If You Want to Know a Bicycle Law, Don’t Ask the California Highway Patrol (Part II)

1_11_10_croswaslk.jpgIf you hit these scofflaws with your car, it’s ok. Photo:CJC4454/Flickr

Another Southern California newspaper has made the mistake of asking a member of the California Highway Patrol about a law regarding cycling.  And as we’ve seen in the past, that means that misinformation has been published, unchallenged, in a local newspaper.

Today’s victim is the Whittier Daily News, who has a local column entitled "ask a cop" where readers ask a member of the CHP a traffic question.  This week, Officer Al Perez, of the Santa Fe Springs Division, tells the touching story of a father and son out on a bicycle ride and the father leaping to his small child’s defense when a motorist crosses into a crosswalk, endangering the son.  I picture myself in that role at some point in the future, although I hope I have the courage to teach my son to bike in the street, even from the start.

However, to Officer Perez, this was an unforgivable offense.  I recommend reading the entire piece of misinformation, but here’s an excerpt to give you an idea of how Officer Perez works:

Can you imagine the grief if the turning vehicle had struck the child on the bicycle?

The
child could have been injured or even killed, and he would have been at
fault in the collision. You might be asking, "How could the child be at
fault if he was in the crosswalk?"

The answer is because the child was a bicyclist, as opposed to a pedestrian.

Bicyclists and pedestrians are two distinctly different things as defined by the California Vehicle Code.

Section
21200(a) of the California Vehicle Code partially reads: "Every person
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."

I added the emphasis on the words "upon a highway" in order
to point out that the California Vehicle Code does not prohibit anyone
from riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, but as soon as the child rode his
bicycle off the sidewalk and into the crosswalk, he entered the highway
and became subject to the rules of the road.

Section 21650.1 states: "A bicycle operated on a
roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same
direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway." 

While Perez’s case may make sense to someone who has no idea about bike laws, you would hope that a member of the State Police would do ten seconds of research before giving bad information to an entire community, further tarnishing the CHP’s tenuous reputation with cyclists for understanding basic laws.

Let’s look at Perez’s two main assertions: that the cyclists had no right to bicycle in a crosswalk and that the cyclist was going the "wrong way" in a crosswalk.

First, it is completely legal to ride a bicycle in a crosswalk.  Section 275 of
the California Vehicle Code clearly states that a crosswalk is an extension of the sidewalk
across the intersection. Thus when Perez says that the child "entered the highway" when he entered the crosswalk, he is as wrong as wrong can be.  By law, the child was still on the sidewalk, thus the local ordinance that allows him to ride on the sidewalk allows him to ride the crosswalk.

Second, now that we’ve established that the cyclist can legally ride in the crosswalk, we can state, as we have in the past, that there is no law requiring that people cross a crosswalk in the same direction as the flow of traffic.

Perez makes a point of showing his concern for the cyclists by typing that he wishes the father followed his version of the law to prevent him from "sprouting a few gray hairs."  Officer, I know I speak for a lot of us when I add that we would have fewer gray hairs if police officers would take the time to learn the law as it applies to cyclists.

Now let’s be clear.  I think sidewalk riding is generally a pretty bad idea, and it would be better for a parent teaching a child to bicycle in the safest way possible, which is on the street.  However, when you’re child still has their training wheels on, it’s pretty scary to think of what could happen if he lost his balance in front of a motorist that is driving too close.

  • further to the Whittier Muni Code comment: It’s interesting to note that Whittier offers those who ride animals the same rights and responsibilities…

    “10.04.020 Bicycles and animals.
    Every person riding a bicycle or riding or driving an animal upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.”

