Bicycles allowed on Highway 17?

I was driving southbound Highway 17 one day last week when I saw two bicyclists heading northbound on the highway, just north of Vine Hill Road. “What’s going on here? Bicycles aren’t allowed on Highway 17,” I thought. “That’s illegal.” Not necessarily, said Officer Hugh Holden, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol office in Aptos. “Bicycles are allowed on Highway 17, but it depends on where,” he said. “In the area you saw them, they were legal.” Apparently, there are little nuances in the California Vehicle Code that allow cyclists on some parts of Highway 17, and Highway 1 for that matter, but not on other parts, he said. “The crux of the issue is the difference between a ‘highway’ and ‘freeway,’” Holden said. “We all know there are no pedestrians, bicycles, or motor-driven cycles allowed on a freeway. But, what's the difference (between the two)? The vehicle code defines a ‘highway’ as a way or place, including a street, that’s publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for the purpose of vehicular travel. A ‘freeway’ is defined as a highway to which access has been controlled or restricted. This controlled access (as noted in signs at on and off ramps, and in the lack of cross traffic) is why the speed limit on the freeway is higher than on a highway.” For example, the section of Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz is considered a highway, meaning bicycles are OK on that scenic stretch of asphalt overlooking the Monterey Bay, Holden said. Conversely, the portion of Highway 1 between Santa Cruz  and Watsonville is a freeway, with restrictions that prohibit cyclists from commuting between North and South County, he added. “The only exception to this rule that I'm aware of is a sporting event, like a sanctioned bike race, that gets a permit from Caltrans to use the freeway,” Holden said. “Those permits are very specific, though, and require the event coordinators to have a strict plan, traffic control, escort contingencies, and time frames to minimize the effect to traffic.”
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