Bicycle and Pedestrian-Friendly Laws in California

Traffic accidents can be devastating, and depending on the severity they can change your life forever. As our personal injury attorneys in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Los Angeles can attest to, the aftermath of a serious traffic accident should not be faced alone. In almost every traffic accident that results in serious injuries, one of the parties involved in the accident was in the wrong and violating the law. This is where having a focused personal injury attorney who handles only traffic accident cases can help.

In California, there are several laws that govern the actions of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists to ensure the safety of themselves and those around them. The California Vehicle Code is the go-to guide for the laws that apply to traffic accidents in California. But remember to check out your local city’s rules, as municipalities may implement their own laws governing their roads.


Contrary to popular belief, marked crosswalks are not the only legal places for a pedestrian to cross the street.  According to California Vehicle Code Section 275, an unmarked crosswalk exists between sidewalks at every intersection. This means that a pedestrian who is crossing the street from one street corner to the other (rather than in the middle of the block), is not jaywalking. Thus, in a personal injury case, if a pedestrian is hit while walking in an “unmarked crosswalk,” as described above, they had the right of way and will not be liable for the accident. This is not always as cut and dry as someone seriously injured in a marked crosswalk. That is why you should seek expert advice from a pedestrian accident lawyer.


California Vehicle Code Sections 21650(g) and 21206 state that there is no prohibition against riding on a sidewalk in the absence of a local municipal ban.  Your city may have its own rules about bicycles on sidewalks, and many larger cities have implemented bans for safety reasons. San Francisco prohibits bicycling on the sidewalks if you are over the age of 13 (SF Transportation Code § 7.2.12). It’s the same in Oakland – minors only. San Jose bans riding on sidewalks in the “business district” (as defined by California Vehicle Code Section 240) while bicycling on the sidewalk is perfectly legal in many regions of Los Angeles per Los Angeles Municipal Code 56.15. However, check with your specific city’s applicable laws before hitting the sidewalks on your bike.

You would think that the direction that you ride your bicycle on the sidewalk would matter. However, if a bicyclist is riding on a sidewalk, the law does not require that the bicyclist ride in the same direction as traffic, which is unlike riding on the street.  California Vehicle Code Section 21650.1.  A bicycle operated “on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway” must be operated in the same direction as the vehicles are required to be driven. According to California Vehicle Code Section 530, however, the legal definition of “roadway” does not include sidewalks.  So, as long as your local city does not have a ban on riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, the direction in which you ride is irrelevant to your case.


A common misconception is that a bicyclist is required, at all times, to stay to the right of the road, since a bicyclist’s average speed is well below that of motor vehicle traffic. However, California Vehicle Code Section 21202 states that a bicyclist riding slower than traffic is entitled to ride on the right-hand edge of the road, but that cyclists can take over the center of the lane for a number of reasons. These reasons include passing other vehicles, preparing for a left turn, while riding on a one-way street, and “when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions…that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge.”   These conditions can include road construction, potholes, and anything else that makes it unsafe to stay to the right.  The bottom line is that bicyclists are allowed to take a full traffic lane to ensure their own physical safety.


You may ask how it can possibly be safer for a bicyclist to take up a whole lane, while riding in the same area with cars that are much larger and faster.  Often a bicyclist has to choose between riding too close to parked cars on one side and risking being “doored” (striking/being struck by a car door opening) and riding too close to moving traffic on the other side, including drivers who may be traveling mere inches from the bicyclist.  In less urbanized areas, bicyclists ride on narrow shoulders, adjacent motorized vehicles traveling at highway speeds.  In 2014, California passed California Vehicle Code Section 21760(a), known as the Safe Passing Law, which requires motorists to give bicyclists a minimum of three feet of space while passing, regardless of whether or not there is a bike lane on the road.

The exception to the Safe Passing Law is when there simply isn’t enough space to give a full three feet, in which case the motorist is required to slow down to pass.  Violators of this law face at least a $35 fine, and a $220 fine if a collision occurs.  A law enforcement officer must witness a violation to issue a citation. Witness’ accounts are not admissible, nor is video footage captured by the bicyclist (on a GoPro camera for instance).

Also, motorists need to take care when opening their doors to avoid bicycle dooring accidents from occurring. California Vehicle Code Section 22517 reads as follows: No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.


Double parking in bike lanes is a common occurrence in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Los Angeles, and pose a danger to bicyclists.  Cars parked in bicycle lanes force bicyclists into traffic lanes and create disruptions in the flow of traffic.

No one may stop on or park on a bicycle path.  California Vehicle Code Section 21211(a) states that no person may stop, stand, sit, or loiter upon any class one bikeway (as defined in § 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code), or any other public or private bicycle path or trail, if the stopping, standing, sitting, or loitering impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist.  Similarly, subdivision (b) prohibits placing or parking any bicycle, vehicle, or other object upon any bikeway or bicycle path or trail, if it impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist.

There are exceptions to this law, including when blocking a bike path is “…necessary for safe operation or is otherwise in compliance with the law”.  In 2011, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA) distributed stickers to licensed cabs in San Francisco, officially giving them permission to stop and actively load and unload passengers in bike lanes.  Accordingly, public utility vehicles, newspaper delivery vehicles, garbage trucks picking up trash, and tow trucks engaged in towing away vehicles are all exempted from this law.


As more city-dwellers take up bicycling as their primary transportation, bicycle companies are getting creative to cater to a wider customer base.  In cities like San Francisco (with its many steep hills) and Los Angeles (with its large size) many bicyclists opt for motorized bicycles.  Motorized bicycle models vary; some simply assist a rider’s pedaling (while climbing a hill, for instance), while others feature a throttle that eliminates the need to pedal at all.

Gas-powered bicycles and type 3 electric bicycles (with top assisted speeds of 28 mph) may not be used on trails or bike paths or lanes unless allowed by local authorities. However, they may be used in bike lanes or separated bikeways adjacent to the roadway.  California Vehicle Code Section 21207.5.  Motorized bike require helmets and may not be operated by people under age 16.  Type 1 and 2 electric bicycles (with top assisted speeds of 20 mph) are allowed wherever regular bikes are allowed, unless a sign specifically prohibits electric bicycles.

Be careful, because these bikes, although they feel more powerful, are still very vulnerable and can get you into trouble. We helped a great client who was hit while riding his electric bike in San Francisco.


California law includes many protections for bicyclists and pedestrians.  If you or someone you care about has been in a traffic accident, get an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney well-versed in bicycle and pedestrian accident cases can dispel common misconceptions about jaywalking, bicycling on sidewalks, right-of-way and safe passing in your city, helping you build a stronger case to get a solid settlement.

If you have been seriously injured in an accident as a pedestrian or bicyclist, speak with one of our expert personal injury attorneys at (415) 413-0033 or get a FREE online case evaluation now.  We can reduce the stress of medical bills, get you the best settlement possible, and help you get back to your life.

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