    Does this mean that Officer Al might be doing a series on the many different ways “not” to cross the street. No bikes, no goats…

  • Upon closer examination, it’s legal to ride a bike on the sidewalks of Whittier, except where posted. LA has the same standard, with sidewalk prohibitions posted at locations such as Hollywood Blvd. Venice Beach etc. (I think four total)

    Whittier, like many communities, has many Law Enforcement Authorities covering the community. They have the CHP patrolling Whittier Blvd. (State Highway) they have Sheriff’s (there are unincorporated areas) and they have the Whittier Police. All the more reason to get clear on the law, the enforcement of the law, and the rights of cyclists.

    Confusing, but none of this relieves Officer Al from the burden of his unfortunate misunderstanding of the basic CVC.

  • Greg

    No. No response at all to a phone message and an email.

  • I’ll make some more calls. Maybe send the writer a baufl.org sticker.

  • Pete Kaplana

    I have a simple question.

    Are you saying every person riding a bicycle on a highway, sidewalk or crosswalk has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to a Pedestian and to a driver of a vehicle?

    Or are you saying a cyclist has the same rights as a pedestrian when it’s convenient for the cyclist?

  • The Whittier Daily News is at it again! They quoted a La Habra officer saying that bicyclists must walk our bikes in crosswalks.

    http://www.whittierdailynews.com/ci_14931236?source=rss

    Something tells me we’re in for another unproductive comment flame war. A cop has already made a comment saying that the cyclist who died in La Habra is at fault. I made a short comment referencing the law that directly allows riding bikes in crosswalks and tried to leave out the vitriol I’m feeling at hearing more of this misinformation and prejudgment.

  • Ed

    This is why it is so stupid to be able to legally ride on the sidewalk.

    You are:

    1. Endangering pedestrians of serious injury
    2. Greatly INCREASING the risk of death of a cylcist
    3. Making all of the state laws written assuming it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk be unclear.
    4. If you need to ride on the sidewalk, you should not be riding a bike in the city.

    Your assumptions written in the article are ridiculous, there is no settled law on the mattter. It is completely open to interpretation, and here, the CHP officer is interpreting it, so his opinion has a lot more relevance since he actually enforces the law. Ultimately it would be for the judge to decide, who would ultimately decide on a case by case basis.

  • Ed, Police Chief Beck and his Number 1 Officer Earl Peysinger have issued a memo to clarify to all LAPD that cyclists may ride on the sidewalk and legally in the crosswalk, as is justified by the CVC.

    Damien, I’m sure you have copy of this memo. Could you update this post with that memo.

    Ed, it is not the place of law enforcement officers to interpret the law. That is the job of judges and courts.

  • David Galvan

    My recent experience: I was riding my bike with my wife (and 10 month old son who rode in a child handlebar bike seat on my wife’s bike) in Sherman Oaks, the other day. We were riding east on Hesby (a quiet residential street) and came to the intersection with Kester (a busy street with two lanes in each direction and a central left-hand turn lane). We had a stop sign, the perpendicular traffic on Kester had no sign or signal, so I watched both directions for oncoming traffic, waiting for a time to cross safely. There came a time when it looked clear in both directions, so we started across the wide street. However, a car coming from the opposite direction as us turned right onto Kester (going northbound) from another small street one block down to our right (I think it was Addison). This was new information and meant it was no longer clear, so we slowed to stop in the left-hand-turn lane to let the car pass before continuing to cross. The driver of that car slowed to a stop as well, apparently unsure whether we would be continuing to cross or not. I waved for him on to continue (since we had already stopped our bikes and the road was clear after him), but he frustratedly waved for us to continue crossing while he remained stopped, so we did. After we passed in front of his car, he shouted : “This is not a crosswalk!”. Annoyed, I sarcastically shouted back “Thanks for telling us that.” (We were at this point safely on Hesby.) The driver pulled over briefly and shouted “I’m a cop! That is a child, and this is NOT A CROSSWALK!” (If he was a cop, he was off-duty or something, because he was in plain clothes in a regular sedan, not a cruiser.). He then drove off, leaving me frustratedly yelling something stupid like “Congratulations!” after him.

