Who Can We Turn To When LAPD Doesn’t Know Crosswalk Laws?

Crosswalks.  There are few things in Los Angeles that create such controversy, yet are part of our everyday lives.  In truth, every intersection in Los Angeles is a crosswalk, unless specifically marked otherwise, much to the consternation of the LADOT.  When students are rundown in the crosswalk at USC, planners and engineers take a look at the crosswalk.  When cities try to figure out the safest way to get students to and from school, a big part of the effort is a look at the crosswalks.

Yet, a lot of our city officials still don’t understand crosswalks.  When an intersection has an unacceptable number of crashes, the many LAPD divisions respond by ticketing pedestrians crossing against a flashing hand, even if they get through the intersection before the hand solidifies; while drivers continue to merrily run red lights right in front of them.  In 2007, the LAPD gained notoriety nationwide when they ticketed an 82-year old "cane wielding" woman who couldn’t cross the street in the time the pedestrian signal gave her.  Amazingly, the LAPD closed ranks around "Officer Kelly" claiming he was saving her life.  Who can forget the memorable quote from Kelly’s boss,

"I’d rather not have angry pedestrians," Zaboski said. "But I’d rather have them be alive."

When a group of students tested whether they could cross the street in the time allowed they could, but only if they ran.  Maybe next time Officer Kelly could put down his pad and help the elderly?

And last week the LAPD was back in the news concerning crosswalks, this time showing a lack of understanding of the law, not just a lack of common sense.  A woman riding her bike in a crosswalk is killed by a collision with a car.  The officer on the scene determines the woman is at fault because she was riding on a crosswalk and riding the wrong way, against the flow of traffic.

That would make for sound legal reasoning, except in Los Angeles it is legal to ride on the sidewalk and there is no such thing as crossing the "wrong way" in a crosswalk.  When a local cyclist wrote their Councilman, Greg Smith, he received a response from the Chief of Staff, John Dellinger who wrote about his decades of experience with the LAPD and went on to repeat several falsehoods, including the oft repeated myths that cyclists can’t ride in crosswalks or sidewalks.

At the bottom of his excellent post, "Who Teaches the Teachers," Stephen Box notes that nowhere in federal, state or city law does it state that it is illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk.  In fact, when the LADOT and Metro design bike trails, such as the Orange Line Bike Path, they actually require people to cross the street at crosswalks at various locations.  Yet neither the officers at the scene nor the City Council Office, with its decades of experience as a police officer, seemed to know this.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find out what exactly the LAPD is teaching its beat officers about crosswalks.  When directed by the City Council to discuss their training, the LAPD discusses their training of pedestrians and cyclists.  When the LADOT is asked about their outreach efforts and why they can’t get the message across they actually take credit for other state’s far more succesful programs, claiming they crib their writing, even while the LAPD continues to add to their laughable track record.

  • Honestly, what would be so bad about the LAPD just telling us (the public) what they teach their officers about traffic law enforcement? If they don’t teach them much of anything, then let us know and we can help find resources to get your officers trained. There are enough advocates for bicyclist and pedestrian safety that this shouldn’t be that difficult.

  • I despise idiots who ride bicycles and don;t know what the heck they are talking about. Stephen Box notes that nowhere in federal, state or city law does it state that it is illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk.

    Let’s do a “Fact Check” on this blowhard / BS’er and see what falls out. Let’s see what is in the California Vehicle Code (CVC), too!

    Since I was in elementary school, in North Hollywood, we were always taught to ride in the street and to the far right as would be safe. Sidewalks and cross walks were reserved for pedestrian traffic. Simply stated, pursuant to CVC 21200(a) since cars are not permitted to be driven along the sidewalk, well I don’t think bicycles are either.

    Laws Applicable to Bicycle Use
    CVC 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.

    Operation on Roadway
    CVC 21202(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

    (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

    (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

    (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

    (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

    (b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

    Amended Sec. 4, Ch. 674, Stats. 1996. Effective January 1, 1997.

