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 caboforum.org 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.
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.”
“Same Roads Same Rules Same Rights”
“Roads are for people, not just for people in cars.”
“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.