Jun 3, 2020

Is It Legal To Ride Bikes on Los Angeles Sidewalks?

A woman on a bicycle outdoors
Where can you ride a bicycle?

Yes. As a general rule, twelve cities within Los Angeles County have allowed California's law allowing safe sidewalk-riding to remain perfectly legal. But again, the devil is in details of L.A.'s municipal sidewalk riding rules.

In other words, The City of Los Angeles is neutral about in their local rules regarding riding on sidewalks, as well as the direction of travel of your bike as you ride on a sidewalk.

Los Angeles Municipal Code section 56.15(1) states: “No person shall ride, operate or use a bicycle, unicycle, skateboard, cart, wagon, wheelchair, roller skates, or any other device moved exclusively by human power, on a sidewalk, bikeway or boardwalk in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

So, the City Council is saying, "BE SAFE" and use common sense. But yes, sidewalk riding is allowed in The City of Los Angeles, and a few others, like The City of Beverly Hills.

CAVEAT: Even When Legal, each city has its own riding rules to obey as you peddle around.

Old Cracked Sidewalk

Riding your bicycle on a public sidewalk remains prohibited in thirty-two L.A. County cities as of 2020. Because there are no uniform rules for riding throughout California, it's on you, the rider, to make sure the highway is safe, or not restricted by some contrary safety rule or statute. I know it sounds confusing because it is. Remarkably, where you can and can't ride on sidewalks, is so complicated, there is a sidewalk riding map available here, so you don't end up getting a ticket for riding on a sidewalk, bikeway, or boardwalk when you think it's legal.

  • The Business District Problem For Bicyclists in Los Angeles County.

An example of the problems for riders in a City Like Beverly Hills, for example, is the problem of knowing when they are in a "business district." After all, riding is prohibited in these commercial areas. 

California Vehicle Code Section 235 defines a "business district" as:

".. that portion of a highway and the property contiguous thereto (a) upon one side of which highway, for a distance of 600 feet, 50 percent or more of the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by buildings in use for business, or (b) upon both sides of which highway, collectively, for a distance of 300 feet, 50 percent or more of the contiguous property fronting thereon is so occupied. "

Imagine being a bicyclist and be expected to know when 50% or more of the contiguous area is business, or and if you are the correct distance. For the most part, this is an irrational rule because it creates a trap for the unwary cyclist. For example, Beverly Hills is among 25 cities where sidewalk-riding is not permitted in “business districts.” So good luck figuring all that out as you set out to safely ride.

But let's be real, I am an expert bicycle lawyer with years of aggressively fighting for safer streets. I have read all of the municipal codes for these 25 municipal districts. When coupled with Vehicle Code Section 235, I have determined that these local proscriptions dealing with sidewalk riding are vague and ambiguous at best. I discuss Beverly Hill's business district riding rules here.

Otherwise, Los Angeles County's unincorporated areas of influence defer to California Vehicle Code Sections 21650 and 21650.1 concerning sidewalk riding of bicycles are the law. In other words, sidewalk riding is legal in California Counties unless the cities or unincorporated areas within have passed a contrary local ordinance or regulation.

Bike Regulations And Fines for Close By Drivers - Stay Away From Riders!

Injured rider
Man fallen from his bike

Bicycling in California can be sheer pleasure. The high topography and weather year-round have made the Golden State one of the premier biking regions. Bicyclists from across the country come to the state to compete or ride around for fun. With the many bikers from and around the state, there are many actions that the state legislature has done intended to make the roads safer.

There were 124 bicycle fatalities on California's roads in 2012 according to the state Office of Traffic Safety. This figure is higher than 2011's value. And in turn, this was higher than in 2010. The increase led to the state doing multiple things to try and protect riders on the road.

  • CVC Section 21760.

One of the chief parts of legislation was CVC Section 21760, the Three Feet for Safety Act. The act, which became effective in September 2014 according to the DMV's website, causes drivers to give bicyclists at least three feet distance when passing.

When violated, drivers must pay a $35 fine and if a collision is involved, the fee increases to $220. Coupled with administrative fees and local penalties, the real price paid by drivers can be significantly higher.

With the high number of cars on the roads, riding a bike must always come with particular cognizance of who or what is on the way. Many parts of the state are extremely bicycle friendly and others, like the Los Angeles area, are not. Because of this, it can be more challenging to ride in traffic. No matter what the case, pay attention remains vital to your surroundings and ensuring your safety.