  • And I despise people who profess to know the law, yet still get it wrong.

    From the LA Bikeway Guide published by LADOT:
    Sidewalk Riding (LAMC 56.15) Prohibits the riding of bicycles (or other human powered devices) on sidewalks (bikeways or boardwalks) with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. Disallows the riding of bicycles on Ocean Front Walk in Venice.

    Clearly, riding on sidewalks is legal in Los Angeles, as long as it is not done in a manner that endangers others. Inherent in the right to ride on the sidewalk is the ability to access the sidewalk on the next block — which pretty much requires using the crosswalk, unless you want to make the situation exponentially more dangerous by forcing riders to swerve into the street at every intersection.

    Sidewalks may be among the most dangerous places a cyclist can ride, but it is fully legal in Los Angeles. And unless someone can cite a specific law forbidding it, it can be assumed that riding in the crosswalk is legal, as well.

  • Brent

    Keep in mind that the LAMC has nothing to say about crosswalk riding. As such the CVC would probably control, and make it illegal. (Santa Clarita looked at this issue this year; it recommended that sidewalk be permitted, and expressly prevented crosswalk riding.) Too, the Orange Line bike path layout is no help. If I recall correctly, the signage indicates that the path ends and begins on either side of an intersection. This has the perverse effect of requiring that riders dismount and walk at each point.

  • M

    Wait, does the law say anything explicit about cars driving through crosswalks while driving through the streets? If not, does that mean car drivers should get out of their cars and push them through each intersections?

  • This gets a little convoluted, and my copy of Bicycling and the Law is at home, but essentially a crosswalk as I have read it to be explained is for all intents and purposes of the law meant to function as an extension of the sidewalk as far as the law would be concerned. Which would seem to make it if sidewalk riding is legal so too would riding in the crosswalk, again as long as it did not fall within “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. Although all the cycling activists I know, Stephen Box included, are strong advocates of bikes belong in the street. What Stephen is trying to get at is do the cops really know the law, and from my interactions with police, including receiving a bogus ticket which I had thrown out, I would hardly be surprised if the police were entirely wrong.

  • How about cars that stop beyond the crosswalk, forcing pedestrians to walk extremely close to the oncoming traffic, or the cars that sit in the middle of the intersection waiting to turn left, barely missing the walkers in the crosswalk.

    I don’t know about you, but I see this all the time.

    Have tickets ever been issued for this?

  • Brent


    It’s more a right-of-way issue. The road is for cars. Pedestrians, however, have the right-of-way within crosswalks.

    The same right-of-way rules apply to sidewalks, which cars regularly cross when entering driveways and the like. The odd (or funny) thing about the law, however, is that it seems to say that cars can drive on the sidewalk (absent any municipal code on the subject):

    “21952. The driver of any motor vehicle, prior to driving over or upon any sidewalk, shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian approaching thereon.”

    Obviously, these laws are sub-optimal for the complete streets ideal.

  • I recently sat at a light riding tandem with my girlfriend. A driver who overshot the cross walk and was sitting entirely across the whole thing, backs up to let some people walking actually walk in the cross walk, then after getting to appropriate space, inches right back up into sitting in crosswalk with nose at second line again, antsy for that chance to go. I see this all the time.

    I also at some intersections which are difficult to cross because of rights of way, do walk my bike across a cross walk, only to be nearly hit just trying to walk half the time. I carry my bike on the side of my body closest the oncoming traffic as a last defense body shield. And this is in Santa Monica, which is a lot more bike and walking friendly than most parts of LA.

  • Well excuuuuuse the Hell out of me and no, I “didn’t get it wrong.” I’m only 2800 miles away, outside of DC and am working from memory. Unless things have changed, the State’s Vehicle Code overrides the Los Angeles Municipal Code. I also said, Since I was in elementary school, in North Hollywood, we were always taught to ride in the street and to the far right as would be safe. Sidewalks and cross walks were reserved for pedestrian traffic.

