How a Typical San Francisco Cyclist Bikes His Way Up Fell Street, at Night, Without Lights, “Taking the Lane”

[UPDATE: FTR, this part of Fell has four lanes and is timed for about 25 MPH and posted for 30 MPH, IIRC. And I'll just say I get all this static nowadays due to my (apparently) quite unpopular views on the Chris Bucchere case. (That's an interesting piece by writer David Darlington, BTW.) I can't tell if people are being sarcastic or not, so forgive me if I don't reply anymore.]

[UPDATE II, Electric Boogaloo: So we have this from another out-of-towner: "SF writer objects to bike riders’ right to take the lane." Well, yeah, the right to take the lane ... at a wobbly 10 MPH during the evening rush hour. Dude should pick up the pace, IMO. Dude was riding slowly on purpose, IMO. Now if you want to talk about a "substandard" lane, you want to talk about the brand new, SFMTA-approved southbound stretch of Divisadero betwixt Geary and McAllister. This is quite an uphill stretch, so the universal bromide of "taking the lane" for seven city blocks doesn't really work. What happens is that cyclists keep to the right and cars and buses sneak around. There used to be more room but the sainted SFMTA decided to put in a big old median. Did the SFMTA intend for cyclists to take the lane? If so, nobody ever does so on this uphill stretch.]

Here we go, heading west on Fell at night:

Click to expand

Now I say “without lights” because dude is indeed without lights, but you can get away with just one light under CA law just saying. Could have said without “a light” instead. Let’s see, what else – oh, jumping the green, thusly:

This is called running a red light:

And this is called “taking the lane.”

Which you shouldn’t do as it’s agin the law when you’re trucking (slightly) uphill on Fell at about 10 MPH.

Oh well.

Keep in mind that you should view the words “reasonably necessary” and “unsafe” OBJECTIVELY and not SUBJECTIVELY. So like, man, I feel safer riding in the middle of the lane at 10 MPH doesn’t cut it. Similarly, it was like necessary man for me to do what I did also doesn’t cut it. I suppose you don’t need a brake on your bike, because, like, “my legs are my brakes, man.” Like, I don’t need to use the safety on my assault rifle because “this [trigger finger] is my safety.” And, legally, man, I’m a citizen of Hawaii and its not “after sunset” in Hawaii right now, man, so you can’t give me a ticket, man. And on and on.

And keep in mind that it’s not the BICYCLISTS ALLOWED USE OF FULL LANE law, it’s the bikes-should-keep-to-the-right-in-at-least-some-situations law.And actually, CVC 21202 takes rights away from cyclists, you dig? That’s why it’s an odd kind of “framing” to celebrate CVC 21202 when it’s CVC 21200 that gives rights to cyclists.

“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.
Amended Sec. 4, Ch. 674, Stats. 1996. Effective January 1, 1997.”

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26 Responses to “How a Typical San Francisco Cyclist Bikes His Way Up Fell Street, at Night, Without Lights, “Taking the Lane””

  1. ladyfleur says:

    For the taking the lane section, you’re missing a key part of the law:

    [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.

    Take a look at that right lane with the parked cars. It’s not safe enough for a car and a bike to share safely. That’s why it’s legal for the bike to take the full lane. And if the lane looks wide enough to you, imagine someone opening a door in one of those parked cars. Is there enough room for the door, the bike, 3 feet left of the bike and a car? I think not.

  2. sfcitizen says:

    Objective vs. subjective.

    Why don’t we have the vehicle code say that cyclists can do whatever they want as long as they think it’s “safe?” That’s how you’re looking at it.

    The law is designed to result in fewer dead cyclists, believe it or not…

  3. ladyfleur says:

    I’m not being subjective at all here. It’s a matter of space in the lane and simple math:

    * Urban lanes are 10-12 feet wide.
    * Car doors swing open a minimum 3 feet. 10-12 minus 3 = 7-9 feet
    * A bike with rider needs minimum 3 feet space: 7-9 feet minus 3 = 4-6 feet
    * A typical car width is 7 feet including mirrors: 7-9 feet minus 7 = 0 to -2 feet

    These numbers don’t allow for margins or oversized vehicles either. So cars not parked against the curb cut into the lane, as do larger SUVs and trucks.