If you have any questions about this law and how it could affect you or about bicycle law, Los Angeles' premier personal injury and bike accident attorney Michael Ehline stands to help. Ehline Law has helped many clients that have had issues with bikes.

Our team of experts will be able to assist you and get you back on your feet -- both literally and figuratively. Call or email us today for a free consultation.

Many bicycle riders have heard they shouldn't ride on the sidewalk because it's easier to crash or get run over or be in an accident with another person using the regular bike pathways. On the other side of the coin, bicyclists remain vulnerable to grave injuries the closer they ride to or share a traffic lane with a large, heavy car. So staying out of the curbside and street gutter provides more space between riders and motor vehicles. But in some California cities, there is a prohibition for bicyclists to ride on the public sidewalks.  And in that case, cyclists will be restricted to using only the shoulder and other portions of vehicular travel shared by motorized vehicles.

Is it Legal To Ride Your Bicycle In a Crosswalk in Los Angeles County?

Yes and no. First, many insurance adjusters have used riding in a crosswalk as an excuse to underpay claims involving cyclists run over in a crosswalk. They claim it is illegal to ride in a crosswalk, so it was the biker's fault. Next, you have the plain language of California Vehicle Code Section 21200 which states:

"(a) (1) A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division . . .  except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application." [Emphasis].

So let's dissect this argument. Yes, under California law, unless an exception applies, a bicycle in the roadway must abide by the same road rules and ride with the safe flow of traffic, like a car. (See California Vehicle Code Section 21650.1). The problem is many personal injury lawyers, and their clients get duped by the defense into thinking sidewalks are part of the "roadway" under California Vehicle Code Section 555.

Crosswalk Defined: A crosswalk is defined as a portion of the roadway marked with reflective paint, raised bumps, or markers, that operates as an extension of the sidewalk at an intersection from one side of the marked extension to the other side. Notably, in California, a crosswalk can be in several configurations, including an X-formation discussed here. Most distinctive here is that at an intersection or other crossing area, lines or markings on the road surface will indicate the existence of a crosswalk.

  • Crosswalks Are Part of the Sidewalk?

Yes. This is true. So, in reality, the California Vehicle Code does not prohibit the operation of bicycles in a crosswalk because they are technically an extension of the sidewalk, which is not part of the roadway. Because of this, a reasonably priced traffic ticket attorney can easily defeat a citation issued by a cop for a rider violating Section 21650.1. There is no restriction against, riding against the flow and traffic when rolling along a sidewalk or crosswalk. 

If you had any doubts, you need only read California Vehicle Code Section 21650(g). That section makes clear that on all highways as defined under Vehicle Code Section 360, bicycles riding on sidewalks or their extending crosswalks is perfectly legal unless otherwise prohibited by law.

Let me explain more about when it would be prohibited. No matter what, you are going to be subject to the local city riding regulations of where you intend to ride your bike in the crosswalk. Next, you must consider who has the right of way. For example, a bicycle rider entering a cross-walk on a red light would not have the right of way. And in that case, the rider might be liable for any damage caused to the car.

  • Implied Crosswalk Defined:

"Not all crosswalks are marked. If there is a stop line before the crosswalk, the stop line must be obeyed first. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in marked or unmarked crosswalks. Although pedestrians have the right-of-way, they also must abide by the rules of the road. If you approach a crosswalk while driving, you are required to exercise caution and reduce your speed to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian. You may need to stop to ensure the safety of the pedestrian, as outlined in CVC §21950. Crosswalks are often marked with white lines. Yellow crosswalk lines may be painted at school crossings. Some crosswalks have flashing lights to warn you that pedestrians may be crossing. Look for pedestrians and be prepared to stop, whether or not the lights are flashing." (See California DMV Handbook).

So don't forget, bicyclists have many more rights than cars, including the right to ride in unmarked crosswalks, as defined above.

Where are The California Counties With No Legal Sidewalk Riding?

So in Sacramento County, Fulsom, and Galt Counties, zero cities allow people to ride bicycles on sidewalks at all.

Where are The California Cities and Counties Allowing Sidewalk Riding?

I have included a link listing other California cities that do allow riding your bike on a sidewalk (See "California Sidewalk Riding Laws Here").