    Granted I should not have engaged this guy in a shouting match (I was annoyed and felt I was in the right. . . but I shouldn’t have aggravated the situation.) But there are a couple other things at issue here, and I’m curious to hear what people think, because I hope to ride safely in the city in the future (with my son), and I hope to avoid encounters like these. Was crossing the street the way we did legal? (I think so, since we were behaving like cars by cycling on the street.)

    My interpretation of my experience is that we were legal in our actions of cycling across the street and that this guy was wrong in implying that we should only be crossing the street at a crosswalk when on our bikes. We were not pedestrians, we were cyclists.

  • Lkzsha

    If it isn’t the job of law enforcement officers to interpret the law, how on Earth are they expected to enforce it?

  • anwat sadat

    Nice try, but it seems that Officer Perez may be a little more knowledgeable than you give him credit for.  First off, the vehicle code, as well as the California Attorney General, do prohibit bicycles on the sidewalk, as do most municipalities.  In quoting section 21200, it would seem to me one would ask, can I drive a car on the sidewalk?  Can I drive my car north in an east/west crosswalk?  Remember, this section says that a bicyclist is subject to the rules of the road, just like an auto.  Maybe you should drive your car on the sidewalk and see if Officer Perez can write you a ticket for that. 

    Once you leave the sidewalk, you’re in the roadway, not still in the sidewalk as you assert.  Remember, the sidewalk is the portion of the highway set aside for pedestrian travel (CVC 555).   I think you may have a hard time convincing a court that a crosswalk has the same purpose as a sidewalk. To use your own section, CVC 275, but to use the actual words, it says the crosswalk is the portion of the ROADWAY included within the prolongation of the boundry lines of the sidewalks.  It doesn’t say it’s an extention of the sidewalk. 

    Most importantly, maybe you should look at the collision statistics for bicyclist who ride on the sidewalk.   The can be accessed at SWITRS, or I’m sure any one of a number of websites. 

    And finally, if you’re the kind of parent who thinks your child should be on the road or the sidewalk while he is incapable of controlling the bicycle on his own, we can do without you. 

    A little knowledge is a terrible thing. 

  • Anwat Sadat

    You know, I just looked at the photo at the beginning of this diatribe.  There is only one violator pictured.  The adult has commited several violations, however, as we all know, children are not mentally capbable of committing a crime until about 12 years of age (In re. Gladys R.).  However, more importantly, if you’re going to be using the pedestrian crosswalk, it might be a good idea to pay attention to the pedestrian signals.  As the light in the photo is yellow, I can assure you this extremely caring dad did not wait for the walk signal.   And now, his two youngsters are in danger of getting creamed by traffic.  Nice example, dad.

  • A bicycle rider

    From looking at various sections of CA vehicle code, is not really clear that bicycles are or are not allowed on sidewalks or crosswalks. But it is certainly much safer to walk (rather than ride) a bicycle in a crosswalk. A person walking a bicycle is a pedestrian. The CA code seems to say that a person riding a bicycle is a driver.

  • John S.

    Not quite right. Veh C 275 says a crosswalk is part of the roadway. Veh C 555 says that the sidewalk is NOT part of the roadway. What Officer Perez ignored was Veh C 21650(g), which says that the rule requiring vehicle to be driving on the right-hand side of a roadway does NOT prohibit operating a bicycle “along any crosswalk.”

  • John S.

    You need to expand your knowledge to Veh C 21650(g), which specifically allows bicycles to be operated in crosswalks.

  • Jusomeguy

    From the time a pedestrian enters a crosswalk, you must allow them to completely cross the street before entering the crosswalk in your vehicle. I’ve seen so many stings where they do exactly this. A plant pedestrian steps into the street and starts across and cross-traffic on the opposite, with plenty of time to clear the crosswalk before the pedestrian gets to a place where the car will hinder him keeps coming and doesn’t yield as the pedestrian successfully crosses the street. Simple law and I probably piss people off when turning on red lights as pedestrians start across from the other side. I like to think I’m looking out for their safety as well

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