  4. sfcitizen says:

    Using your subjective standards, cyclists may always take any lane at any time and the exceptions to the law have rendered the law meaningless.

    Where would the law apply?

  5. ladyfleur says:

    Since when using math and the size of objects to determine it something fits considered subjective? If the objects don’t fit, they don’t fit.

    The law applies when the lane is wide enough for side-by-side travel and the bike is traveling less than normal speed of travel and not making turns or passing or avoiding objects at edge of roadway. (yes, those are a lot of exceptions, but that’s the law, not my interpretation)

    That is, 3 feet for bike + 3 feet for passing + 7-8 feet for vehicle = 13-14 foot lanes with no street parking.

  6. sfcitizen says:

    I think judges know what practicable means. They also know that it means “possible” in addition to feasible.

    Your numbers are subjective. Maybe if Chris Bucchere becomes a traffic judge, you’ll have him to decide a case and he’ll agree with you and you’ll win. But prolly not.

    The exception was made for _narrow_ lanes, srlsy.

    Let’s talk about the “average” lane in CA – you need to keep to the right.

    If you want to be the Malcolm X of cyclists, be my guest. If you want to live in your echo chamber, be my guest.

  7. sfcitizen says:

    Driveways! 200 feet! Hilarious. Why not half a mile instead?

    Yes, let’s rely on this “cyclist’s judgement” while he weaves through red lights and “takes the lane” at 10 MPH. Yes let’s

  8. Rkeezy says:

    You can’t take into account the swing of car doors when it comes to justifying where you can ride your bike. Cars aren’t allowed to cross the double line (against the law) just for fear of car doors, and neither are bikes allowed to ride away from the edge (against the law) for fear of them either.

    You also can’t add in 3′ for passing, as justification why the whole lane must be taken.

    People pull this shit on Fell every day and I’m sure they feel like it’s within their rights. It’s not only not in their rights, it’s also a slap in the face to everyone else who needs to get somewhere.

    As SFCitizen says, cyclists take whatever they can and call it justified. I deserve to run this light, it’s too inconvenient to stop. I’m going to ride the wrong way on the street, there’s no one around. I’m going to cuss out the car pulled over in the bike lane then ride up on the sidewalk myself. The hubris astounds. It’s not justified, it’s not in the rules, you are breaking the law, and pissing off everyone around you. I’m sure you’ll feel justified anyways, since the bicyclist moral superiority (I ride a bike so I am entitled to do as I please and screw over everyone else) is a well known phenomenon.

  9. Kyle says:

    Why 200 feet and not half a mile? CVC 21202 does not define an explicit distance when it says “approaching a place where a right turn is authorized,” but we can look to other locations for a guide to an appropriate number. You will find multiple references to action being taken 200 feet before turns in the CVC, such as CVC 21209: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows” … “to prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.” Since motorists are allowed to begin merging with bicycle traffic within 200 feet of a right turn, it is reasonable for cyclists to presume that they are approaching a right turn when it is 200 feet away, and thus are no longer required to even ride as close to the right as practicable. I do not defend riding through red lights, but that issue is not germane to your point that it is “against the law [for cyclists to take the lane] when you’re trucking (slightly) uphill on Fell at about 10 MPH.” I follow this blog because I appreciate your “outside the bubble” perspective and usually see value in what you have to say, but I feel that you are spreading a misinformed, un-nuanced perspective on the very nuanced issue of law pertaining to when cyclists are allowed to ride in traffic lanes.

