Update: Cyclist gets double smackdown crossing PCH — seriously injured by car, then blamed by police

First he gets run down by a car on PCH.

Then he gets smacked down once more by the LAPD.

According to Pacific Palisades Patch, a bicyclist was riding his bike in the crosswalk across Pacific Coast Highway at Temescal Canyon Road at 7:51 am on Tuesday, October 30th when he was hit by a car heading north on PCH.

The rider, identified only a 30-year old white male, suffered severe injuries, including broken legs and lacerations to his arms and chest.

Then, Patch reports, police blamed him for the collision simply because he was riding in the crosswalk.

(Officer) Johnson said the accident report has the bicyclist listed as the cause of the accident.

“Bicyclists can’t ride in the crosswalk,” he said. “You have to walk it. As soon as you start pedeling (sic) you’re basically considered a vehicle and have to consider the rules of the road.”

Never mind that in order for the collision to occur the way it’s described, someone had to run the red light. Either the cyclist was crossing against the light — which would seem unlikely, given the heavy traffic on PCH at that hour — or the car that hit him ran it.

Either way, that would seem to be a more immediate — and important — cause of the collision than the simple presence of the rider in the crosswalk.

And never mind that the explanation given by Officer Johnson would appear to be in direct contradiction to state law.

According to California law, bikes are allowed to use crosswalks, which are legally considered an extension of the sidewalk. So if it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk — which the City of Los Angeles allows — it’s also legal to ride your bike in the crosswalk.

Sort of.

In a failed attempt to clarify the law, the state legislature recently amended the law to say that cyclists can ride along a crosswalk. Yet failed to clarify what exactly that means.

After all, you can ride along a pathway or along a river, with very different meanings. One puts you on it, the other next to it.

So depending on who is interpreting the law, and how, you can either ride on the crosswalk or alongside it.

Thanks for the clarification, guys.

Then there’s the question of which way you can ride on the crosswalk. And that’s where it really gets complicated.

According to the LAPD, after consulting with the City Attorney, they’ve come to the following, extremely convoluted, interpretation of the law.

As we discussed, cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk in Los Angeles. And since sidewalks don’t have any direction, bike riders can legally ride either way — as long as they remain on the sidewalk.

But in what appears to be a gross misinterpretation of the law, the LAPD says as soon as a bike enters the street, it becomes a vehicle. Even if it’s just crossing the street. And regardless of whether it’s in — or next to — the crosswalk.

And since it’s a vehicle, it then has to be ridden in the direction of traffic.

Even though pedestrians are allowed to use the crosswalk going in either direction. And even though state law says absolutely nothing about direction in allowing bikes to ride along the crosswalk.

That would appear to be the actual violation the police were referring to in this case, rather than riding in the crosswalk.

And there is nothing — absolutely nothing — that I am aware of in state law that says riders must dismount and walk their bikes across the street.

In fact, that would appear to be another violation of state law, which assigns bike riders all the rights and responsibilities of other vehicle users. I am unaware of any requirement that drivers have to get out of their cars and push them across the street before being allowed to get back inside and drive off.

Which brings up the other problem with this collision.

This intersection is a popular route for riders leaving the beachfront bike path along Will Rogers State Beach, whether to ride up Temescal Canyon or cross to the other side of PCH to continue on towards Malibu.

But there is no way for cyclists to trigger the green light at this intersection. The signal detectors embedded in the pavement don’t recognize bikes, and there is no push button for bikes or pedestrians headed east across PCH.

During busy summer months, that’s usually not a problem. Cars leave the parking lot on a regular basis, triggering the light and allowing riders to cross with the light.

But this time of year, you can wait hours for a car to come by and trigger the signal.

So the workaround many riders use — myself included — is to ride over to the north side of the intersection, push the signal button at the crosswalk, then ride across the street on or next to the crosswalk.

Which is probably exactly what the victim was doing that morning when he was hit by a Subaru. And which is now illegal, according to the LAPD.

So first this cyclist was victimized by bad roadway design, which robbed him of his right to ride like any other vehicle, and forced him to use the crosswalk.

Yes, state law does require signal detectors that recognize the presence of bikes, but only when the intersection is repaved or rebuilt in some other way. And just like drivers, cyclists are legally allowed to cross against the red light if it fails to change for several cycles.

