Riding a Bicycle on a Sidewalk and Against the Flow of Traffic Does Not Violate California Vehicle Code

Biking on Sidewalk Law in Los Angeles

When a bicyclist is injured while riding a bicycle against the flow of the traffic on a sidewalk or a crosswalk, defendant will likely attempt to skirt liability by claiming that the bicyclist was negligent because he violated California Vehicle Code Section 21650.1.

Specifically, section 21650.1 states:

“A bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway.”

Notably, the statutory language does not include terms such as a “sidewalks” or crosswalks.”  And the legal definition of “roadway” does not include sidewalks.  For instance, Vehicle Code section 530 defines “roadway” as “a portion of highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.”  Thus, a sidewalk is not a roadway.

Similarly, section 555 defines “sidewalk” as “portion of highway, other than the roadway, set apart by curbs, barriers, markings or other delineation for pedestrian travel.” And, section 275 of the vehicle code defines “crosswalk” as “that portion of a roadway within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at the intersection.” Thus, it is clear from reading the unambiguous statutory language of sections 275 and 555 that sidewalks and crosswalks are not considered roadway or shoulder of a highway. Therefore, section 21650.1 does not apply to bicyclists traveling on the sidewalks against the flow of traffic.

Cycling Accident Transforms Mayor

After Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa was cut off by a taxi while on a bike ride in 2006, he became a strong supporter of bicycle safety in Los Angeles. As some of you may recall, the Mayor was thrown over his bicycle handlebars and received minor injuries, but emerged from the incident as a spokesman for the Los Angeles bike riding population.

Before the accident, the Mayor was rarely seen discussing the dangers surrounding thousands of cyclists who use public roads every day. Since his accident, city plans have been underway to install more bike lanes and bike paths throughout Los Angeles and to promote bike riding as an alternative to car driving.

2.8% of fatal crash victims in Los Angeles are bicyclists.

Statistics Remain Disheartening

While Los Angeles is becoming more bike-friendly, the rate of bike accidents remains surprisingly high. In late 2012, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute released statistics that showed that “2.8% of fatal crash victims in Los Angeles are bicyclists…”  This number is particularly upsetting because it is almost double the national average.

Unfortunately, making cyclists safer on the road is not at the top of the agenda for jurisdictions everywhere – in fact, in 2012, Governor of California Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have required state motorists to maintain a three-foot buffer between their vehicles and cyclists.

Despite the best efforts of L.A.’s mayor and all of the light that has been shined on the topic of bicycle safety, accidents involving cyclists, many of them fatal, continue to be reported throughout Los Angeles and other major cities of California. Some incidents involve road rage, distracted drivers, and some include inattentive bicycle riders.

Responsibility on Both Sides Needed

Experts in the field of bicycle safety and emergency responders who have to respond to bicycle-related accidents agree — responsibility and patience are required on both sides. Vehicle operators have to respect a person’s decision to ride a bike on public roads and should exercise patience when they encounter a bicycle rider. As always, drivers should drive attentively on the roads, without performing distracting tasks like making phone calls, eating, grooming, etc.

Likewise, bicycle riders should never assume that every vehicle operator on the road will respect their space or, in fact, see them at all. Bike riders are reminded to illuminate their bikes and bodies with reflective tape and flashing lights, especially if operating a bike at night, and – as always – to wear a helmet. For proper helmet fit, guide on how to buy the right helmet, and other frequently asked helmet questions visit www.helmets.org.

Because of the extreme difference in size between a bicycle rider and a vehicle, accidents involving bicycles can be particularly dangerous. A bicycle rider thrown from his or her bike is exposed not just to the impact of the collision, but also to the risk of being struck by another vehicle in the roadway after the fall. This is why to the extent possible a bicycle rider who has fallen on a roadway should try to move out of the roadway before calling for first aid or emergency assistance.

If this isn’t possible, bystanders and witnesses should immediately call for emergency assistance and should never put themselves in harm’s way to help the rider, as this could create even more victims on the road. If safely possible, bystanders and witnesses can try to alert other drivers to slow down and avoid the rider by standing safely on the side of the road and waving their hands or shining lights on the road next to the victim until emergency responders arrive.

Bike riders have certain rights which are often disregarded by insurance companies who suspect the rider won’t know anything about them. You owe it to yourself to have a bicycle accident lawyer defend your rights and let the insurance company know you are aware of what you are entitled to.

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