Guest post: leading L.A. bike attorney and advocate Howard Krepack on taking the lane

There are just a handful of attorneys I’d want on my side when I need help, most of whom you can find over there on the right column.

Howard Krepack is one of those, someone I’ve come to know and respect as a friend and fellow cyclist, as well as an experienced attorney specializing in bike law and a strong supporter of our local cycling community. So when he contacted me recently to say he’d written a piece about the law behind your right to take the lane — as well as when and how to do it — I offered to let him share it here.

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Taking the Lane—It’s a Personal Decision

By Howard Krepack, Esq.
Partner, Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant Felton & Goldstein, LLP

Bicycling safety is all about balance and control, particularly when it comes to taking the lane. Sharing the road with motorists can be a breeze or a nightmare; you can do a lot to shape that reality for yourself.

Taking the lane makes you more visible to motorists by basically becoming one of them. It enables an approaching driver to spot you, slow down as necessary and pass you as if you were a car. If you are hugging the shoulder, many drivers will pass you too quickly and/or too closely. In addition, motorists are often preoccupied with other things—the phone, the radio, their passengers—to pay a great deal of attention to the cyclist riding near the curb (drifting to the shoulder is common for inattentive drivers).  Taking the lane also helps alleviate your chances of being caught in a right hook when a motorist makes a right turn.

The California Vehicle Code tackles the topic in Section 21202—Position in Traffic. It reads as follows:

(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.

But, just because taking the lane is legal and oftentimes optimal, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. It is as much of a mental act as a physical one, and shouldn’t be done until you are comfortable putting yourself in that situation.

Even then, there are cases when balancing the legality with the reality doesn’t add up to taking the lane. For instance, when vehicular traffic is moving at 45 mph or more, a bicyclist traveling at 20 mph will be seen as a nuisance at best (with the possible accompanying road rage that implies) and an unseen victim at worst.

We live in a car-centric society where infrastructure improvements that would increase bicycling safety are slow in coming. Grassroots, non-profit groups are making great strides, but until cities and governmental agencies get on board in earnest, bicyclists will still be considered second-class citizens. Needed changes include:

  • An increase in the length and number of bike lanes and sharrows.
  • Keeping road shoulders clear of debris and obstacles.
  • Utilizing proper/appropriate signage to warn bicyclists of road conditions and hazards.
  • A better understanding on the part of public safety officers about the vehicle code as it pertains to bicyclists.
  • Public awareness that bicyclists and motorists share the same responsibilities and rights to the road.
  • Motorists adhering to the rules of the road.
  • Bicyclists adhering to the rules of the road.
  • Motorists and bicyclists treating each other with common courtesy.

Just like taking the lane, it’s all about balance and control.

(The law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP is dedicated to protecting the rights of those who have suffered serious injuries on or off the job. Partner Howard Krepack, an avid bicyclist, leads the firm’s bicycle accident practice. For more information about our firm, call us at 213-739-7000 or visit our website: www.geklaw.com.)

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I welcome guest posts, whether you’re a leading bike attorney or just a cyclist with something to say. And whether or not you agree with what I have to say — or vice versa.

So if you’d like to share your thoughts with your fellow cyclists on any bike-related subject, email me at bikinginla at hotmail dot com.

4 comments

  1. Jeffrey Courion says:

    Attorney Howard Krepack is spot on in his “taking the lane” essay. He really understands the cyclist perspective from an experienced and wise viewpoint. We are most fotunate to have Howard… as a fellow rider and effective advocate.

  2. Adam C. Kaletta says:

    Thank you Mr. Howard Krepack for taking such a stand for us fellow cyclist. We need more like you to keep pushing for our safety when we are all out on the road.

    As always ride safe, and ride smart!

  3. prinzrob says:

    Just a reminder that in California the same exceptions apply to when a cyclist can ride outside of a bike lane as well. There are plenty of poorly engineered and substandard bike lanes out there which for safety reasons should basically be ignored. It is better to be in court arguing a ticket than in the hospital!

  4. [...] Krepack: Some Practical (and Legal) Advice to Taking the Lane (Biking In L.A.) [...]

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