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When can a bicycle take the entire lane?

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When is it OK for a bicycle to take up an entire lane of traffic? That was the question from one of The Ride’s listeners May 15, and here’s how the California Highway Patrol answered:

“If there’s two lanes, they can take the far right lane,” said CHP officer, Tim Bailey. “If there’s only one lane, they need to stay to the far right of that lane.”

But bicyclists had a different take.

“False,” wrote listener, Don Ward. “A bicycle may take the lane ANY TIME that the lane is not share-able width with other vehicles.”

So. Who’s correct? Both the CHP and the L.A. bicycling community.

It all depends on how you interpret California Vehicle Code 21202. According to that code, bicycles that are moving more slowly than the normal speed of traffic must stay as close to the righthand side of the right lane as possible — which is what the CHP said.

There are exceptions, however.

When a bicycle is traveling at the same speed as surrounding traffic, it can take up the entire lane.

And when the bicycle is passing another vehicle or cyclist, turning left, approaching a place for a right turn or avoiding road hazards, the cyclist is also legally allowed to take up the full right lane — the key word being “road hazards.”

That could include car doors swinging into the lane, parked delivery trucks, animals, pedestrians or even the lane itself being too narrow to accommodate both a car and a bicycle, making it hazardous for the cyclist to travel safely.

According to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, most L.A. streets are “substandard,” or less than 12 feet, which triggers the key road hazard exception in California Vehicle Code 21202, allowing bicyclists to take up the entire lane.

But bicyclists beware: “Cities in L.A. County, depending on the city, they might have their own specific municipal code or laws on the roadways designating places for the cyclist to be in,” said CHP officer, Siara Lund.

The longterm solution for cyclists is reconfiguring streets with bike lanes and removing some lanes of traffic (and parking) entirely, said Colin Bogart, education director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

“Streets haven’t been designed to accommodate bicyclists very well,” Bogart said. “That’s the solution. We need to reconfigure our streets to accommodate bicyclists.”

But until that happens, Bogart advises drivers of motorized vehicles to “understand that bicyclists have a right to be there … and to try to be patient and relax because really what we’re talking about is the bicyclists’ safety on one hand and your convenience and desire to go faster on the other,” he said.

And for cyclists?

“In instances where bicyclists encounter an aggressive driver, I tell people do your best not to engage with that. Just wave and smile with all five fingers,” Bogart said. “In the end, we’ve all got to share this limited space, and, yes, the streets weren’t really designed well for bicyclists, but the city is working to change that. It’s going to take a while to reverse 50+ years of designing streets just for cars, so in the interim, courtesy also really helps.”