The Realities of Riding in California, Part 2

Bolinas-Fairfax Road, typical of many of the roadways along the area's popular cycling routes. Note the narrow lanes, poor shoulder conditions, and my lane position. (Photo by Chris Hobbs)

California’s commonly misunderstood “Far to the Right” law reads:

C V C Section 21202 Operation on Roadway

Operation on Roadway

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:

(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

(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.

(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

(b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

Out of all the reckless cyclist and motorist behavior I’ve seen in California, I think a majority stems from the misunderstanding/misinterpreting of this portion of the California Vehicle Code. The misunderstanding is across the board – cyclists don’t use the rights this law gives them, motorists don’t seem to think it gives cyclists any rights to the roadway, and perhaps worst of all, law enforcement doesn’t seem to think so either.

Honestly, this section of the CVC should be an empowering, liberating bit of law for cyclists. After all, it reinforces a previously given right – to ride on the roadway. Here’s a newsflash: Shoulders are not roadways. Per CVC 530: “A ‘roadway’ is that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.” Shoulders certainly aren’t designed or improved for ordinary vehicle travel. I cannot help but wonder if cyclists are dooming themselves to the shoulder by making it a place “ordinarily used for vehicular travel.”

There are some common-sense items written into the code, such as moving left to avoid hazards, moving to the left for left hand turns and when approaching right-turn only lanes. Aside from being not-so-common-sense for some, these are topics I’d prefer to save for future discussions. Back to the liberation….

21202 (3) empowers cyclists to take the lane on narrow roadways: “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.”

Many of the roads on which I, and countless others, cycle are narrow roads, with one lane in each direction and a disappearing/re-appearing, debris filled shoulder. Speed limits range from 25mph to 55mph on these twisty, hilly roads and traffic can be quite heavy on a warm sunny day. More often than not the cyclists are crammed, single file, into the shoulder as motorists pass, often alarmingly close. Seriously, alarming. Perhaps the worst was a ChPs patrol car who passed within 3 inches of me along Hwy 1, where the speed limit was 50mph.

I don’t know if I have a point for this post yet. It’s a warm, sunny day today and I did a humbling, crippling set of intervals this morning. I think I will take my bike for a walk, perhaps take a few photos of the road conditions (assuming I can make it up Mt Tam to get to these roads) and I’ll take note of the motorists’ responses to my lane positioning. I can tell you from previous experience, it’s not what some of you will be expecting….


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