  10. Kyle says:

    Rkeezy: You are incorrect. Bicyclists can very much account for the swing of car doors when deciding where it is “practicable” to ride, as hitting an open car door is an all too common and very dangerous occurrence for cyclists. CVC 21202 even refers to this in section 3 when it states that avoiding a fixed object , such as a vehicle, is a condition which is “reasonably necessary” to avoid. The reason car drivers do not have to avoid the door zone, besides the fact that this section of the vehicle code applies only to cyclists explicitly, is that they are not likely to die if they hit an open car door.

    I agree with you that running red lights, riding the wrong way against traffic, and riding on the sidewalk are all behaviors that are not condoned by the law or myself personally. But again, these contentions are not relevant to the point that is very defensible, legally, for a cyclist to take the lane on this particular stretch of Fell, as you often see. Bicyclists need to get somewhere just as much as motorists.

  11. John Murphy says:

    You can’t take into account the swing of car doors when it comes to justifying where you can ride your bike.

    Yes, you can. There is case law as precedent.

  12. John Murphy says:

    You also can’t add in 3′ for passing, as justification why the whole lane must be taken.

    Possibly true, until July 1 when new State Law requires 3′ for passing.

  13. sfcitizen says:

    You want to engage in a Talmudic debate over something that’s pretty simple, that bike should stay to the right. If Dude wants to go, say, 20-something MPH on his ride, which, you know, I’ve seen before on Fell (and more so on Oak), then he’d be all right, legally.

    IRL, the traffic judge would listen to the cop and then listen to dude and then find him guilty most of the time.

    We disagree, I can accept that.

  14. Kyle says:

    Sorry for the extra post, but I left off one more thing. Leaving three feet for passing is also very much a reason for taking a lane, as this as been explicitly put into law as of September 23rd in AB 1371. If there would not three feet for a car to pass a bicyclist, than there is no reason for a cyclist to move over to the right hand side of the lane, as a motorist is not entitled to make this illegal pass.

    The law states that cyclists shall ride as close as “practicable” to the right-hand side of the road. “Practicable” is often read as meaning “practical”, but its meaning in this context is closer to “feasible,” and what is feasible is dependent on current road conditions, location of parked cars, and the ability of the rider. As in much of law, it follows that there will not be a consistent set of objective standards that can be applied to all situations, and we all must use our best judgement as to what is “practicable”. Additionally, the exceptions stated in CVC 21202 cannot “render the law meaningless” as these exceptions are part of the law itself. These exceptions include substandard lane width, as stated by ladyfleur, and when approaching locations where right turns are allowed. Since most streets (without bike lanes) in San Francisco have driveways or intersections placed less than 200 ft from each other, it is legal within this exception for cyclists to take these lanes, on top of the fact that they are also usually of substandard width. The end result of this is that yes, similar to what you say, cyclists in San Francisco on roads without bike lanes are usually allowed to take a traffic lane, as these roads are usually of substandard width and close to a right turn location. We don’t even need to rely on a cyclist’s judgement on what is practicable. As to your question of where the law’s reference to practicability would apply, there are many less urban areas of San Francisco where the explicit exceptions I discussed are not in effect. The CVC applies to all of California, not just the City.

  15. sfcitizen says:

    Well, you all should have 21202 changed to make things explicit if you all so confident.

    FTR, I run red lights every day. And I’m on the sidewalks every day, particularly on Masonic. And I used to go against one block of traffic every day, on Davis betwixt Wash and Jeff. Not saying that’s not illegal behavior…

  16. Kyle says:

    I also can accept that we disagree. Such disagreements are inherent when interpreting the law. I do dispute that it is not pretty simple that bikes should stay to the right, as the law would simply state only that if that was the intended meaning of the law. There are going to be plenty of grey areas.

    As to whether the cyclist would be found guilty in traffic court most of the time if issued a citation for taking the lane, I agree that all too often he would be. I suspect we disagree on whether this is the desired outcome, and I would argue that on appeal, most cyclists would end up winning. Traffic law like this would be easier if consistent precedents were set by higher courts, but instead we fight the same battles over and over in court (and blog comments) because most traffic court decisions apply only to the individual case and do not set any sort of precedent. For shame.

