It’s said that ignorance of the law is no excuse.
But what if the ones who appear to be ignorant of the law are the same people charged with enforcing it?
It looks like cyclists in San Diego’s North County may be about to find out.
In a case reminiscent of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s deputy who was captured on video demonstrating his lack of knowledge about sharrows recently, a San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain spoke — or rather, misspoke — on the subject with community members last month.
According to the Coast News,
Sheriff Capt. Robert Haley said sharrows are a great concept but there has been some confusion on the proper way to use them.
Problem is, he’s the one who seems to be confused.
“Some people think it’s a giant bike lane,” he said, adding that, according to the law, cyclists are always supposed to ride as far to the right as possible anytime they are on a roadway, even in a sharrow or bike lane.
Excuse me. Hell no.
Bike riders are not required to ride to the right within a bike lane, which in most cases would put you in the door zone. Or in the gutter.
Instead, bicyclists are legally allowed to ride anywhere between the two lines they feel safest or most comfortable. And a sheriff’s captain should know that.
He should also know that cyclists can leave a bike lane anytime, for any number of reasons. And that they aren’t required to ride in a bike lane unless they’re travelling below the speed of traffic.
Which means that if you’re riding as fast or faster than the cars around you, the requirement to ride to the right doesn’t even apply, and you can ride anywhere in the roadway you damn well please.
And it doesn’t apply at all within a bike lane.
Any officer foolish enough to ticket a cyclist for not riding on the far right of a bike lane can, and should, be laughed out of court.
The same goes for anyone who tries to ticket a bicyclist for riding on sharrows.
Sharrows, or shared lane markings, are intended, among other things, to indicate where a bike rider should position him or herself on a lane that’s too narrow to be safely shared by a bike and a car travelling side-by-side in the same lane.
And that’s the key point.
Sharrows are intended for use on substandard-width lanes, which is generally considered any right-side traffic lane narrower than 14 feet.
Think of it this way.
You take up about three feet on your bike, and need a three foot cushion for an eight-foot wide vehicle to pass you safely.
And that’s if there’s no parking on your right. If there is, add another four to five feet to keep you safely out of the door zone.
Which means that, according to CVC 21202, the requirement to ride as far right as practicable — not as possible, despite what Capt. Haley said — does not apply on any lane less than 14 feet wide, or 18 if it contains parking.
So sharrows not only indicate that the lane is to be shared between bikes and cars, they should serve as an indication to everyone concerned that the requirement to ride to the right does not apply on that street.
Then again, it doesn’t apply on many, if not most, right hand lanes in Southern California, sharrowed or otherwise, where a 14 foot lane would be a luxury.
You’d think those charged with enforcing our laws would get that.
Of course, you’d also think that police, sheriffs and CHP officers would know that there is no requirement to ride single file under California law. In fact, it’s not even mentioned anywhere in the California Vehicle Code.
And one of the basic precepts of English Common Law, which forms the basis of the American legal system, is that anything that isn’t expressly prohibited is therefore legal.
But like Capt. Haley’s, many police agencies — including the CHP and at least some sections of the LA County Sheriff’s Department — frequently misapply CVC 21202 to ticket cyclists who are legally riding side-by-side.
“If a person is riding to the left of someone else, he isn’t as far to the right as possible,” he added.
Haley said he verified the law with Traffic Commissioner Larry Jones, who confirmed that cyclists must ride in a single line while on a street.
As one cyclist I know put it, “I couldn’t ride any further to the right, officer. There was another bike there.”
Except, as pointed out above, CVC 21202 doesn’t apply on substandard lanes.
Which means that bike riders can legally ride side-by-side — or side-by-side-by-side, or more — on any lane that’s less than 14 feet wide, or 18 to 19 feet wide if there’s parking on the right.
And again, that’s virtually every right lane in Los Angeles, and most in Southern California.
Or, as pointed out above, if you’re riding at the speed of traffic. Which means if your double paceline can ride at the speed limit for the roadway you’re riding on, you are perfectly within your rights.
Of course, it’s not just the police that get it wrong.
Bicyclists may ride side-by-side (two abreast) on roadways, but they must ride single file when being overtaken by other vehicles. Bicyclists may only travel more than two abreast on a shoulder, bike lane or bike path intended for bike use if there is sufficient space. However, they must be in single file when passing vehicles, pedestrians, or other bicyclists.
None of which appears in CVC 21202, despite their citation. Or anywhere else in the Vehicle Code, for that matter.
Not the part about being allowed to ride two abreast, or being required to ride single file when passing or being passed.
Which makes you wonder just how they came up with it. And how they justify spreading false information with no basis in the law in an official publication.
But back to our sheriff’s captain from San Diego County.
Haley said cyclists who don’t like the laws can work to get legislation enacted to change them.
Or he, and other police officers, could just try enforcing the laws as they are actually written, rather than misinterpreting and misapplying them to prohibit behaviors they were never meant to address.
Fortunately, Haley says his department doesn’t intend to target riders for violating their misinterpretation of the law.
But anyone who does get a ticket for riding abreast or not riding far enough right — with or without sharrows, in San Diego or anywhere else — should measure the lane they were riding in.
Then get a good lawyer.