With more and more sharrows showing up on the streets of Long Beach you frequently hear people ask “aren’t bicyclists suppose to ride as close to the curb or edge of the road as possible?”
And the answer to that is yes…except….when there are obstacles or the lane is too narrow for a vehicle and a bicycle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
Below is the California Vehicle code that addresses this issue. The first section of the code is why many people (including some police officers) think that bicyclists are “always” suppose to ride along the edge of the travel lane or roadway. The second section outlines the exception and explains when bicyclists may use the full lane.
21202. (a) 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 except under any of the following situations:
(3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
The key words in section 3 (above) are “to travel safely side by side.” The reason that this is an issue on so many of our streets is that if a bicyclist rides at the outer edge of the travel way where there are parked cars, there is the danger of someone opening a car door and hitting the bicyclist. When this happens the bicyclist not only hits the door, but then frequently falls into the travel lane and into traffic.
Examples of “substandard lane widths” in Long Beach are streets such as 2nd in Belmont Shore, 4th, 10th and parts of Pacific. On each of these streets because there is no room for a bicyclist and a motor vehicle to safely share the lane these, the lanes are by definition considered substandard width lanes.. and thus the reason a bicyclist has the right to use the full lane. The reason we have added sharrows is that the sharrows indicate where the bicyclist should be positioned in the lane to avoid being doored. In addition, by riding near the center of the lane the bicyclist is much more visible to drivers approaching from the side…making it less likely that a driver will either pull in front a bicyclist or hit them as they pull out of a side street or driveway.
The photo below illustrates the correct position for a bicyclist in the lane. Note the open door behind the bicyclists.
By being positioned where they are they avoid any possibility of being hit by the opening door and they are much more visible to drivers pulling out of parking spaces or entering from a side street.
Please let us know if you have any questions.
The Long Beach Bike Team….