Tag Archive for unfair law enforcement

Making the law up as they go along — another SoCal cop gets it wrong on sharrows and riding abreast

6-AK-Sharrows

You’re not required to ride to the right when sharrows are present

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.

Uh, no.

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.

As David Salovesh pointed out, the DMV’s own training materials (top of page 17) get it wrong, too.

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.

Does it matter if you’re right when a wrong-headed legal system says you’re not?

A must-read from bike lawyer Bob Mionske on a failed legal case in Mississippi, in which a judge blames a cyclist for the negligence of the driver that hit her — simply because she was riding on the road.

Except it’s not just a problem down South. It’s one we all risk every time we ride.

You can do everything right on the roads, and still get blamed by a cop who thinks he knows the laws that govern bicycling, even though he’s never been trained in it.

Or failed by prosecutors or judges who misinterpret — or sometimes ignore — legal standards in place to protect all road users.

Even bike riders.

Granted, things have improved greatly in Los Angeles under Chief Beck, particularly through the efforts of bike liaison Sgt. David Krumer. We now have a voice within the department we never had before.

Although it’s still far from perfect, as it’s not hard to find officers who have seen or don’t remember the city’s highly praised bike training module.

But leave the city, and you can find yourself subject to sometimes absurd interpretations of the law.

Take last week, when I was threatened by a road-raging driver while riding on the sharrows on Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach.

The cop I flagged down was more than willing to tell the driver who tried to threaten me that I had every right to ride in the traffic lane. And was happy to explain that those little bike pictures on the street mean that’s where I’m supposed to ride, and he was required to share the lane whether he liked it or not.

So far so good.

But then he followed-up by incorrectly telling me that no violation had occurred — even though it’s against the law to threaten anyone with a motor vehicle, or to pass a rider in an unsafe manner. The truth was was that there was simply nothing he could do since he didn’t actually observe the violation.

Then he went on to add that I could have been arrested for following the driver into a public parking garage to take a photo of his license plate.

If that were the case, every paparazzo in North America would be behind bars.

But maybe the first amendment doesn’t apply in Hermosa Beach.

I’ve also gotten word that the CHP says it’s against the law to ride two or more abreast, even though that’s not mentioned anywhere in the vehicle code.

And I get regular reports from cyclists about officers telling them to get out of the traffic lanes we’re legally entitled to, or to ride in the door zone or amid the broken glass and gravel in the gutters in violation of our rights under CVC.

It’s a very sad comment that cyclists often know the law better than those who are charged with enforcing it. Let alone that we have to.

But that’s the world we live in.

If you’re stopped by a cop who doesn’t know the law, don’t argue with him. You’re far better off accepting a ticket you can fight later than ending up in cuffs. You can take it up with his supervisor when you get home. Or take it up with the judge.

And hope you get a better one than the one in Mississippi.

……..

A letter writer says the Time’s recent endorsement of bikes doesn’t reflect reality. This explains why you may be more likely to be run off the road by a jerk in an expensive car; actually, I tend to have more problems with jerks in trucks and muscle cars. Workshops continue for wayfinding signage on future Bike Friendly Streets. Simple observations says more people are riding more in L.A. Gary says high gas prices could drive a further increase in bicycling. Another look at Silver Lake’s Dr. Suess-designed pedestrian plaza. That bike musical we mentioned the other day may be a good one, but not the first after all. Can fashion lead the way for bike advocacy — and am I wrong to be offended when ghost bikes are used to sell clothes? Limited closure of the San Gabriel trail for repaving has been delayed. The Claremont Cyclist gets mistaken for Lance Armstrong.

Streetsblog says it’s round two for the three-foot passing law, similar to the one vetoed by our sadly misguided governor last year. San Diego’s leading bike website will soon extend coverage throughout the county and to all kinds of bicycling. The importance of bike advocacy. A Coronado man plans to ride across the country to call attention to traumatic brain injuries. CHP in El Centro blame a suicidal cyclist for turning into a truck that desperately tried to avoid him; yeah, right. The Coachella Valley plans to spend $80 million for a 54-mile paved pathway for golf carts, e-vehicles and bikes too. A Ventura County mountain biker thanks the people who helped save his life. Four members of Lance Armstrong’s developmental team were injured in a crash at their Santa Ynez training camp. CHP stats for the County of Santa Cruz show cyclists at fault in more collisions than drivers; of course, they’re the ones assigning blame. And I doubt rumbles strip will help. Caltrain proposes assuming responsibility for a free, volunteer bike valet. A Bay Area columnist goes from hating bikes to thinking they’re the future to hating bikes, or at least the people on them. Sacramento cyclists — and unwilling drivers — enjoy the benefits of back-in angled parking.

How to go hard anywhere. Helmet hair is no longer an excuse for not riding. Bikes aren’t the reason for Portland’s transportation problems. Eight years in prison for a repeat drunk driver convicted in the hit-and-run death of a Colorado cyclist. Press reports blame the victim of a fatal collision for riding in the traffic lane rather than on the shoulder, yet fail to mention that bikes are allowed in the lane in all 50 states, and offers no further explanation for why an Atlantic City cop ran him down. New York makes improvements to Prospect Park that actually benefit riders for a change. The New York Times continues the debate over making cities safer for cyclists and pedestrians, including a remarkable claim in the comments from John Forster, the father of Vehicular Cycling, that no one has ever created a safe bike lanes; thanks to Evan G for the heads-up. Selling vintage bikes in Boston. If you’re going to ride against traffic, don’t collide with a cop.

A Canadian study shows cycle tracks and local streets mean fewer injuries for cyclists. A UK letter writer calls cyclist behavior disgusting. A bronze statue is planned for a singer killed while riding her bike in London. Far too many Irish cyclists have been killed or injured on Dublin Streets. A Dutch study says bike helmets offer virtually no benefit in moving collisions; instead of opposing helmet use, why not call for better helmets? Park your bike in the wrong Copenhagen spot, and you may find it moved — albeit very politely. What cyclist wouldn’t want to ride the Chuck Norris bike and pedestrian bridge? Breathtaking bike sculpture from China’s Ai Weiwei. Australian authorities target cyclists in an attempt to reduce trauma on the roads, rather than focus on the ones actually causing it. Brisbane bike couriers are told to stop making small talk with receptionists. A suggestion from Down Under that all car mirrors should have warnings to look out for cyclists to prevent doorings. An Aussie man is ticketed for doing 35 in a school zone — on a bike.

Finally, a pantsless woman was arrested for shoplifting at an OC bike shop, reportedly jamming parts and accessories into her somewhat lacking attire. It’s a wonder any of our bike-riding forebears survived the ‘40s, though they seem to have had a different definition of head-on in those days.

And George Wolfberg forwards a warning that the bees that tried to kill me on the bike path may be bringing in robotic reinforcements.

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