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. That was sufficient for the schoolyard but not so good for safely riding city streets. Most riders are under-schooled in road rules yet we must safely co-exist with better-protected motorists. Consequently we must be more aware of the hazards.

But we also have to be more cognizant of the law. We must obey the vehicular code (even though technically a bicycle is not a vehicle) but there are also specific laws – often local ordinances – that apply only to us as riders. 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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Comment on the Draft Beverly Hills Complete Streets Plan!

After a couple of close calls on a Benedict Canyon ride about ten years ago I started to wonder why Beverly Hills had not striped even a single bike lane. Or acknowledged that bicycle riders share the road. Or gave a single thought to our safety on the streets. I found my answer at City Hall: a 35 year old Bicycle Master Plan that sat moldering on a shelf.

That a 1977 mobility plan was simply carried over decade after decade unchanged was bad enough. But the city had updated every other aspect of our General Plan. Why give bike riders the short shrift? Thus was my introduction to transportation planning in Beverly Hills where officials and staff heard no evil and saw no evil even as the crash injuries ticked upward each year and the police department’s traffic enforcement efforts diminished.

A decade later some things look different. Now Metro is coming. We see new mobility devices sharing our streets. And now we have a city council that values multimodal mobility — and is actually interested in street safety. What a difference a decade makes! On the other hand enforcement still lags and there’s not much to point to show progress in the decade. Except of course those new Santa Monica Boulevard Class II bike lanes.

Today Beverly Hills is at an inflection point. The city has posted a draft COMPLETE STREETS PLAN and we need your support as it gets to city council in January. Even now we hear auto-minded NIMBYs clamoring as they wheel out (sorry!) their usual tired arguments.

How can you help? Attend the  upcoming Traffic & Parking Commission meeting this Tuesday, December 3rd at 6pm at city hall. This is a special meeting to take public comment on the draft Complete Streets Plan and draft implementation Action Plan. Can you attend and beforehand send the city a comment? Use the city’s Complete Streets webform or send your comment by email to transportation@beverlyhills.org.

Got a question about the draft plan? Drop me a line. We want specific or general comments to help push this plan across the finish line in January.

Again, join us for the next Traffic & Parking Commission meeting this Tuesday, December 3rd at 6pm at City Hall. And please send in your comments before.


More About the Complete Streets Plan

Please take a few minutes to download and review the draft Complete Streets Plan and the draft Action (Implementation) Plan which you can find on the city’s Complete Streets portal. In the draft documents you will find:

  • A proposed citywide network of bicycle routes (with key north-south and east-west corridors earmarked for Class II and Class IV bicycle lanes — scroll down for the highlights);
  • Support for bike-friendly business districts and shop-local partnerships;
  • Expanded bike parking facilities and the creation of bike-parking guidelines;
  • Proposed policies like dynamic, variable curb-parking pricing and special assessment districts to fund neighborhood traffic calming measures;
  • Collection and analysis of crash injury data to inform policy-making and prioritize traffic enforcement;
  • Support for PARKing Day and an annual CicLAvia-type open street event in Beverly Hills;
  • Appointment of an advocates advisory board — and so much more!

These proposals represent a landmark shift in how Beverly Hills approaches mobility and street safety. Have a look at this proposed citywide bicycle network and the routes that we’ve proposed for priority implementation: The Charleville-Gregory couplet of one-way Class IV protected bike lanes to connect three schools and two metro stations; and two key north-south Class II lanes on Roxbury and Doheny.

Complete Streets Plan proposed citywide bike network map with recommended year-one routes

This proposed citywide bike route network is the step forward that Beverly Hills needs. Here we have highlighted key north-south & east-west routes that we want to see prioritized for year-one implementation. Click through for the original map included in the draft Complete Streets Plan.

We have worked hard on the advocacy side to get us this draft plan and proposed bike route network. Now we need you! Comment is the key. Even if we can’t attend the Traffic & Parking Commission meeting this Tuesday we can submit a comment. It is crucial as this is our chance to speak directly to policymakers. Use the Complete Streets webform or send your comment by email to transportation@beverlyhills.org.

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