Although you might have a hard time explaining that to a cop. And it would be a foolish thing to attempt at rush hour on a busy, high-speed highway like PCH.

Then he was hit by car, which may or may not have run the red light.

And finally, if the article is correct, he appears to have been victimized a third time. This time by the LAPD, with what looks like a highly flawed interpretation of the law.

He may or may not have been at fault.

But he certainly wasn’t at fault for the reason given.

Update: Now it makes more sense. 

It turns out that the Patch story misplaced the location of the collision, according to the LAPD’s new bike liaison for the West Traffic Division, Sgt. Christopher Kunz, in response to an email from Colin Bogart, Education Director for the LACBC.

Rather than the intersection of PCH and Temescal Canyon, the collision actually occurred about 1700 feet north at the crosswalk leading from the parking lot to the trailer park

And rather than being cited for riding in the crosswalk, the primary factor leading to the collision was a violation of CVC 21804(a), entering a highway without yielding to oncoming traffic. Sgt. Kunz says independent witnesses reported the victim rode across PCH at a high rate of speed, in an apparent attempt to beat oncoming traffic.

And failed. 

So while the intersection of PCH and Temescal remains a difficult and dangerous place for cyclists to cross, and the department’s current interpretation of crosswalk law would seem to leave a lot to be desired, neither one had anything to do with this collision. 

Instead it appears to be a case of bad judgement. A rider taking a chance he shouldn’t have taken.

And a news report that only told part of the story.

10 comments

  1. Eric B says:

    Those detectors actually do pick up bikes reasonably well if you line up with the edge of the loop. (Sorry, carbon wheels don’t work.) Just a quick stencil on the right spot and a longer light cycle would go a long way there.

    • bikinginla says:

      Must be exactly the right spot. I’ve never been able to get them to work for me.

    • Eric W says:

      The sweet spot for many City of LA detectors would be at the 9 o’clock and 6 o’clock positions as seen from the approaching cyclists point of view. I’m better able to trigger these with the rear wheel after bringing the metal mass of the hub over the big black tar circle cut into the road.

      Does seem to work pretty well with steel or aluminum wheels (esp if your name is Eric :)

      Then again, occasionally the lights never go, and you pretty much have to make a box turn to turn left. Which is in short: go thru the intersection with the car traffic, stop at the far side on the right, circle around so you’re lined up with the thru traffic now going in the direction you intend to go…easy once you get the concept ( which is clearer with a picture, sorry)

  2. […] Read this article: Cyclist gets double smackdown crossing PCH — seriously injured … […]

  3. JD says:

    Maybe they should pass a law making it illegal to push the crossing button more than once. That would give the police something worthwile to do.

  4. patrick says:

    That’s very interesting as last month I was crossing Western at 8th street on my bike with a green light and was almost taken out by a bike riding LAPD officer who both ran the light and was riding in the crosswalk. His partner at least stopped for the light to change before riding his bike in the crosswalk. Needless to say, asking him to set a better example, was not well received.

  5. Joe B says:

    “…the LAPD says as soon as a bike enters the street, it becomes a vehicle.”

    Is that the actual wording used by LAPD? Because it’s wrong.

    Bikes are NOT EVER vehicles according to CA law. This is a common mistake, and it’s an important distinction.

    21200(a) says that a cyclist “has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division…”(which is division 11) and division 10, section 27400, division 16.7, 17, and 18 (except those parts by their nature inapplicable to bikes).

    That means that we’re subject to the rules applicable to drivers in six, out of thirty, divisions of the CVC. It doesn’t mean that we’re subject to the rest of it, or that we’re subject to any other part of the law applicable to vehicles, and it doesn’t mean that our bikes “become” vehicles.

    Anyways, if Officer Johnson can’t identify the specific section of divisions 10, 11, 16.7, 17, or 18 that he claims was violated, then maybe we should ask his superior, or maybe one of our new bicycle liaisons can clarify which section of the law was violated.

  6. Jim Baross says:

    We, CABO, helped get the bike use of crosswalks clarified, bit still need to clarifyy the bicyclosts responsibilities for yielding at leaving a sidewalk.
    And, cops dont get enough accurate training about bicycling rights and responsibilities.
    Thanks for posting this.

  7. wes oishi says:

    If we as cyclists are confused on crosswalk talk, then it’s a stretch to think non-riders would know (or care).

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