Some Bike safety advocates claim that sidewalk riding is more dangerous than riding next to cars. Reasons for their belief include: 

  • Automobile Dangers: Adult cyclists, by and large, remain unaware of the bike riding rules and regulations. And common sense when peddling is part of the unwritten rules of safe riding in L.A. For example, in some cases, something like a residential driveway may have trees, shrubs, other obstruction blocking a reversing car, as well as oncoming cyclist's view. Riders, in particular, may assume the other vehicle's driver will stop to check and look. But this assumption a driver will look around before reaching the edge of the road is flawed. Most of the time, they're looking for STREET traffic so that they can pull out onto the street. So they aren't looking for other things like little kids of bicycles. This traffic oncoming traffic is the reason the cyclist is on the sidewalk because they don't want to get run over. But now, the rider faces the backing out car dangers discussed above.
  • Pedestrians: Sidewalks are made for pedestrians to be safe while walking along the divider of grass, phone poles, powerlines, planters, gutters, and parallel bike paths. So walkers, joggers, and moms pushing baby strollers listen to music with earbuds, eat, drink, and even play while moving along the roads. So as a general rule, they aren't looking for a bicyclist. As a result, they don't always promptly dodge out of the way, assuming they have time to react to the faster-moving bicycle. And if a bicyclist hits a pedestrian, it can cause severe injuries to the genitals, knees, and lower extremities of both pedestrians and riders in the best cases.
  • Intersections: Intersections are a dangerous place for the bicyclists. If the rider is on the sidewalk, parked cars may obstruct their view from vehicles, as well as keeping them from seeing the vehicles. This reason and other obstructions like bushes or trees can block people from seeing things until it's too late, and this can cause problems. So they can obstruct the motorist's view giving them little or no time to react. It can mean a collision between a car and a bicyclist. That, of course, causes serious injury to the bicyclist.

When is the Sidewalk Generally Safer to Ride Than The Street?

In some situations, riding on the sidewalk becomes a more secure option for the weary bicyclist. For example, not all roadways have bicycle lanes or areas specially designated for the rider. Some riders may be better off getting off the shoulder and walking their bike along the sidewalk, especially narrow, older sidewalks. And you must use common sense while pedaling along on the busier days and times of pedestrian traffic flow. But if it's legal, you can ride on the sidewalk, as a way to stay up and away from speeding traffic. Also, you can possibly avoid dangerous surface areas like potholes, and metal grates, or some other dangerous, risky elements. Almost always, in these cases, the cyclists feel safer riding on the sidewalk.

So in some cases, it's safer to ride on the sidewalk. Though, this doesn't mean the bicyclists should violate the law. True, it may avoid the high risks inherent in riding on the road. Of course, the rider needs to follow some ground rules. These rules discussed above can help keep them safe and protect pedestrians who are also permitted to use the sidewalk.

To Recap, The Rules for Bicyclists and Pedestrians to Stay Safe:

  • Ride your bike slow. It's an essential rule that shouldn't become broken. Also, riding on the sidewalk isn't the same as the road for speed. So go slow.
  • Yield to pedestrians, because on the sidewalk they have the right-of-way. Like on the road riding, there are rules to protect people from harm. So bikers, of course, have laws on sidewalks.
  • The rider might need to walk the bike. This being on foot could make it safer for you and other pedestrians.
  • Use extreme caution approaching driveways or areas with bushes. After all, they could hide an entrance from view.
  • Use caution riding on the outside of the sidewalk within the area parked cars sit. Because in fact, a car door opening can cause serious harm.
  • Be cautious at intersections.
  • Cross streets at crosswalks on a bike like pedestrians should. WALK YOUR BIKE in a Crosswalk.

Above we learned that sidewalk riding in Los Angeles County is prohibited and left to each city and locale to decide whether to make an exception to this County Wide rule. We also discovered the various laws, ordinances, and common sense precautions all riders should consider when sidewalk riding. Ehline Law Firm is the Southern California bicycle injury attorney firm. (Read More). We hope bicyclists will find this useful information on sidewalk use. Though we don't advocate bicyclists violating the law, the possibility exists it's legal to ride on them in your area.

Further Reading:

https://bikeeastbay.org/SidewalkCycling  Sidewalk Cycling Laws | Bike East Bay.

https://www.calbike.org/bicycling_in_california_sharing_the_road  California Bicycle Coalition California Bicycle Laws.

Need to schedule an appointment for legal advice in a city near you? Reach out to a Los Angeles, California personal injury lawyer specialist near you or another location or practice area as follows:

Torrance wrongful death lawyer, Torrance car accident lawyer, Torrance motorcycle accident lawyer.