How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Jim Pocrass, Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP

Bikes Have Rights™
By James L. Pocrass, Esq.
Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP 
 
Have you ever been asked a question in which the answer seems so obvious that it seems like a trick question? This happened to me recently. A reporter asked me if it were true that, as he was told by a police officer, that you could be ticketed for riding your bike the wrong way in a crosswalk.

The question flabbergasted me. Since when are crosswalks one-directional? Pedestrians walk in crosswalks in both directions. That’s why there are buttons and/or signals on both sides of the street.

Requiring cyclists to only travel with the flow of traffic would lead to absurd results. You would have to cross two streets to go across the street.

The legislature passed Vehicle Code 21650: A bicycle operated on a roadway or a shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway.

Subsection(g) states: This section does not prohibit the operation of bicycles on any shoulder of a highway, on any sidewalk, on any bicycle path within a highway, or along any crosswalk or bicycle path crossing, where the operation is not otherwise prohibited by this code or local ordinance.

The legislative comments to VC 21650.1 say: That had the Legislature wished to include the term “sidewalk” or “crosswalk” it would have done so.

All of this naturally leads me to opine that for the bicyclist to be in violation of VC 21650.1 (riding the wrong way in traffic), the cyclist would have to be riding in the opposite direction of traffic AND be either a.) on the shoulder of a highway or b.) on a roadway. (Again, assuming there is no local ordinance against riding in a crosswalk.)

Shortly thereafter, I received an email from a woman asking for my help. She was hit by a car while riding her bike across the street in a marked crosswalk. The police claimed the accident was her fault.

The law says it is legal for you to go from the sidewalk – against traffic – and ride into the crosswalk to the other sidewalk.

However, if there is a local ordinance that prohibits riding on the sidewalk, which many cities do, especially in commercial areas, AND the local ordinance specifically states that you may not ride through a crosswalk, then riding in the crosswalk and/or the sidewalk would be illegal. If the local ordinance does not state that you cannot ride on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk, then it is legal.

Vehicle Code 275 defines a crosswalk and does not limit it to pedestrians. Subsection(b) expands crosswalks to include: Any portion of a roadway distinctly indicated for pedestrians crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.

Legally riding on the sidewalk – slowly – and looking before entering a crosswalk for other vehicles, especially those making a right or left turn, and looking for pedestrians, should be legal (again, assuming there is no local ordinance restricting you from riding through a crosswalk).

There is even case law that specifically addresses the issue of riding a bicycle on a sidewalk against traffic. In Spriesterbach v. Holland (Case B-240348) the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four, ruled on April 9, 2013 that: . . .because VC 21650.1 requires a bicycle to travel in the same direction as vehicular traffic only when ridden on “a roadway” or the “shoulder of a highway,” it does not by its plain language require bicycles to travel with the flow of traffic when ridden on the sidewalk.

The court continued: Pursuant to Section 21200, (a) persons riding a bicycle. . .upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division. . .except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application. . .because 21650.1 governs the direction bicycle travel on a roadway or shoulder. . .it does not by its plain language require bicycles to travel with the flow of traffic when ridden on a “Sidewalk.”

Riding fast through a crosswalk and not stopping to look is very dangerous. A cyclist that rides into a crosswalk at 10+ mph does not give the driver of a vehicle that is turning left or right time to see the cyclist.

I suspect that is why the City of Los Angeles passed L.A. Muni Code 56.15(1): No person shall ride, operate or use a bicycle . . .on a sidewalk, bikeway or boardwalk in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. This ordinance gives the police a lot of leeway to determine what is “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

I believe that these topics are good areas for discussion, but legally, I would (and will) argue that, if no local ordinance disallows it, then it is legal to ride in a crosswalk in either direction if it is done safely.

By the way, the answer to the question in the title of this post is that the chicken crossed the road on a bicycle in a crosswalk after stopping and ascertaining that it was safe to ride slowly across the road. But you knew that.

