By Nicholas Goldberg, September 29, 2013
Cyclists at the intersection of Bundy Drive and Idaho Avenue in West Los Angeles.
When I ride each weekend from my house to Griffith Park, I tend to
ride, like most bicyclists, on the right side of the street, next to the
parked cars, allowing traffic to pass me on the left. But is that
really what I’m supposed to do, or am I supposed to ride in the middle
of the lane, with cars behind me and in front of me? And if I want to
make a left turn, how am I supposed to get from the right lane to the
left-turn lane -- at what speed and where am I supposed to cross the
rest of the traffic? Sometimes I find that it’s safer and easier to ride
on the sidewalk, where there are no dangerous moving cars and, to be
honest, no pedestrians either. But is that legal?
I’m not a brand-new
bicyclist in Los Angeles. I’ve been riding through the city for at least
three years. But I do so by adhering to a code of my own, made up for
the most part in my own head on the basis of common sense, experience
and fear. There is no DMV for bicyclists, there is no official manual
given out to every new rider that explains the rules, and there is no
test to make sure you’ve learned those rules.
Yet the rules exist. It doesn’t take much work to find at least some
of them online. I should have done it sooner. For instance, the
California Vehicle Code makes it clear that if you’re riding a bike at
the speed of traffic, you may ride in the middle of the lane, but if
you’re riding more slowly, you should ride as close as practicable to
the right-hand curb (except under certain circumstances, such as when
passing another bicycle or preparing to turn left). That’s pretty much
what I do.
Under city law, it is legal
to ride on the sidewalks of Los Angeles as long as one does not do it
with “willful or wanton disregard” of life and property. I don’t ride
willfully or wantonly, so I think I’m OK. If I run into a police
officer, I hope he or she agrees.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation offers a “bicycle services” page at bicyclela.org, including a separate page on the law at bicyclela.org/Law. The California Bicycle Coalition offers similar information here.
And for those who are interested in what laws ought to be passed or
changed, a bunch of suggestions -- some more controversial than others
-- are posted at the blog BikingInLA.
It turns out that my common sense was pretty good, and by and large I
got it right. But I wish the rules were easier to find and that
everyone on a bike knew them. I see too many people going through stop
signs, which I am quite sure is not legal. I see (and share) great
confusion about the rights of bike riders in bike lanes, including how
drivers are supposed to behave when they have to cross bike lanes.
Clarity for all would go a long way toward reducing the number of
accidents in Los Angeles.