We live in somewhat of a bicycle utopia in San Francisco, as we have lots of riders and many cross-town lanes dedicated to just cycling. We are a fitness-focused city and use alternate forms of transportation often: we walk, ride a myriad of things, use public transportation, and yes, some still drive cars.
As a result, there seems to have been an increase in bicycle and vehicular (including police car) encounters with pedestrians. Whether they are collisions or some sort of road-rage exchange, these incidents are increasing. I thought I would spend a little time explaining the law to all sides. Hopefully this will encourage a little more patience, especially on the side of those walking or biking because, versus a car, you could be dead (literally) right if you insist on forcing the right-of-way issue.
Driving in California is a privilege, not a right. You earn the privilege to drive and must continually demonstrate proficiency through renewal and testing. At the time of issuance you are “voluntarily” fingerprinted and even agree to be tested for driving under the influence when stopped by a law enforcement officer.
There are no such tests to ride a bicycle or walk, so it must be a right, correct? Maybe not, as there are lots of California Vehicle Code (CVC) sections and local ordinances that apply to both. Under CVC 21200, bicyclists have “all the rights and are subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle” including but not limited to “provisions concerning driving under the influence.” It says more, but the main point is that they must follow all the driving rules of the road.
Under CVC 21201, all bicycle riders operating in darkness shall be equipped with all of the following: a forward facing light that can be seen from a distance of 300 feet to the front and side of the bike; a red reflector in the rear that can be seen from a distance of 500 feet; a white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle that is visible from the front and rear at a distance of 200 feet; and, a white or yellow reflector on each side, both forward and to the rear, of the center of the bike (or reflectorized tires). That is a lot of lighting!
And under CVC 21950, vehicles (including bicycles) must yield to any pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. This section does not relieve the pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to pose an immediate hazard.
There are lots of laws created to provide for public safety and maintain some sort of order while driving, walking and riding. With this article I want to encourage everyone to become more familiar with the laws and to exercise good judgment. Leave a little earlier to get to your destination on time without rushing. Let the other guy go first. Take your turn. Come to a full and complete stop. Don’t assume the other guy will do the right thing. Look both ways before you step off the curb. Don’t speed up for the yellow light. Use hands-free devices with your phone (on your bike, too). Have all the proper lighting equipment at night.
Most important, what we do not practice enough is common courtesy. We have very few virtues when we have little patience.