Bicyclists – where do they belong?
While on vacation in Germany with my wife, I had the opportunity to have some time to myself while we were visiting friends. She was out wine tasting, and I stayed in to get some work done and relax. I found myself at a local park a few blocks from our friends’ apartment. After noticing the beautiful European streets, it was apparent that parking was a problem. Cars driving on century-old roads were forced to park either partly, or at times completely on the sidewalk, and very few Germans in the town had their own personal garage or driveway for vehicle storage.
This necessitated the large population of people using bicycles for local transportation (not to mention the nearly $8 per gallon prices for gasoline…). While walking through the park, I observed people riding on the streets, sidewalks and walking paths. My friends told me that it is great having people ride their bikes to keep the neighborhood “greener” and also help the congested parking situation, but they were frustrated with how they perceived the cyclist’s ownership of the road mentality.
While I won’t attempt to try and interpret German law (or anything German, really), California’s Vehicle Code sections 21202 deal with these issues squarely. Unbeknownst to many motorists, cyclists have many of the same rights and requirements as do motorists. To start, they are entitled use of the entire traffic lane if there is no clearly marked “bike lane.” This right entitlement, however, also comes with the requirement of abiding by the same laws as vehicles. Cyclists must signal turns and stops with the appropriate hand signals, must follow speed limits (if applicable), street directions and traffic controls (stop signs, traffic signals and others).
While minors are required to wear a helmet while riding their bike, it is only suggested for adults. No matter the rider’s age, however, bicyclists are generally not allowed to ride on sidewalks as a safety precaution to pedestrians. (One of my personal pet peeves is when an inexperienced cyclist rides on the sidewalk and you have to do some sort of amateur ballet move to avoid being struck). Some cities have begun hanging signs advising riders that they cannot ride on the sidewalk, and enforce the violation through fines.
Whether you’re attempting to break Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France records (valid or not), or riding to work to save on parking, it’s best to know the rules and stay safe. Riding bicycles is a great way to explore our great city, get exercise and also save money and help reduce pollution.
As my German friends I stayed with would say: Nicht auf dem Bürgersteig parken, mit dem Fahrrad fahren! (“Don’t park on the sidewalk, ride a bike!”)