For more than 25 years, Jim Pocrass has represented people who were seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers of America and to Southern California Super Lawyers for the outstanding results he consistently achieves for his clients. Having represented hundreds of cyclists during his career, and Jim’s own interest in cycling, have resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate. He is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310.550.9050 or at [email protected].

*Sponsored post

32 comments

  1. billdsd says:

    I’m pretty sure that CVC 21 prohibits local governments from regulating traffic in crosswalks in any way different than is already specified by the CVC. I can find no provision in the CVC to allow local governments to regulate any traffic in crosswalks.

    On the sidewalk though, CVC 21100(h) does allow them to regulate sidewalk traffic as they see fit, including requiring bicyclists to ride in the same direction as traffic in the nearest lane on the adjacent road. Fountain Valley in Orange County does this (only with major roads IIRC).

    That said, riding with traffic is safer. Riding on the road with traffic is safer still. Riding against nearest road traffic on the sidewalk makes you effectively invisible to people going in and out of driveways or crossing your path at intersections. You’re basically asking to be hit.

    • Jim Pocrass says:

      Thank you for your comments, billdsd. I wholeheartedly agree with you that riding with traffic is always safer, regardless of whether you are riding in the street or on a sidewalk.

      My personal feeling is that riding on the street is safer than riding on the sidewalk, for the reasons you cited, as well as the fact that at least on the street drivers are (we hope. . .sigh) looking for you whereas on the sidewalk, you aren’t even in their stream of consciousness. As we all know, consistent expectations lead to better safety.

      In response to your comment that you can’t find a provision in the California Vehicle Code that allows local municipalities to regulate traffic in crosswalks, it’s there.

      California law defines “sidewalk”as:
      555. “Sidewalk” is that portion of a highway, other than the roadway, set apart by curbs, barriers, markings or other delineation for pedestrian travel.

      California law defines “roadway” as:
      530. A “roadway” is that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic.

      By this definition we know that a sidewalk is not part of the roadway.

      Under California law a crosswalk is considered either an extension of the sidewalk across the roadway or that portion of the roadway marked for pedestrian crossing.

      When a cyclist enters a crosswalk from the sidewalk, it is as if the cyclist is still on the sidewalk.

      In VC 21650, the California legislature state that bicycles can be operated on any shoulder of a highway UNLESS IT IS PROHIBITED by vehicle code or LOCAL ORDINANCE.

      The legislature amended (g) in 2009 to read: “This bill would also permit the operation of any bicycles on any sidewalk. . .or along any crosswalk.”

      Again, this is assuming that there is no local ordinances prohibiting the cyclist from either riding on the sidewalk or riding in the crosswalk. If there are such local ordinances, then these ordinances take priority.

      Hope that clarifies my post.

      • billdsd says:

        Crosswalks are normally in the part of the road ordinarily used for vehicular travel. That makes them part of the roadway (CVC 530), which excludes them entirely from being part of the sidewalk or an extension of the sidewalk.

        I can’t see how local regs on crosswalks don’t violate CVC 21.

        • bikinginla says:

          Yes, crosswalks are in the roadway, but they are on the side street, not the street parallel to the sidewalk.

        • bikinginla says:

          Crosswalks are defined under CVC 275 as a connection between the boundary lines of the sidewalks on either side of the intersection, making them the point where the sidewalk crosses the roadway, rather than part of the roadway as defined under CVC 530.

          While motorists drive over crosswalks, they are ordinarily used for pedestrian, rather than vehicle travel, and so do not fit the definition of roadway under CVC 530, as you suggest.

  2. Gary Gallerie says:

    The law: …bicycle…must be operated in the same direction. It’s clear: On the roadway you must be traveling in the same direction as traffic. A crosswalk is on the roadway.

    • bikinginla says:

      It’s hard to argue that the crosswalk is in the roadway parallel to it, since it’s always to the right of the curb.

