10) days of the transaction. Any purchaser or transferee of a bicycle shall file notice thereof with the city on the form designated by the director of administration and transfer license registration within ten (10) days of the transaction. Any licensee under the provisions of this chapter who changes addresses, shall file notice thereof with the city on the form designated by the director of finance administration within ten (10) days of such change of address. (1962 Code § 3-1.01 et seq.)
General Restrictions & Prohibitions (Sec. 5-5-8)
- The operator of a bicycle shall operate such bicycle as near the curb as possible on any public street or highway;
- The operator of a bicycle shall not cling to or attach such bicycle to any other moving vehicle upon a public street or highway;
- The operator of a bicycle shall not carry another person on the bicycle upon any public street or highway;
- The operator of a bicycle shall not tow or draw any coaster or other vehicle or person on roller skates on a public street or highway;
- The operator of a bicycle shall not ride on the public sidewalk in any business district as prohibited by section 5-6-801 of this title;
- The operator of a bicycle shall operate such bicycle with due regard to the surface, width, and type of public street, highway, or public path upon which the bicycle is being operated, the pedestrians and other vehicles thereon, and the traffic regulations applicable thereto;
- Any bicycle operated on a public street or highway between one-half (1/2) hour before sunset and until one-half (1/2) hour after sunrise shall be equipped with appropriate lamps or reflectors as provided by sections 21201 and 21201(a) of the state Vehicle Code. (1962 Code § 3-1.01 et seq.)
Bicycles Prohibited On Sidewalks In The Business District (Sec. 5-6-801)
- It shall be unlawful for any person to operate, ride, or propel any bicycle, skateboard, roller skates or similar type device on the sidewalk in any business district. For purposes of this section, “business district” shall be defined as designated in section 235 of the state Vehicle Code; “skateboard” shall mean a board, of any material, which has wheels attached to it and which is propelled or moved by human, gravitational, or mechanical power, and to which there is not affixed any device or mechanism to turn and control the wheels. “Roller skate” shall mean any footwear, or device which may be attached to feet or footwear, to which wheels are attached and such wheels may be used to aid the wearer in moving.
Restrictions Concerning Park And Recreational Facilities (Sec. 8-1-4)
The following conduct or activity shall be prohibited in the use of any park or recreational facility:
- Riding any bicycle, skateboard, roller skates, or similar type of device except where such activity is specially authorized by posted signs.
- Obstructing, interfering with, or loitering, in a manner which interferes with the use or purpose of any recreation facility […]
Notice that the penultimate regulation prohibits cycling unless explicitly allowed. That makes it a rule requiring an exception. So we can’t ride unless they give us the OK. But how many signs in Beverly Hills parks have we seen that say, “Go ahead and ride! Knock yourselves out!” Well, none. We’re more likely to see a long list of prohibitions that make our city parks, well, less park-like.
And that last rule? It opens the door for a second ticket if an officer (in his discretion) feels that you’ve also ridden afoul of that most general description: a park’s “use and purpose.” Try and defend against that in a courtroom!
Lastly, notice that there’s not a lot in the code to encourage bicycling. Only prohibitions on a form of transportation that can only reduce congestion, reduce emissions, and increase joy on our city streets.