Bicyclists Getting Ticketed for legal riding!

W/in the last month (July and August 2009) or so we have started hearing about more instances of police citing bicyclists for doing what we think the law allows. No, not for rolling stops or other scofflaw behaviors; I mean for “taking a lane” or “riding two-abreast” in situations where the law allows such behaviors, based on our 100+ years of bicycling experiences through the  League of American Bicyclists. For instance, we’ve had two 21202 citations that were upheld by the courts in San Diego; that is two that I know about and that I have determined were not reflective of illegal action by the bicyclists. There’s also Chris Z.’s case in Pasadena; he was cited, found guilty and his ($4,000) appeal was denied. Chris is an League Cycling Instructor.

The problem as I see it is that the culture of “cars rule” and motorists not wanting bicyclists “in their way” has infected the traffic enforcement culture – police and judges (never mind juries or our peers?!). Police don’t get adequate training, and those that I have individually addressed (local SDPD and Calif. Highway Patrol) either don’t read the whole text of the law or just reflexively respond that bikes “unequivocally” must always get out of the way of overtaking motor vehicles… THIS IS NOT THE LAW!

To warn bicyclists, I advise you/we spread the information to bicyclists; for instance:

1)     Be trained. If you haven’t researched the law and/or taken a course from a League Cycling Instructor, you probably do not know or understand the best practices for bicycling with relative safety, efficiency and just what the written Calif. Vehicle Code says about bicycling and traffic operations. (I’ll append the the Calif. Vehicle Code section we’re having trouble with below.

2)     Ride aware. Bicycling in with motor vehicle traffic in typical urban environments requires vigilance, skill and awareness of traffic control devices – bike lanes, general traffic lanes, etc. etc. Knowing when a Bike Lane stripe or a practice of riding as far to the right in a lane may be leading you into danger – door zones, right-hook likelihood, a lane too narrow to share side by side, etc. – is important to assure relatively safe travel by bicycle. Choose to ride in a manner and location that is safest for you. Do not blindly accept a stripe of paint as providing the best information about where and what to do. That motorist honking behind you is not necessarily honking to keep you safe; more likely to bully you out of their way.

3)     If you encounter a police officer who asks you to ride differently or is considering giving you a traffic citation/ticket, DO NOT ARGUE! Do not question the officer’s knowledge of traffic law. Many otherwise friendly encounters have resulted in ticketing, probably just because the officer considered the bicyclist as combative, argumentative, “hard-headed”. In most cases it is best to listen, node, and follow the directions of the officer while they are in contact/view of you.

4)     Whether you must follow the directions of an officer when that action would directly endanger you is a question I cannot answer.

5)     If you are cited, LET US KNOW. Post to our email list at or leave a message here. You should seek advice about whether the circumstances for which you were cited qualify as actually being compliant with the law; that you were actually acting legally. If you decide to fight the ticket at court, we do not recommend that you appear at court w/o backup; even though you think your case is a slam-dunk – that your circumstances met the exceptions under CVC 21202. Some judges apparently DO NOT CARE what the law reads… 🙁

6)     Get a transcript or other record of the trial. If there is sufficient documentation we may be able to use the case as a “poster child” example of the problem of inappropriate ticketing and/or judicial decisions.

7)     If found guilty, LET US KNOW. Join your experience with our efforts to get this changed. If found not guilty, Great! Let us know that too.

8)     I cannot yet recommend formal appeals of bad decisions; we have a poor record with appeals so far. But, if you wish to push the system, please contact us for advice… though we are not going to provide legal advice – you’ll need an attorney for that. We can help you and your attorney with the experiences other bicyclists have had.

Jim Baross

Vice Chair, Calif. Bicycle Advisory Committee

President, Calif. Association of Bicycle Organizations
Board Member, Calif. Bicycle Coalition
Spokesperson, San Diego County Bicycle Coalition
League of American Bicyclists, 2009 State Ambassador for California
League LCI Trainer & Effective Cycling Instructor #185 K-C
Co-Chair, Strategic Highway Safety Plan, #13 – Improve Bicycling Safety

“Cyclists should expect and demand safe accommodation on our public road(way)s, just as does every other user. Nothing more is expected. Nothing less is acceptable.”
Jack R. Taylor

“Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”
John Forester

“Same Roads Same Rules Same Rights”

“Roads are for people, not just for people in cars.”
Jim Baross

“Bicycling is Personal Rapid & Cheap Transit”
(Who wrote that?)