    I’d cite the person under the CVC and the LAMC (assuming it is in the city of Los Angeles) and let them argue their defense in court of law.

    You don’t have to be an AI to obey the bike rules. Doesn’t elemetary schools teach bike safety anymore? Don’t they still license bicycles in the City of Los Angeles? What the heck happens to the revenue that is generated from these taxes?

    bikinginla Sez-

    And I despise people who profess to know the law, yet still get it wrong.

    From the LA Bikeway Guide published by LADOT:
    Sidewalk Riding (LAMC 56.15) Prohibits the riding of bicycles (or other human powered devices) on sidewalks (bikeways or boardwalks) with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. Disallows the riding of bicycles on Ocean Front Walk in Venice.

  • Brent

    @Steven M.

    CVC vs. LAMC: I believe it’s the other way around — you might Google CVC 21100, which states pretty clearly that municipalities can override its provisions with respect to bicycles (and a few other issues).

    LAMC 56.15 isn’t perfectly written — I’d rather it say, “Bicycles are permitted on sidewalks, except when operated with a willful or wanton manner …” — but it does, in fact, allow bicycles on sidewalks in the City of L.A. That point is generally agreed on by those who have reviewed the law.

  • First off, I agree that it is generally a terrible idea to ride on the sidewalk. There may be specific times, in specific areas that it makes sense, but all in all it’s bad ju-ju.

    but it does, in fact, allow bicycles on sidewalks in the City of L.A. That point is generally agreed on by those who have reviewed the law.

    Including the Los Angeles City Council, who is debating some minor clarification changes to the law at their Wednesday Transportation Committee Meeting.

  • J

    What is funny is when the subject came up about the woman that got kill by the DWP truck, this crosswalk law confusion was the basis of why the accident was all her fault. If seems accidents like this only get paid attention to only if the cyclist was not at fault at all. How about we think about preventing some deaths.

    So from all this I Know,
    A) The dwp does not know how to look both ways.
    b) There is one less cyclist in Lake Balboa
    C) The cops do not know the laws anymore then I do
    D) DONT RIDE ON THE DAMN SIDEWALK!!!! It’s dangerous…

  • Linda

    About the woman that got kill by the DWP truck, there were 3 eye witnesses.

    It is not fair to assume that the driver of the truck did not look both ways.

    She came out from behind a wall while he was looking left and was too close to the truck for him to see by the time he looked right. The truck was large, she was small and she was going fast. She was not able to stop when she saw the truck. She spun out of control and slid under the truck. You were not there. *Everyone who saw it happen said that driver was not at fault.*

  • Ladies & Gentlemen,

    Proving my point, which was tht there is a great deal of misunderstanding of sidewalks, crosswalks and the law, comes STEVEN M, all the way from the East Coast to flog us with his memory of vehicular law as he remembers it from the glory days of elementary school.

    California’s Uniformity Code, CVC 21, might be a great place to start any discussion of legal restrictions on cyclists and the use of public highway.

    But for STEVEN M, I suggest he read my original post and then begin the name calling. I gladly take credit and responsibility for my words, I just ask that one read them first, then proceed with the squealing.

    As for the use of sidewalks by cyclists, I’m not advocating for sidewalk riding but simply believe that when the LAPD referred to the cyclist as “at fault because she failed to dismount at the crosswalk” they erred.

    I believe that the specialists from the LAPD’s investigative unit are held to a higher standard than the amateur “blowhards and B/Sers” posting on a blog, even those from Virginia, and that is the point I think we should focus on.

  • Dave

    Everyone, the police enforce the law. They do NOT: interpret or create laws. See your city, state or federal representatives for law changes. If you get caught riding on the sidewalk in L.A. You will get a ticket and you can argue with the judge, but your problem is with the lawmakers and interpreters (judges).

  • Dave,

    Good point. The problem is this, it’s not against the law to ride a bike on the sidewalks of LA so what law would the LAPD be enforcing? Are they free to make things up?

  • markbaker



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