The Rules of the Road Are Everyone’s Responsibility

I’ve been trying a little experiment lately as I ride around town on
my bike: doing my level best to follow the letter of the law. I’ve been
inspired by both the carrot and the stick. In the carrot department,
Transportation Alternatives’ new Biking Rules
handbook has made a very nice case for more rule-based cycling in the
city: "the simple principle that our responsibility to others on the
street increases in relation to our potential to cause harm. With
Biking Rules, NYC cyclists are taking the lead to create safer, saner
streets." I would like to be a part of that sanity, even if I think it
would be more appropriate for law enforcement to take the lead by
enforcing the laws that apply to motorists. So I’m giving it a shot. So
far I’ve gotten thanks from two pedestrians for stopping at red lights,
and that felt pretty good.

Officers ride the Hollywood/Vine crosswalk until they defer to the
primacy of the motor vehicle and ride out into the oncoming traffic.
Photo by SoapBoxLA.

the stick department was the $50 ticket I got for riding on a path in
Madison Square Park a couple of months ago. The Parks Department
employee who wrote it didn’t care that there were no pedestrians within
50 yards of me, or that I had chosen to ride through the park rather
than on 23rd Street because of the hazardous mash of traffic conditions
(buses stopped diagonally across the lanes, construction vehicles,
double-parked cars, etc.) that existed there at that minute. She was
just enforcing a rule, and I had to admit that I had broken it. (She
also suggested that I fight the ticket, which seemed just bizarre to
me. I paid it instead.) 

I’ve tried this experiment before, back in the dark ages of the
late ’80s, when I was commuting by bike from Morningside Heights to the
Gramercy Park area. As I recall, Mayor Ed Koch had told the cops to
crack down on cyclists, and tickets were being handed out rather
liberally. I was poor and didn’t want to get one. What I got instead,
as I waited for the light to change one day near Grand Central, was
rear-ended by a taxi that evidently expected me to run the light. I
wasn’t badly hurt, but I did need a new rear wheel, and I’ve been
skeptical of being law-abiding ever since.

As I read the posts from bloggers around the country about cycling and the law,
I’m continually struck by the confusion and misinformation that seems
to prevail almost universally. Today we’re featuring a post from SoapBoxLA that discusses a tragic case in which a woman riding a bicycle was struck and killed in a crosswalk:

LAPD’s Public Information Officer confirmed the report that the LAPD
considered the cyclist the "primary cause" of the incident because she
was riding a bike in a crosswalk which is a violation of CVC 21200
which requires a cyclist to obey the rules of the road. The PIO
explained that a cyclist must either dismount at crosswalks or ride on
the right side of the road with traffic.

I asked if he had ever
ridden the Orange Line Bike Path or the Chandler Bike Path or any of
the City’s bikeways facilities that actually direct cyclists into the
crosswalk at intersections. The PIO paused and then suggested that I
speak to the investigating officer.

I called the LAPD’s
Specialize Collision Investigation Detail (SCID) and spoke to the
investigating officer assigned to this case who also explained that
cyclists must obey the rules of the road which prohibit riding a bike
in the crosswalk. I asked for the actual vehicle code or municipal code
that prohibits cyclists from riding in the crosswalk and he simply
referred to CVC 21200 and repeated the claim that cyclists must
dismount before using a crosswalk.…

I believe we have an
obligation to be accurate in applying the law to this incident and it
is either illegal for a cyclist to ride a bike in a crosswalk or it’s
not. That is a simple issue that can be settled quickly and if the
LAPD’s appraisal of this incident is based on that ruling then it is
very important that we are accurate in applying the law.

contend that it is not illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk. It
might not wise, it might not be advisable, but it is definitely not
illegal. cyclists are not required to dismount at intersections or at

The fact that
there is confusion over such a simple issue demonstrates the real need
for specific training for the LAPD on bicycling activities and
applicable regulations and laws.

Alternatives has the right idea with the Biking Rules initiative. But
in order for a truly law-based cycling culture to emerge in New York or
anywhere else, law enforcement, prosecutors and drivers all have to be
educated as well.The burden of doing things the right way — and
knowing what the right way is — shouldn’t fall primarily on cyclists.

Bonus: Today on Greater Greater Washington,
Stephen Miller writes about the opening of the fabulous Wilson Bridge
active transportation crossing between Virginia and Maryland — and the
baffling lack of bike access to the National Harbor on the Maryland

  • KateNonymous

    So in L.A. it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, but they can’t quite decide about crosswalks? Dumb. It makes no sense to have bike paths that intersect streets if you have to dismount at every crossing. I’ll take my chances, particularly since I’ve never seen anyone else dismount to cross.

  • Joe

    So the motorist doesn’t want cyclists on the streets, LAPD doesn’t want cyclist on the croswalks, Culvery city doesn’t want us in the left hand turn lane, and if there are to many cyclist Santa Monica at the same time, they will give their ANTI-cyclist task force overtime to deal with that threat. Los Angeles is such a friendly place to ride a bike. Oddly enough yesterday on jury duty I was questioned about my cycling affiliations by the Prosecuting attorney. Was sent home after that nice conversation.

  • nobody


    “21200. (a) 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, including, but not limited to, provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, and by Division 10 (commencing with Section 20000), Section 27400, Division 16.7 (commencing with Section 39000), Division 17 (commencing with Section 40000.1), and Division 18 (commencing with Section 42000), except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.

    (b) (1) Any peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 of the Penal Code, operating a bicycle during the course of his or her duties is exempt from the requirements of subdivision (a), except as those requirements relate to driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, if the bicycle is being operated under any of the following circumstances:

    (A) In response to an emergency call.

    (B) While engaged in rescue operations.

    (C) In the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law.

    (2) This subdivision does not relieve a peace officer from the duty to operate a bicycle with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway. ”

    I don’t see how that applies to a bicycle crossing a crosswalk at all (someone could look at the other sections quoted in here, they don’t mention it either). I hope that person fights their ticket.

  • Stats Dude

    Playing the devil’s advocate, but a crosswalk is not a traffic lane.

    Rather than look at it from the bicycle perspective, look at it from a vehicle perspective (bicyclists have rights and responsibilities to driver of a vehicle).

    Is it legal for a driver to drive his vehicle through the length of a crosswalk when the pedestrian light is green or white. If the answer to that question is no, and I suspect that is the case, than a bicyclist can not either.

  • emdash

    “The burden of doing things the right way — and knowing what the right way is — shouldn’t fall primarily on cyclists.”

    I agree completely; however, on a several-times-weekly basis I see cyclists not stopping for stop signs, and recently I’ve seen several cyclists not even stopping for red lights [notably once on Robertson Blvd.], just speeding through without even seeming to slow down or check for cross traffic. So there’s much education still needed on all sides — starting with making the laws clearer, more consistent and much better publicized.

  • emdash, at the risk of killing civil debate please shut up. Just shut up. Every online debate about cyclists getting killed, harassed, wrongfully ticketed, injured or otherwise always includes some jackass comment like yours.

    You’ve seen cyclists run red lights and stop signs. Oh my God! Stop the presses! Your perception means cyclists have a long way to go, blah, blah, blah. Tell me, how many cars have you seen obeying the speed limit? How many deaths and injuries are caused by those crazy bike riders running lights?

    Maybe the next time Damien posts something like this he should include an automatically generated blurb about how terrible a few cyclists are about stop signs (and so by implication all cyclists deserve to be killed, maimed, harassed, ticketed, etc.).

    Sorry for the hate, but I just got done watching Michelle Mowery’s comments regarding the H3 vs. Cyclists incident from a few weeks ago and they were identical to yours.

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