Dear Street Smarts,
Q: I am sending you this picture. Two days this week, this fellow rode in the car lane but it isn’t against the law – so I am told. He held traffic up at a busy time. It irks me that this happens. I am also irritated that when I go to Aptos on Freedom, I have to put up with cyclist riding two, three or more abreast on corners, etc. This is dangerous.
Roynsann1 via email
A: In regard to the photo provided, it appears the cyclist is obeying the rules of the road.
There is no bike lane for the rider to slip into. When this happens, the law allows cyclists to take the traffic lane used by motor vehicles. Believe it or not, it’s for his safety, as he is more visible and less likely to be cut off or otherwise struck by a motorist who’s attempting to make a right turn.
If you were to suggest he use the sidewalk, Officer Sarah Jackson, CHP spokesperson, would take issue with that.
“If he were on the sidewalk, he would be in danger of being struck by vehicles entering and exiting parking lots, like the silver car to the right,” she said. “Also, if he is riding in the lane, he is also probably riding at a speed which would be unsafe on the sidewalk considering he would be sharing that area with pedestrians. He does not appear to be impeding traffic, as there is an entire open lane to the left.”
In regard to his behavior on the more rural portion of Freedom Boulevard between Watsonville and Aptos, “he may still ride in the lane as there are no proper bicycle lanes in that area either,” Jackson said of the two-lane, undivided roadway. “However, if traffic begins to build behind him and there is no additional lane to his left – as there is in this photo – the bicycle rider must pull into a turn out and yield to traffic,” she added. “This is no different from the duties of a slower moving vehicle with four wheels.”
Street Smarts also turned to Cory Caletti, RTC transportation planner and bicycle coordinator, for help in answering your question.
Regarding cycling in the traffic lane, she turned to the California Driver Handbook, which states that “If there is no shoulder or bicycle lane and the traffic lane is narrow, ride closer to the center of the lane. This will prevent motorists from passing you when there is not enough room. You should also use the traffic lane when you are traveling at the same speed as the traffic around you. This will keep you out of motorists’ blind spots and reduce conflicts with right-turning traffic.”
As for bike riders traveling two and three abreast, “I do not want to comment without knowing more specifics,” Caletti said. “However, the Street Smarts blog recently stated that ‘when the cyclists are going downhill or traveling on a flat surface, they can reach motor vehicle speeds of around 35-40 mph, so riding side-by-side may be permitted as long as traffic isn’t being impeded.’”