    John, thanks for pointing out that AB 1371 doesn’t take effect until July 1st. I was wrong about that.

  17. Kyle says:

    I don’t need to have CVC 21202 changed if I think I’m already protected by its exceptions, now do I? I’d rather spend my time fighting for clarity in other areas.

    And FTR for me, I yield, not stop at stop signs when on a bike, but I don’t California stop when in a car. Habit, I guess. I usually don’t run reds when biking, unless I’m in a turn lane that I can’t trigger.

  18. sfcitizen says:

    IMO, both cyclists and drivers have a culture of California stopping in SF, but cyclists are allowed a higher speed. So a driver will CA “stop” at around 3 mph and a cyclist at around let’s say 7 MPH or so. Motorists yield to me all the time even though they beat me to the intersection. If I were in a car, they wouldn’t, it would be first one there wins.

    Anyway, this is the culture that has developed in SF, IMO. I’ll have to figure a better way to explain what I’m saying.

    I treat red lights as stop signs in many cases, but not, for ex, crossing Franklin on a busy day.

  19. John Murphy says:

    If Dude wants to go, say, 20-something MPH on his ride, which, you know, I’ve seen before on Fell (and more so on Oak), then he’d be all right, legally.

    I guess by the letter of the law, if 5 vehicles were being impeded by him, he would be required to pull over. Presumably the speed limit on Fell and Oak is 35 MPH…

  20. John Murphy says:

    And that’s not technically true because there is more than one lane…

  21. johnny says:

    Why was the bicyclist using the road when there is a nice path in the panhandle?

  22. BUK says:

    Just because I know how much you like SFMTA – they say “ride far enough away from parked cars to stay clear of opening doors”. Is this my government disagreeing with my government?

    http://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/bicycling/bike-guide/safety-tips

  23. sfcitizen says:

    He also could have used the left hand but then he’d need to keep to the left, I think.

    Anyway, using the street is faster than using the bike path, maybe that’s one reason.

  24. When I ride my bicycle, all I get is a bunch of conflicting advice from the government from cycling “education”, and from motorists. Why is there so much confusion?

    Should I ride against traffic like my grandmother taught me or toward it like most people ride?

    Most of the roads have NO bicycle signs on them. Should I be in the shoulder or not?

    For motoring EVERYTHING is spelled out. The lights are timed exactly for enough cars to get through so I always get stuck at every single red light.

    Until all of you in the debating club get your act together and come up with some COHERENT and SAFE messages, I will ride my bicycle in the way that shows the most respect and kindness to all modes. I will also ride in a way that is safest for me.

    If you have a problem with how I ride, you can get out of your car and take a ride with me to show me specifically what I am doing wrong.

    Or you can advocate for the same level of basic roadway capacity for bicycles.

    So remember you need to decide: make cycling illegal, get rid of some excess parking and put in some cycle tracks, allow for vehicular cycling or allow a willy nilly mess of our current system to continue with everyone at each other’s throats like the above comments.

    Every one wants to pretend that they can cheat cyclists of the money that they deserve to mitigate the real world threat that motorists are to the rest of us and at the same time castigate us for trying to muddle our way through the truly hellish world that they have created for us.

    Put up or shut up.

  25. Easy Tigrrr says:

    Because I see the citizen has brought this up again, I’ll share my piece.

    This stuff is easy. Taking the lane is not just about space or speed. It’s not necessary to break out the tape measure and slide rule. Taking the lane also increases your visibility, which is extremely important for all modes of transportation, and for pedestrians. Citizen, You got a nice clear photo of that cyclist taking the lane. Good for him, and for you. Visibility. Take the lane.

  26. sfcitizen says:

    I’m saying DON’T take the lane – that’s the difference.

    It’s all about speed – he was going way too slow I’m afraid.

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