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

12:18 PM PST on January 12, 2010

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?

Thechild could have been injured or even killed, and he would have been atfault in the collision. You might be asking, "How could the child be atfault 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.

Section21200(a) of the California Vehicle Code partially reads: "Every personriding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject toall the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by thisdivision."

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

Section 21650.1 states: "A bicycle operated on aroadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the samedirection 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.

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