      Legally, nothing to the right of the limit line on a highway, or the curb on street, is part of the roadway. The crosswalk is considered an extension of the sidewalk; it is crossing the roadway, it is not part of the roadway.

      Therefore, any argument that a bicycle must be traveling in the same direction as traffic in the crosswalk is a misapplication of the law. It makes no more sense than expecting pedestrians to walk with traffic when they use it.

    • Jim Pocrass says:

      Gary, thank you for your comment.

      In reference to your comment, a cyclist riding on the sidewalk where it is permitted is generally treated as a pedestrian while in a crosswalk. The directional flow of traffic does not matter when the cyclist – or anyone else – is using a crosswalk.

      A crosswalk is, by definition part of the “highway,” per the law, but it is not part of the “roadway.” Let me explain.

      Under California law, the “highway” is defined as:
      360. “Highway” is a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. Highway includes street.

      The law also defines “sidewalk”:
      555. “Sidewalk” is that portion of a highway, other than the roadway, set apart by curbs, barriers, markings or other delineation for pedestrian travel.

      So a sidewalk is part of the highway by definition.

      Now let’s look at California law’s definition of “roadway”:
      530. A “roadway” is that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic.

      By this definition we know that a sidewalk is not part of the roadway.

      So when a cyclist rides off the sidewalk into a crosswalk, the laws applying to the cyclist are generally those that are applicable to a pedestrian.

      Under California law a crosswalk is considered either an extension of the sidewalk across the roadway or that portion of the roadway marked for pedestrian crossing.

      When a cyclist enters a crosswalk from the sidewalk, it is as if the cyclist is still on the sidewalk.

      All of this is assuming that there is no local ordinances prohibiting the cyclist from either riding on the sidewalk or riding in the crosswalk. If there are such local ordinances, then these ordinances take priority.

      In summation, I believe the law states that when a cyclist lawfully enters the crosswalk, the law considers the cyclist a pedestrian and the cyclist has the right of way.

  3. D G Spencer Ludgate says:

    25% of all bicycle accidents are from wrong-way cyclists. 10% of all accidents are wrong-way cyclists versus cars making right turns. (2013 SWITRS Data for City of Los Angeles)

    A police officer does not know if the cyclist was riding on the sidewalk or against traffic when a wrong way cyclist gets hit in a cross walk.

    I am a firm believer that for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians, they belong on the roadway riding with traffic and following all the rules of the road. If you have a driver’s license then this should be second nature.

    • D G Spencer Ludgate says:

      In addition, whereas I do not believe in the “Nanny State”, I believe that police officers should at a minimum issue “Warnings” to wrong-way cyclists. (Tickets could be considered regressive taxation and an unfair burden to many cyclists.)

    • bikinginla says:

      I agree that cyclists are generally safer in the street than on the sidewalk; however, many bike riders don’t feel safe in the roadway and will continue to use the sidewalk, regardless of any arguments to the contrary.

      Even I use sidewalks for short distances at times to get around stretches of road I consider to dangerous to ride, and for which I am unable to find an alternate route.

      I do have to disagree on one point, however. While it is not always obvious, if police investigators can determine the point of impact, it will tell them whether the riders was on the sidewalk or riding against traffic in the street.

  4. Jim Pocrass says:

    Just to be clear, in this post I am talking about the legal issues surrounding a cyclist using a crosswalk.

    I absolutely, unequivocally believe every cyclist should ride in the direction of traffic.

    Riding the wrong way on the roadway is DANGEROUS and ILLEGAL. Riding against traffic on the sidewalk, even if sidewalk riding is permitted, also is DANGEROUS.

  5. Not A Bot says:

    Thanks to Mr. Pocrass for an interesting post and replies.

    I would respectfully ask the counselor, however, to cite his authority for the propositions that “A cyclist riding on the sidewalk where it is permitted is generally treated as a pedestrian while in a crosswalk” or that “When a cyclist lawfully enters the crosswalk, the law considers the cyclist a pedestrian and the cyclist has the right of way.”

