Cycling and the Law: Where Does Education Begin?

Today, in honor of bike month on the Streetsblog Network, we hear from a cyclist in Long Beach, California, who was forced into the position of (unsuccessfully) educating a police officer about the right of a bike to ride safely out of the door zone. This via the Long Beach Cyclists blog:

243671612_cef9ee7ae7.jpgWhat’s the law where you are? Photo by tandemracer via Flickr.

Middle of the day. Hardly any traffic and I just got pulled over for not riding on the "right side." I’m no racer but 15mph on 2nd Street isn’t going that much slower than car traffic through there.

I tried to explain to the officer that any closer and I would be in the "door zone." He seemed nonplussed.

I cited the vehicle code and told him that it said I was to ride to the right as "practicable" which is a big difference than "possible",
because it was up to me to determine if there were any hazards. He didn’t seem to care.

I told him that I was riding exactly where the new sharrows would be on 2nd street in a few months. The new wha? I don’t see them now.

I was holding him up. Although I was on the right travel lane and he was on the left and he wanted me to know about it.…

I’m about as law-abiding a cyclist as you can get in Long Beach. I ride in the correct direction of traffic. I don’t ride on the sidewalk. One of the first things I keep trying to advocate for is that we have to educate the enforcement on the laws regarding bicycling. Maybe NOW might be a good time to start.

Given the rising number of commuting and recreational cyclists in New York and elsewhere around the country, and the welter of conflicting laws in different states and municipalities, education of law enforcement (as well as drivers and cyclists) on cyclists’ rights and responsibilities would seem to be an obvious area for police departments to focus on.

But does anyone know of municipalities where this is actually happening in an organized way?

Bonus from bike lawyer Bob Mionske’s "Road Rights" column: a story about an encounter between two cyclists and a cop on a rural Ohio road in which a disagreement about the letter of the law escalated into violence; and a thoughtful response from a cop who is also a cyclist, and who says, "Bike-friendly communities around the county were ‘built on sugar, not
salt,’ as they say in the South. They took time, planning and folks
willing to do the right thing; forcing legislation probably won’t get
us anywhere. You can make a law but if it’s unpopular, enforcing it is
something else, à la prohibition."

  • Another way to look at it is the need for the Feds to take a stronger role in setting national standards for bicycle circulation networks.

    Because of Federal regulations and USDOT standards, the basic rules and practices of driving a car (with a few exceptions) are the same nationwide (you don’t pass on a double yellow; traffic signs are white-on-green; drive on the right). With the bicycle network, the huge range of local standards complicates awareness by cyclists and law enforcement (which side of a one-way street to ride on? required helmet? sidewalk riding? markings for bike routes?). Obviously cycling laws need to be tailored to the local conditions, but basic national standards need to be in place to improve awareness.


  • Huh. Where I grew up (Rochester, NY) I was perfectly within my rights to ride in traffic, especially when making a left turn.

  • PaulCJr

    We as cyclist also need to obey the law too. For instance I was riding down 9th ave in the nice bike lane with bike signals and there were my fellow cyclist blowing through the red bike stop lights. If we’re going to talk the talk, we need to walk the walk. I know its a stupid cliche, but its the truth. We can’t be hypocrites if want to get equal rights on the road. Please my fellow cyclist walk the walk, you only hurt all of us when you don’t.

  • Rhywun

    Absolutely. I imagine the posters here are a little more responsible than the average, but I’d venture to say about 90 percent of the cyclists I see follow their own rules.

  • Ian Turner

    Paul / Rhywun,

    The difference, of course, is that when pedestrians and cyclists disobey the law, innocents are not killed as a consequence. This cannot be said of motorists.

  • I agree with you Ian. Killing someone with my bike would probably take a lot of speed and determination, but we can hurt people none the less and it makes us look bad when we’re pushing our cause and not obeying the law. Like I said in my earlier statement, we should try to move away from Hypocrisy.

  • I agree with you Ian. Killing someone with my bike would probably take a lot of speed and determination. We can hurt people and ourselves none the less when we don’t obey the law and it doesn’t help our cause. Like I said in my earlier posting, we need to move away for the hypocrisy for the better good of all cyclist and getting more cyclist amenities from the city.

  • J. Mork

    Further, traffic laws exist because of and for cars.

    Were there traffic lights at every intersection, before cars?
    No. The traffic lights were put in to make cars usable and to get other users out of their way.

    (I think I should break down and buy a copy of Peter Norton’s _Fighting Traffic_.)

  • Sorry for the double post. I’m not trying to spam. Sometimes the posting system on SB doesn’t post right away and disappears and I end up thinking I lost my posting. Then I only find out later that my posting got lost some where in the shuffle and I end up getting two postings due to me reposting. Sorry about that.

  • Where does education begin? Virginia Beach would be a good start! Daniel Wayne Hersh was killed a few weeks ago when he was hit from behind by a careless driver. Virginia Beach authorites have decided not to file charges against the driver. Would this case would be prosecuted if a motor vehicle were hit from behind, killing its occupants?

    VBF has established the Daniel Wayne Hersh Memorial Fund, to promote bike safety education for motorists and bicyclists — and police.


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