Town Square

Cyclists "taking the lane"

Original post made by A Woodside resident and cyclist, another community, on Aug 10, 2006

While I agree with the overall cautionary sentiment expressed by Elaine Haight regarding cars overtaking cyclists, I did want to add that the cyclist's right to impede traffic by "taking the lane" is not unlimited as some cyclists might assume.

California Vehicle Code 21656 requires any vehicle (including cyclists) moving at less than the normal flow of traffic "behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed."


Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2006 at 11:34 am

Another thing many people don't understand about bike lane laws is that the dashed lines near intersections have a specific purpose. Automotive traffic that is turning is REQUIRED to fully enter the bike lane past the dashed lines. This to prevent conflict between bikes and cars at intersections.

Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 11, 2006 at 8:24 am

John is right about the bike lane. Just don't enter the bike lane before the broken/dash lines- you could get a ticket. I know.

Posted by Woodside resident and cyclist
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2006 at 9:55 am

Per CVC 21209, a motor vehicle is permitted (but not required) to enter a bicycle lane to prepare for a turn within 200 feet of the intersection.

Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 11, 2006 at 11:43 am

I guess police officers aren't always right :-) I was told about the "requirement" by a CHP officer.

Posted by Woodside resident and cyclist
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2006 at 12:48 pm

Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the officer was incorrect. My comment was only intended to address the previous poster's comment.

In fact, CVC 22100 requires "(a) Right Turns. Both the approach for a right-hand turn and a right-hand turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway...."

FWIW, I'm no expert in this stuff, just good at googling.

Posted by Chuck
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2006 at 8:40 pm

Woodside resident:

Show me "five or more vehicles are formed in line" while I'm riding my bike, and I'll GLADLY turn off the roadway. (It'd be a death wish if I didn't!!)

I think Elaine Haight's comment was referring to those times when the bike lane is occupied (eg, by a utility truck, a slow-moving vehicle riding the shoulder, or-- worst of all-- a car door swinging open) and the cyclist has the right, for his/her safety, to momentarily occupy the lane.

Posted by Woodside resident and cyclist
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2006 at 2:21 pm

Perhaps Elaine will comment, but I don't at all think that was at all to what she was referring. The CVC explicitly gives you the right to exit the bike lane to avoid debris; there's absolutely no question about that.

What I believe Elaine was referring was in the case where there is NOT a bike lane. In general, the CVC requires that the rider ride as far to the right as practicable. There are, however, exceptions to this rule which are also explicitly dictated which allow the rider to move to the center of the road to fully "take the lane". All of the time, I see riders on Woodside Road riding side by side, taking the lane. When I've spoken to some (when I'm also on my bike), there view is that they are entitled to do so even if traffic backs up behind them.

This is most explicitly NOT the case. If you are riding side by side with another rider and 5 cars back up behind you, you need to pull over.

As a touring cyclist, I've ridden across the country from here through the northern route, going north of the Great Lakes. I've also ridden the Pacific Coast in both directions, and I can honestly say that I've had only a handful of occasions that I felt required taking the full lane. Maybe that's why I've only had one minor negative inicident with a car (ironically at Mt Rushmore, the place on the planet with the narrowest possible road, no shoulder, and about a billion RV's clamoring to be patriotic tourists).

Posted by Jason
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 12, 2006 at 6:32 pm

I was part of five cyclists that rode from SF to LA over a 5 day span.
We obey all the rules of the road. Rode in single file and did NOT have one problem with any vehicle.

When I drive around Palo Alto I can't belive how many cyclists I see riding 2-3 across, running red lights, cutting between vehicles. No wonder they "piss off" the drivers.

Posted by bent
a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2006 at 11:56 am

Most times you find 5 cars behind each other, they are being held up by another car, doing the speed limit.

Posted by Elaine Haight
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 31, 2006 at 2:04 pm

Thanks for all the interest in my letter to the editor.

The vehicle code that I was referring to is posted here:

Web Link

Scroll down to 21202 (a) (3)

Cyclists are often in a situation where there is no shoulder or bike lane, we are going close to the speed limit, and the road is too windy for the car behind us to tell if there is oncoming traffic. This is true on many parts of Hwy 84, Hwy 35, Old La Honda, and Kings Mountain, not to mention Alma in downtown Palo Alto.

Traffic engineers study these roads, determine the places where passing is not safe, and paint double yellow lines in the middle of the road. But their work is to no avail because motorists ignore the double yellow line and the fact that they can't see around a bend for oncoming traffic. They proceed into the left lane in order to pass a bicycle.

Most bicyclists have rear view mirrors and yes, when there is a stack of cars behind we pull over to let them pass. And most bicyclists will not ride on a road like this when we are pedalling uphill, because we know that if the cars decided to follow the law and not pass, that they will stack up very quickly behind us. But if we are descending at 5-10 mph below the speed limit, one or two cars can drive a little slowly behind us for a few minutes, as the law (and safety) dictates.

I constantly see motorists crossing the double yellow line and passing illegally and unsafely. If the sheriff wants to make some money, they can just sit in a car on Hwy 84 on a weekend and write tickets for this all day long.


ps: I have heard stories of motorists in the French Alps who drive slowly behind cyclists for hours. Their culture places enjoyment, tolerance, and human life ahead of getting from point A to point B.

Posted by Wise man from Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 27, 2006 at 10:52 am

I know someone who was ticketed by the CHP for violating the dashed-line portion of the bike lane eastbound on Woodside Road at the intersection with Alameda de las Pulgas.

Since he told me about it, I have been careful not to follow in his footsteps, as it were. And it reminds me of the rights that cyclists have to the bike lane indicated by the solid line.