Law

Bicycling on the road

The road is always the legally correct place to ride under the Vehicle Code, except on closed facilities such as freeways, where bicycles are usually expressly prohibited by signage.

A common misconception (not only among Californians generally, but also among some law enforcement officers) is that bicyclists are always required to stay to the right and allow motor vehicles to pass them within the same lane when riding on a road without a bicycle lane. In fact, the California Vehicle Code (section 21202) defines several frequently applicable exceptions to the otherwise general rule that bicyclists are to ride as far to the right “as practicable”. The most frequently applicable exception is the one marked in bold below.

(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.

A local exception to the prohibition of bicycles from freeways is the stretch of Hwy 4 from Port Chicago Hwy to Willow Pass Rd. Bicyclists are permitted to ride on the shoulder between these two ramps, in either direction. This allowance was made because the only other routes between East Contra Costa and Concord – Kirker Pass Rd and Willow Pass Rd, the latter of which includes an arched two-lane causeway too narrow for a bicylist to stay to the right even if she is willing to tolerate being passed very close – are much more dangerous for a bicyclist than the Hwy 4 shoulder between these two ramps.

Bicycling on shared-use paths

Our local transportation facilities for exclusive use by non-motor traffic are the Contra Costa Canal Trail, the Iron Horse Trail, and the Monument Corridor Trail. The Canal Trail and the IHT are administered by the East Bay Regional Park District; the MCT is a City of Concord facility.

EBRPD facilities set a speed limit of 15 mph for bicycles. As a healthy bicyclist can generally maintain close to 20 mph in neutral conditions, this speed limit is more suitable to recreational riding than to commuting. EBRPD staff seldom enforce the 15 mph limit, but bicyclists should be aware that they are empowered to do so. And as always when infrastructure is designed to mix bicycle and pedestrian traffic, bicyclists should give maximal passing distance and show all possible courtesy to pedestrians as the more vulnerable users, just as motorists should do for bicyclists when those modes are mixed together.

Bicycling on sidewalks

Sidewalk bicycling is governed not by the California Vehicle Code but by local Municipal Codes, which differ by city.

In short, it is usually illegal to bicycle on the sidewalk in Central Contra Costa, but tolerated in practice.

Concord Municipal Code (section 10.45.240) prohibits riding a bicycle with a wheel size greater than 20 inches (almost all bicycles ridden by adults and teenagers) on a sidewalk in front of stores, schools, and buildings used for business purposes. This antiquated code, dating from a time when American city governments did not recognize bicycling as a mode of transportation, means that if you ride down Monument Blvd on the sidewalk, you will be riding legally as you pass in front of an apartment complex, but illegally as you pass in front of gas stations and shopping centers.

Concord police officers seldom enforce our city’s partial prohibition on sidewalk bicycling, since this would require bicyclists to endanger themselves if they are not skilled and confident enough to handle riding on a road designed to give them no protection from adjacent motor traffic. Currently, this includes almost all our local streets.

Registration and licensing

Concord Municipal Code (section 10.45.010) requires a license from the Chief of Police to operate a bicycle in the city. This requirement is no longer in practical effect. It is not even possible to comply with the requirement, as the Police Department ceased to issue bicycle licenses many years ago.

Voluntary registration of bicycles

Instead of compulsory registration, the PD advises voluntary registration of bicycles through third-party services in order to increase the chance of recovering them if stolen. Bike Concord echoes this advice, and recommends BikeIndex.org as a particularly well-designed registration service. (If you visit us at Bike Tent, we will help you get your bicycle registered.)

Unlike some other registries, Bike Index is free, and allows anyone to run a bicycle’s serial number and find out whether its owner has marked it stolen. When considering purchase of a used bicycle, always search its serial number on BikeIndex.org. If it is stolen and its owner has registered it on Bike Index and marked it as stolen, you will be able to send them a private message letting them know where you encountered it, describing the thief, etc. Many stolen bicycles have actually been recovered thanks to Bike Index, either by their owners or by local police near the point of attempted sale.

The registration record also serves as evidence of ownership when an owner contacts police for assistance.

Pleasant Hill Municipal Code contains a similar bicycle licensing requirement to Concord’s. It is also not in practical effect. Walnut Creek repealed its obsolete licensing requirement in 2015.

Although the requirements in Concord and Pleasant Hill Municipal Codes are practically defunct, it is important to note that they refer to licensing (i.e. registration) of bicycles, not bicyclists. Under state statute, local jurisdictions in California are not empowered to require licensing of bicyclists.

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