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Don't Go Into the Bike Lane!

Original post made by Surprised Resident on Jan 22, 2009

I was driving my car on University Avenue, near the 1700 block, heading toward the downtown area, when I encountered a car making a left hand turn. I checked to make sure that there were no bicycles in the bike lane and then proceeded to go around the stopped vehicle. To my surprise, I was immediately pulled over by a Palo Alto Police Officer who summarily issued a citation for violating Vehicle Code section 21209. I have lived here in Palo Alto for many decades now and I have to say I am shocked that you cannot go around a stopped vehicle if it makes you go into the bike lane at all, even if there are no bikes in it at the time. My daughter is an avid biker and she was surprised at the ticket. Who knew?

Comments (19)

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Was there a solid white line at the place you entered the bike lane? If there was a broken white lane to enable a right turn, I am under the impression that you can enter the bike lane there to turn right, but not just to overtake the car turning left.

Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2009 at 3:10 pm


Resident is correct, you may not use the bike lane to pass.
Here is a link to the driver's hand book and the text you will find there is below.

So how much is the fine?

Web Link

"Bicycle Lanes
A bicycle lane is shown by a solid white line along either side of the street, four or more feet from the curb. The white line will usually be broken near the corner and the words "BIKE LANE" will be painted in the lane. When you are making a right turn and are within 200 feet of the corner or other driveway entrance, you must enter the bike lane for the turn. Do not drive in the bike lane at any other time.

You may park in a bike lane unless a "No Parking" sign is posted.

Pedestrians are not allowed in bike lanes when sidewalks are available. Drivers of motorized bicycles should use bike lanes carefully to avoid accidents with bicyclists."

Posted by Surprised Resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I don't know, but I will go back to the site and check. I did check the Vehicle Code when I got home and learned that you can enter the bike lane for parking where permitted, to enter or leave the roadway or to prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.

What surprised me was that you cannot go into the bike lane in order to go around a stopped car that is making a turn off University, even if there are no bikes in the bike lane. If you do and a police office is nearby, you will get a ticket. I lived here a long time and I see cars going around stopped cars that are making turns off University Avenue all the time. Now I know!

Posted by Surprised Resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 22, 2009 at 3:32 pm

RS - Don't know yet. The court will send the amount due shortly in a courtesy notice.

By the way, I don't think that most people consider the action of going around a stopped vehicle that is making a turn "passing" that vehicle. On a road like University Avenue, the word "passing" makes me think of the action of going around a vehicle on the left while it is moving. This is just my interpretation, but I believe that most people don't think that going around a stopped vehicle that is waiting to make a safe turn off of University is passing that vehicle. It probably is, but I don't think that's a common interpretation of the word.

Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm

As long as it is a vechical that is in the roadway, I believe the law defines it as passing, but I have no reference to back that up. I am sure there is a definition, the vehical code is pretty complete and hence very thick.

Slightly off topic, but I highly recommend online traffic school as a way to avoid the insurance cost impact of your ticket.

Posted by Greg, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Going around a stopped vehicle is "passing". Using a bicycle lane as a passing lane is clearly illegal.

A car can legally enter a bicycle lane when turning or parking. In fact, you are legally required to merge into the bicycle lane immediately before turning right (onto a street or driveway). The dashed line is intended to remind car drivers that they are supposed to merge into the bicycle lane before a right turn.

Cutting directly across a bicycle lane to turn right without merging first is also illegal and can get you a ticket (and is also a common cause of bicyclist fatalities).

Posted by Greg, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm

P.S. It really doesn't matter if you are "passing" or not. Driving a car in a bicycle lane for any reason is illegal except when you are in the process of turning or parking.

Posted by signage, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 22, 2009 at 4:06 pm

There is also a big "DO NOT PASS" sign just at that point. It's the only point on University Avenue that you can't pass in this fashion since all the other left turns, driving towards downtown, are full intersections with broken white lines in the bike lane.

Posted by CommonSense, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Bicyclists should really stay OFF Alma Street along the tracks. Just because you have the 'right' to use a roadway, doesn't mean that you should. If you have ever really examined Alma, you would see that the inside lane right next to the track is not wide enough to safely accomodate bikes and cars. Cars have to veer into the next lane or slow to a crawl while attempting to pass a cyclist. What's more, at times various bits of detritus from the track area like rocks, dirt etc. can be dropped onto Alma, items large enough to cause a bike rider to fall. If the rider falls, their chances of getting hit by a car are great. Common sense should be the rule here. There are many other routes in this City for bicyclists, much safer roads. Please use those as alternates. It's safer for everyone.

Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2009 at 10:57 pm

So CommonSense,

I'm curious, where is the common sense in posting that here where it probably won't reach the person you are trying to communicate with and is off topic? Or is this just about venting to the cosmos in which case, have at it.

Posted by Spike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2009 at 7:32 am

As a bicyclist I'd be the first to express a desire for maximum protection from all those rude and inconsiderate people in cars. Perhaps our new President will inspire us all to abandon gas vehicles and bicycle to work!

But for all that I have to agree that surprised resident has reason to be surprised. The education of our citizens and enforcement of ordnances is, to put it kindly, nuts. Consider Palo Alto as a sad example: bike lanes start and stop with no continuity, police enforce ordnances in a way that alienates the citizenry and fails to protect bicyclists. In Europe (where I lived for many years) people know that if bike lanes are not continuous they don't work. No point in telling people to commute from A to Z by bicycle if there are many gaps where bicyclists have to risk their lives.

That "no passing" sign on University is in a crazy place. It's right at the intersection and no sensible person would understand it to mean "don't go into the bike lane!" It's obviously something meaning not to treat University as a four lane highway, which is how I, a bicyclist, understood it.

I understand, as a realistic, caring person who wants to see unity and inclusion in public discourse, that people are not going to give up their cars. We have to co-exist with folks who still need cars. The way to do that is not to ignore rational behavior, such as carefully passing a car signalling a left turn, but to work for common sense cooperation. Let's all share the road!

Posted by Andrew, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 23, 2009 at 11:17 am

Yes, the rules of the road re-visited. Driving in the Bay Area I realize that MOST drivers need a refresher course and should keep a copy of the DMV manual in their glove box.

Solid lines - No crossing
Dotted lines - Ok to cross after checking to see if clear

Posted by Greg, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2009 at 1:22 pm

A dotted line on a bike path is only OK for cars to cross if you are merging before turning or parking. It is illegal to drive a car straight in a bike lane, dotted line or not.

The dotted line on a bike path is only an advisory. Obviously, you must cross a solid white line if parallel parking is allowed on the right side of the bike path. Also, you must merge into the bike lane before turning right, whether the bike lane is dotted or solid.

Note that the same dotted line law applies to right turn lanes and freeway exit lanes. Once you merge into the lane, you must complete the turn. It is illegal to merge back out across a dotted line and continue straight.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 23, 2009 at 4:00 pm

I'm happy to have increased awareness for drivers of laws regarding bike lanes, thanks.

Now can we get some increased awareness for bike riders of obeying traffic laws too? Like stopping at stop signs and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks. If you want drivers to respect you, respect the traffic laws.

Posted by parent, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by JT, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2009 at 8:57 am

How much was your ticket? I just got pulled over there last week.

Posted by Peter, a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2009 at 9:38 am

Another problem with going to the right around a car waiting to turn or pausing before entering the intersection is that there may be a pedestrian crossing in front of the stopped car...and can't be seen by the passing driver until too late.

Posted by Harold, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

The police were withiun their rights to issue a citation.
I personally think if it was safe and there were no cyclists it should have been allowed.

This is what the vehicle code says:

Motor Vehicles and Motorized Bicycles in Bicycle Lanes

21209. (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows:

(1) To park where parking is permitted.

(2) To enter or leave the roadway.

(3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.

(b) This section does not prohibit the use of a motorized bicycle in a bicycle lane, pursuant to Section 21207.5, at a speed no greater than is reasonable or prudent, having due regard for visibility, traffic conditions, and the condition of the roadway surface of the bicycle lane, and in a manner which does not endanger the safety of bicyclists.
Amended Ch. 262, Stats. 1988. Effective January 1, 1989.

Posted by Page Mill, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2010 at 7:11 pm

What's up with the bicyclists riding on Page Mill between 280 and 35? Do they have a death wish? Chip on their shoulder? Ignorant?

There is no room for a car to pass a bike without crossing the double yellow. Most of the time there is not enough visibility to see far enough to do that safely. Bicycle riders never pull over to let a car pass, but sometimes wave them on to try to pass them as if they know no one is coming in the other direction.

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