Dear Street Smarts,
Q: Are motorists supposed to treat cyclists and pedestrians the same way when approaching a crosswalk?
I observed cyclists at a crosswalk yelling at motorists to stop because they were attempting to cross the street on bikes. Some were walking their cruiser bikes, too, so these weren’t a pack of serious riders.
Mark Leitch, an avid cyclist, via email
A: Street Smarts polled local police officials for their take on this scenario you describe. The short answer is that the motorist should have yielded to the cyclists in the crosswalk. Here’s their long answer:
Sgt: Matt Eller, Capitola: “First and foremost, bicycles must follow the rules of the road like cars. If they are in a crosswalk, they must be on foot and follow the same rules as pedestrians. Cyclists riding in the crosswalk is illegal because if people are on their bicycles, they need to follow car rules. A lot of times cyclists think thay are something different than a vehicle or pedestrian, and they’re not. The rules of the road are the rules of the road.”
Capt. Steve Clark, Santa Cruz: “Bicyclists are to operate just like cars. So, technically, they should be walking their bicycles if in a crosswalk. Cars would be obliged to yield to pedestrians lawfully in the crosswalk. The key is ‘lawfully.’ There are some misconceptions resulting in exploitations of a pedestrian’s ‘right of way.’ We see this play out most commonly downtown where pedestrians perceive their ‘right of way’ as carte blanche to walk out into traffic without regard for the vehicles in the roadway. Just sit at an intersection like Pacific Avenue and Lincoln Street to Soquel Avenue and you can watch this play out everyday.
Pedestrians have an obligation to not become a hazard in the roadway, and not simply start out into traffic. They must wait until the roadway is clear and then establish their right to be in the roadway. Once they have done this, they have established their right of way, and all other approaching cars must yield to them.”
Lt. John Hohmann, Scotts Valley: “Crosswalks are for pedestrians only, which does not include bicyclists. So, my opinion does not really matter. The California Vehicle Code, which pertains to the streets and highways, is what law enforcement follows and covers the entire area from one sidewalk to the other and everything in between.
As far as whether motorists must stop for them is a different matter. Depending on the type of intersection, controlled by stop sign, signal lights, or uncontrolled, motorists must yield to pedestrians lawfully in a (marked or unmarked) crosswalk and all vehicles approaching from a differen roadway when turning from an intersecting street.
Bicyclists must follow the rules of the road applicable to the driver of a vehicle unless a city adopts an ordinance allowing bicycles on sidewalks. Bicyclists must also ride in the same direction as a vehicle when on the roadway.
So to answer your question, motorists should stop for bicyclists in the crosswalk if they see them. Most of the time, an accident occurs because the motorist did not see the bicyclist until it was too late because the bicyclist should not have been in the crosswalk to begin with and usually come off the sidewalk where the line of sight is limited.
In the case where you had mounted and unmounted cyclists, the motorists should have yielded.”