    CVC 467(a) expressly excludes bicyclists from the category of “pedestrians” (“A ‘pedestrian’ is a person who is afoot or who is using any of the following: (1) A means of conveyance propelled by human power other than a bicycle…”), and CVC 231 and 21200 make it clear that bicyclists are treated, in general, as drivers of vehicles. This status would not seem to change because the bicycle is within a crosswalk; no one would seriously argue that the driver of a motor vehicle becomes a pedestrian when his vehicle enters a crosswalk, and I think the same is true of bicyclists. (By “bicyclist” I mean a person actually riding a bicycle; a dismounted bicyclist is “afoot,” not “using” the bicycle, has the operating characteristics of a pedestrian, and is no different than a pedestrian walking with a rolling suitcase.)

    If we accept that bicyclists are not pedestrians, CVC 21950 and 21952, requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks or on sidewalks, respectively, would impose no duty on drivers to yield to bicyclists.

    On the contrary, one could argue that the bicyclist must yield: CVC 21804 requires drivers (and because of CVC 21200, bicyclists) to yield to all traffic before entering or crossing a highway. This might not be true in all cases, however, because a bicyclist on a sidewalk (CVC 555) could be said to have already entered the highway, though not to have crossed it.

    If the driver is turning across the crosswalk, CVC 22107 would seem to require some care by the driver (“until such movement can be made with reasonable safety”), but it’s not clear that this would extend to yielding the right of way to the bicyclist.

    At an intersection controlled by a traffic signal, the situation might be a little different, since CVC 21451 requires drivers with a green signal to “yield the right-of-way to other traffic and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk,” and bicyclists would seem to be included within “other traffic.”

    As bicycle facilities are constructed that don’t conform to the usual traffic rules–for example, sidepaths or cycle tracks that put bicyclists to the right of right-turning traffic that cannot merge before turning–the Legislature or the courts will need to address these and other situations, hopefully in ways that give clear guidance to motorists and bicyclists. Right now, it’s too frequently the case that drivers and bicyclists each legitimately (though perhaps incorrectly) expect the other to yield the right of way.

  6. D G Spencer Ludgate says:

    Well, I’ve been taught…

    And feel free to correct…

    When a cyclist dismounts his bicycle and walks the bicycle in either a marked or unmarked crosswalk, he is a pedestrian. He has the wright of way per CVC 21950.

    If a cyclist rides his bicycle in said crosswalk, he has given up his pedestrian rights.

    • bikinginla says:

      That would appear to be one of many areas where the law is unclear.

      There is nothing under California law that requires a bike rider to dismount in order to use a crosswalk, just as I am unaware of anything that clarifies exactly what rights a bike rider has in a crosswalk. However, since a crosswalk is an extension of the sidewalk, it can be presumed that a bike rider has the same rights and responsibilities as when he or she is on the sidewalk.

      As has been noted many times before, traffic laws were not written with bikes in mind.

      • billdsd says:

        I’m still not seeing how a crosswalk is legally an extension of the sidewalk. Where does the law or even the MUTCD or HDM say that? It seems like wishful thinking to me.

        A crosswalk is a pedestrian crossing space in a roadway. It’s still roadway and not sidewalk in any sense.

        • bikinginla says:

          If a crosswalk is not an extension of the sidewalk, why do pedestrians have the right of way? Seems to me if it were legally part of the roadway, motor vehicles would have an unquestioned preference over people crossing the street.

          • billdsd says:

            Pedestrians don’t have right of way when they have a red light/don’t walk signal unless they entered it on green/walk and are still trying to get to the other side. Of course at stop signs and uncontrolled intersections or mid block marked crosswalks with no other control they always have right of way, but they can’t just jump out in front of moving vehicles either.

            It still sounds like it’s what you want to believe and not what the law actually says.

            • bikinginla says:

              No one said anything about jumping out in front of traffic, or disputed the purpose of traffic signals.

