Q: While driving in Santa Monica I often come across two to three bicyclists on the roadway that are riding side by side causing cars traveling at the posted speed limit to either slow down or go around them. I know we all need to share the road and I often ride a bicycle myself. I was wondering what the rules were for bicyclists on the roadway?
A: Motor vehicles and bicyclists do have to share the road as stated in Section 21200(a) of the California Vehicle Code, but there are additional vehicle codes that we can look at which help define how to do so safely.
Section 21200(a) of the California Vehicle Code states that every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle. It also says that 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 practical 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. 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.
Now let’s take a look at the example you gave in your question.
If you have a group of three bicyclists that are riding in the same direction and are riding side by side, they would more than likely occupy enough space that would prevent an average sized vehicle from passing the group of cyclists in the same lane. If traffic is very light and/or this happens on a very wide street, then it’s not much of an issue. But here in Santa Monica we don’t have too many wide streets and the only time traffic is light is early in the morning or late at night. Most of the time this type of situation may occur when there is plenty of traffic on the average sized roadway.
Based on the example you gave, the bicyclists would have to stop riding side by side and ride in a single file line to allow vehicles within the same lane to pass.
Sharing the road is a big responsibility and can be difficult at times, depending on the road conditions. Storm drain grates, debris on the roadway, a pedestrian stepping off a curb, or a door opening into the traffic lane from a parked car, are all hazards motorists face, but can be greater hazards to bicyclists, causing them to swerve suddenly into traffic. Therefore, motorists need to use great caution when passing bicyclists on the roadway. At the same time, bicyclists riding in groups must consider their safety and the safety of others, and ride in a single file line while traveling on the roadway and riding at a slower speed than normal traffic.
Q: I ride my bike early in the morning when there are not too many cars on the road. Sometimes I come to a red light at an intersection and have to wait for a car to activate a sensor in the road before the light will turn green. I know I have to obey the rules of the road and can get a ticket for going through a red light, but sometimes I have to wait for 10 minutes before a car comes along to activate the sensor. What can I do if there are no cars on the road when I’m riding my bicycle?
A: Good question. Recently, City Hall has begun installing sensors at controlled intersections for bicyclists. On the roadway of one of these controlled intersections there is a bicycle symbol painted in white paint near the limit line or crosswalk. When a bicyclist comes to a red light and there are no other cars on the road that would trigger the sensor, the bicyclist should position themselves over that symbol. The bicyclist would be able to activate the sensor that would cause the traffic signal to cycle and give the bicyclist a green light.
Bicycle safety tip
Bicycle riding during hours of darkness can be very dangerous if you do not have the proper equipment. Bicycles should be equipped with the necessary reflectors as stated in section 21201 of the California Vehicle Code. This code also requires a bicyclist to be equipped with a lamp that emits a white lamp on the roadway in front of the rider and must be visible for at least 300 feet in front and from the sides of the bicycle.
Be safe and be seen while cycling on the roadway!
This column was prepared by Neighborhood Resource Officer Artis Williams (Beat 7, Sunset Park neighborhood). He can be reached at (424) 200-0687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.