California Vehicle Code 21202

(a) 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.

(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

(b) 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.

Ride on!

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About Jim Baross

I bicycled across the USA from East to West in 1976 leading groups of bicyclists for the “Bikecentennial ’76 “event and again in 2007 riding this time from West to East with my two sons. I was first certified as an Effective Cycling Instructor in 1986 by the League of American Bicyclist and have been an active League Cycling Instructor for the League since then. In 2002 I gained acceptance as a Cycling Instructor Trainer and since then have conducted 11 training seminars for certification of League Cycling Instructors held in San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Sacramento, Morgan Hill, Fairfax, and Palo Alto. I completed the San Diego Police Bicycle Skills Menu Course in 2003 and I have been an expert witness for bicycling crash incidents. I presently serve on several bicycling advisory committees and advocacy organizations. Chair - Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Working Group for the San Diego regional association of governments since 1995 Vice Chair - California Bicycle Advisory Committee for the State Dept of Transportation, a member since 1992 President - California Association of Bicycling Organizations Board member - California Bicycle Coalition California State Ambassador – League of American Bicyclists Co-Chair California Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Challenge Area 13, Improving Bicycling Safety Conferences, seminars and similar events at which I have attended and presented bicycling safety information and training include the following: Speaker/Presenter, Calif. Office of Traffic Safety, Summit “What to do about all these bicycles in Traffic”, 2009 ProWalk-ProBike Conference, Seattle WA., 2008 Attendee/Speaker, League of American Bicyclists, Bike Education Conference, Wisconsin and New York City, 2002 & 2007 Velo Mondial, Amsterdam. 2000 Speaker/Presenter, Calif. Office of Traffic Safety’s Summit “A Vision for Roads to Traffic Safety”, 2000 Speaker Autovation conference, San Diego 2005 Chair, California Strategic Highway Safety Plan, #13 - Improve Bicycling Safety Presenter, California Strategic Highway Safety Plan Summit, 2008 Anaheim Attendee, League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Summit, Washington, DC, 2006 & 2008 Presenter, Walk/Bike California Conferences, Oakland 2003, Ventura 2005, Davis 2007 Speaker, Making the Connection International Trails and Greenways Conference Presenter, Safety N Kids, Conference, “Children Learn Best by Good Examples From Those They Trust”, 2006 Speaker, ITE Conference 2006 Dana Point, Calif., “Engineering for Bicycling, From a Bicyclists Point of View” Exhibitor/Speaker, Lifesavers, National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities, 2004 References familiar with my bicycling background and experience include: Kathy Keehan, Exec Director San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, Ph: 858-487-6063, Email: Stephan Vance, Chair Calif. Bicycle Coalition and SANDAG Senior Planner, Ph: 619-595-5324, Email: Ken McGuire, Chief Bicycle Facilities Unit, California Dept of Transportation, Ph: 916-653-2750, Email: Preston Tyree, Director of Education, League of American Bicyclists, 1612 K St., NW, #800, Washington, DC 20006, Ph: 202-822-1333 x 227, Email:

2 thoughts on “Bicyclists Getting Ticketed for legal riding!

  1. Brian

    I see the dilemma as this: our choice to control a lane for our safety may put us at risk of being cited for a violation of CVC 21202. Since the net effect of CVC 21202 is to place the burden on the cyclist to justify not sharing the lane, you have a very uphill battle if you’re trying to overturn a CVC 21202 citation.

  2. Serge Issakov

    One suggestion for getting the equivalent of a transcript without paying for a court recorder is to opt for the “trial by mail” option. Then everything is automatically in writing.

    I don’t agree about not arguing with police, at least when they’re clearly wrong. I was once told by SD police to “get in the bike lane” on La Jolla Village Drive while stopped in the middle of the lane at a red light. I held my ground, responding, “Sir, that’s a not a bike lane, it’s a gore”. They left me alone. Capitulating to bully tactics based on ignorance is not how we improve the world. These can be excellent teaching opportunities.

    Brian is right, the burden is unfairly on the cyclist to show that he was not in violation of 21202. That means matters of fact have to be clearly established, and matters of opinion need to be supported by expert witness testimony, not the defendant. Otherwise, it’s the defendant’s word against the cop’s.

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