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Community Commentary:

Cyclists, motorists must follow the law

April 20, 2009|By Colin Bogart

I’m frequently asked about the rules of the road for bicyclists and am surprised to discover how little most people know about the California Vehicle Code and what it says about bicyclists.

Several recent letters to the Glendale News-Press (“Safety a reason cyclists go in groups,” Mailbag, April 9; “Bicyclists should stay in single file,” Mailbag, Wednesday) have prompted me to offer some additional commentary. For the purpose of this piece, I will be discussing adult bicycle riders only. Children have special considerations that I will not address here.

First, California Vehicle Code Section 21200 clearly gives cyclists the right to ride in the roadway. This bit of information is sometimes a surprise to non-cyclists and is important to remember. It means that a cyclist has just as much right to use the street as any motorist behind the wheel of an automobile (except for locations like freeways, where bicyclists and pedestrians are prohibited).

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It is also illegal to ride on the sidewalk according to the vehicle code, but each city is allowed to make exceptions. In Glendale, it’s illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk in a business district, but it is allowed in residential areas. Keep in mind that sidewalk riding can be allowed, but not required. Riding in the roadway is the default in California, while riding on the sidewalk is the exception.

While cyclists have the right to ride in the street, that right is conditional because cyclists usually travel at a speed that is slower than motorized traffic. Vehicle Code Section 21202 says that a cyclist must ride as far to the right as “practicable.” The word “practicable” is used intentionally and is quite important. A cyclist must ride as far to right as he/she can, but only to the point that he/she can do it safely. And riding to the right is also conditional. A cyclist can ride farther to the left in certain situations such as avoiding dangerous or bad road conditions, when passing another cyclist or vehicle moving in the same direction, when turning left, when approaching a right-turn-only lane (and the cyclist is going straight), or if the lane is too narrow to share with a motor vehicle. This last condition is widely unknown among motorists and even many cyclists.

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