              Yet pedestrians still have the right-of-way in both marked and unmarked crosswalks; in the absence of a traffic device, drivers are legally required to stop for pedestrians using a crosswalk. or even standing on the curb waiting to do so.

              It a driver fails to do so, they can be ticketed. If they hit the pedestrian, they are at fault.

            • bikinginla says:

              Actually, now that I’ve had time to look it up, CVC 275(a) defines a crosswalk as:

              “That portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersection where the intersecting roadways meet at approximately right angles, except the prolongation of such lines from an alley across a street.”

              I’d say ” connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersection” makes it pretty clear that a crosswalk is an extension of a sidewalk.

            • billdsd says:

              With most crosswalks, a lot more vehicles tend to travel across them than pedestrians travelling in them. Cars also tend to cover almost all of the area of most crosswalks, excluding those parts protected by medians, which are the exception rather than the rule. They are used for vehicular travel all the time. It’s just not parallel travel most of the time.

              Crosswalks are part of the roadway and not an extension of the sidewalk.

            • bikinginla says:

              Because you say so, Bill?

              Unless you can cite case law to refute what CVC 275(a) says, you would appear to be mistaken.

            • billdsd says:

              Because I understand words in English and I don’t have an agenda against bicyclists riding in crosswalks.

              You’ve got to seriously distort the mean of the words in 275 to come up with the meaning you’re claiming.

            • bikinginla says:

              If you say so, Bill.

              The wording seems pretty clear to me, but as noted below, it is a matter for the courts to decide.

              However, if you want to continue to argue the point, be my guest.

              I’m done.

          • Not A Bot says:

            Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks, under certain circumstances, because CVC 21950, CVC 21451, and CVC 21453 say specifically that they do, not because the crosswalk is a part or extension of the sidewalk.

            Indeed, crosswalk and sidewalk, defined in CVC 275 and CVC 555, are mutually exclusive: a crosswalk is a “portion of a roadway,” and a sidewalk is a “portion of a highway, other than the roadway.”

            None of this, however, affects whether a bicyclist must yield to the driver of another vehicle, or vice versa, because bicyclists are not pedestrians. Bicyclists may sometimes be allowed to travel in a crosswalk, but they don’t gain the rights of a pedestrian by doing so.

            • bikinginla says:

              And this is why we have judges to interpret these things.

              I can see no conflict between CVC 275 and CVC 555; a sidewalk runs next to a roadway while a crosswalk crosses it. By definition a crosswalk must be part of the roadway in order to exist.

              Whether bike riders gain the rights of pedestrians while in the crosswalk is a matter for the courts to decide.

              The law clearly states that bicyclists are allowed to ride “along” a crosswalk, though what along means is subject to debate; some interpret that as meaning you can ride in the crosswalk while others that you must ride next to it.

              The same is true for whether drivers have to yield to bicycles in the crosswalk; some police agencies ticket drivers for failing to yield, while others have ticketed the riders under similar circumstances.

              The LAPD has asked the CA Attorney General’s office for clarification on the issue of bicyclists in the crosswalk, but did not get a response.

              Until someone challenges the law and gets a ruling from at least the appellate level, this topic will continue to be subject to debate here, and in the courts.

  7. Jay Williams says:

    I was taught to dismount and walk while in a crosswalk in order to obtain pedestrian rights and protections.

    While I do ride out in the lane and never on sidewalks this never really applies to me personally, I can see how this could be confusing.

    It seems that logic (and common sense) would dictate that a crosswalk is an extension of the sidewalk. The main clue is the common word that sidewalk and crosswalk share.

    • billdsd says:

      Claiming common sense is not logical justification for anything.

      You think that you have common sense. You use that as an excuse because you have no logical basis to support your pre-conceived notions.

      Sidewalk rules do not apply in crosswalks. If they did, then CVC 21663 would prohibit drivers from driving on them.

