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Category Archives: Who You Callin’ Scofflaw?

Who You Callin’ Scofflaw? Sidewalk Cyclist

“Get on the sidewalk!” I don’t think there’s anyone who has ridden a bike on a city street or country road that hasn’t heard this one before. Most of the time the harasser is out of earshot if you yell back, “I have a right to the road.” And in all states in the US you do have the right to ride in the roadway just like vehicles with few exceptions, namely controlled-access highways, also known as freeways, interstates or motorways.

Of course, if you ride on the sidewalk, you’re just as likely get scolded with “Get OFF the sidewalk!” by people walking there, feeding yet again into the scofflaw cyclist image. You can’t win.

Claim: Scofflaw cyclists ride on sidewalks!

Whether it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk is not so clear. Most states, including California, Texas and New York, leave the decision to local jurisdictions. In San Francisco, it’s illegal for adults everywhere with a few notable exceptions. In my home city of Mountain View, it’s illegal for adults only in business districts. And in San Jose, it’s legal everywhere for all ages. So this man riding on the sidewalk in downtown San Jose is riding legally.

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To those who are ready to scroll down to the comment section and give me a keyboardful about the dangers of sidewalk cycling: please wait. Yes, bicycling on the sidewalk can be dangerous, both for the person on the bike and for people walking or standing on the sidewalk. But much of the danger comes with speed.

Drivers are looking for people moving at walking speed, not faster than running speeds. (That’s one reason why young children are usually allowed to bike on sidewalks) Ditto for people walking along the sidewalk or stepping out of buildings. Let’s hope our sidewalk-cycling guy only rides this close to storefronts that are boarded up.

Why do people ride on the sidewalk? Sometimes it’s for convenience or out of habit, but much of the time it’s because the sidewalk feels safer than the roadway. This man was riding along Santa Clara Street, which has four lanes of car traffic and parked cars on either side. I ride it occasionally, but it’s very stressful. There’s a bike lane on a parallel street 1/0 of a mile away, but the one-way streets leading there don’t have bike lanes either.

Assessment: The sidewalk-biking guy is not a scofflaw; he’s riding legally even if arguably unsafely.

As someone who has the choice to ride a bike or drive a car, I’m not going to judge people who may not have that choice. He was riding slowly and I saw him give a woman ample room when he passed. Besides, there are several places I ride on the sidewalk in San Jose. With roads like the one below, can you really blame me?

Have you been called a scofflaw for riding on a sidewalk? Were you riding legally? Are you sure?

riding-on-sidewalk

The City of San Jose is hosting a public meeting on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 6pm at City Hall that includes discussion of a ban on sidewalk riding. If you live or work in San Jose, I encourage you to attend. All I ask is that you consider the needs of everyone who rides a bicycle, not just those with the skill, speed and courage to ride comfortably on any road, or the option to hop in the car where the roads are unforgiving.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in Who You Callin' Scofflaw?

 

Who You Callin’ Scofflaw? Middle of the Road

The other day I learned that one of my neighbors works in downtown San Jose and often sees me riding my bike to work. As we chatted, my mind quickly traced where he likely sees me on my bike. More precisely, could he have seen me rolling through a stop sign, riding on a sidewalk, or otherwise being a “scofflaw cyclist?”

I fully admit that when there’s no one else around I don’t fully stop for stop signs and that’s illegal. But I’ve come to realize that there are many perfectly legal things people do when they’re riding bikes that “give cyclists a bad name.” Many people, including “avid cyclists” and law enforcement, don’t know the laws. So I’m launching “Who You Callin’ Scofflaw,” a series to test your knowledge and foster a lively, but civil, bicycle discussion.

Running Red Light

Disclaimer: These situations are based on California Vehicle Code. Roadway laws in your area may be different.

Claim: Scofflaw cyclists ride in the middle of the road!

Ask the average person and they’ll tell you that bikes must stay as far to the right as possible on the road. In any news story concerning bikes, there will be someone angrily citing CVC 20212, which begins “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.”

middle-of-lane-door-zone1

What the finger-waggers fail to mention is the long list of exceptions to the code which include (1) if you’re riding the normal speed of traffic; (2) if you’re overtaking someone; (3) if you’re turning left or right at an intersection or driveway; (4) avoiding obstacles; or (5) if the lane is too narrow to safely ride a bike alongside a motor vehicle.

In this case, the lane is too narrow for a vehicle and bike to share safely (exception 5). The guy in the green jacket needs to stay at least 3 feet from the parked cars to avoid being hit by opening doors. He and his bike are about 3 feet wide. Drivers need a minimum of a 3 foot buffer to pass in car that’s up to 8 feet wide. Add it up and you need a 17 foot lane if there are parked cars (14 feet otherwise). This lane is not 17 feet wide.

Assessment: The guy in the green jacket is not a scofflaw; he’s riding safely and legally.

Have you been called a scofflaw for taking the lane like this guy? If so, by whom? Is it legal where you live?

 
 
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