      Crosswalks have their own specific rules. They are stated in the CVC, primarily in CVC 21950. Just because you want other rules to apply, that does not mean that they do. Crosswalks are part of the roadway.

      I know of some Class I bike paths with no sidewalk near them that cross roads and they have crosswalks and signal lights to allow bicyclists to cross those roads. Are those extensions of sidewalks that don’t exist?

      • bikinginla says:

        Careful Bill. The rules on here are to say anything you want as long as you show courtesy and respect to other commenters. Your comment about “You think you have common sense” comes very close to being insulting.

        Let’s have a conversation without turning it into a flame war.

        • billdsd says:

          Sorry but when anyone tries to back up their argument by claiming “common sense”, that’s a red flag that they are merely trying to support a bias that was not arrived at through facts and logic.

          “Common sense” is the catch-all excuse of people trapped by their own bias.

  8. Richard Fox says:

    Thanks for the very informative article, James!
    Regarding the issue of sidewalk cycling:

    I wrote the book “enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides” (2014) that describes rides to SoCal’s highlights, mostly on paths or sometimes on low-traffic roadways, appealing to the more casual cyclist like myself. For each ride and area I presented the municipal code section on riding on sidewalks.

    In most areas, I agree that riding on sidewalks is not the preferred bike route, unless it offers a safe alternative to a dangerous stretch of roadway. In my ride descriptions I sometimes offered a sidewalk route as a way to reach an area with restaurants from a bike trail.

    However, it is important to note that not all sidewalks are the same and not all sidewalk riders have the same habits. In the LA/OC region desirable riding sidewalks are uncommon, but there are thankfully plenty of bike trails. In the Coachella Valley where I’ve been spending a lot of time in recent years, the area is mostly devoid of bike trails (hopefully the CV Link will alleviate that someday). There are, thankfully, many miles of fabulous scenic wide landscaped sidewalks with few peds (or bikes) on them, many of which have limited driveway or street crossings. Some have been designated as official bike routes. These are mostly in the gated country club districts of Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells and La Quinta. Outside of Palm Springs, which is by far the most bike friendly city and is nice to ride around, these other cities contain 50-60 mph 6-lane boulevards with bike lanes, and bicyclists are hit and sometimes killed in them far too often. I’m based in that area, and ride 15-20 miles most days, all on the lovely Class I-ish sidewalks adjacent to the scary boulevards, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

    When it comes to sidewalk riding, your safety is more in your own control than when you are riding next to high-speed vehicles that can swerve in an instant and hit you. The key to riding safely on sidewalks, or on Class I trails with road crossings, is to ride defensively. At every crossing of a driveway or an intersection, I make absolutely sure that there is no chance of a vehicle hitting me! If I’m not sure, I’ll wait. An example of an ominous situation is when I am riding on a sidewalk against the direction of traffic, when vehicles are not looking my way when turning right. However pedestrians are in the same boat in those situations. I have never had even a close call with a vehicle while riding hundreds of miles on the sidewalks. In several instances I did realize that a less careful cyclist could have been hit. So, just saying that sidewalk riding is more dangerous than road riding is not true in all instances.

    Of the Coachella Valley cities, several do not mention bikes on sidewalks in their codes, and as such it is allowed. In others, it is disallowed unless the sidewalk is a designated bike route. However officials in all cities have told me that riding on their sidewalks is still “functionally allowed” meaning they will not hassle well behaved sidewalk cyclists, not wanting to piss off the tourists who rent bikes from their resorts, or put children or elderly riders in danger. It has crossed my mind that in those particular cities if I am hit while riding in a crosswalk, it could be considered my fault. It is indeed a grey area. I just won’t let that happen.

    Happy trails and stay safe out there!

    • Jim Pocrass says:

      Richard, Thanks for the comment. You make many excellent points. I will look for a copy of your book. Also, let’s connect on my FB page: Pocrass & De Los Reyes Bicycle Law. I’ll make sure to mention your book on it. Best – Jim

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