Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Panhandle Cyclists: Now You're Legal

This bicyclist didn't look like he was about to break the law.

Designed and designated for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Now legal.

Last month Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure that makes legal what bicyclists have been doing all along: riding across Masonic Avenue on the Panhandle Path. No matter how carefully bicyclists shared the path with pedestrians and other cyclists and no matter that they only crossed the street with a green bike light before, they were still breaking the law. The problem was with the interpretation a law that governed use of the crosswalk. The previous wording of the law allowed an interpretation that cyclists should get off their bike and walk across a street like Masonic.

Although the new law was tucked into a general transportation bill meant to clean up, clarify, and deal with non-controversial changes to laws, there were real negative impacts from the previous wording. Marc Caswell, Program Manager for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, explained that the SFBC occasionally received reports of insurance companies challenging claims by bicyclists who said they were hit by a motorist while biking across Masonic at the Fell. "This law will help cyclists get their fair share should they be unlucky enough to be hit by a driver at this key intersection," Caswell remarked.

Senate bill 734 (in pdf here), introduced by Senator Alan Lowenthal, rectified the problem by defining a "bicycle path crossing" as any portion of a roadway clearly marked and indicated for use by bicyclists. In other words, bicyclists have the right to use the bicycle paths designated for their use even when the path crosses a street that connects segments of the route. Sometimes the law lags behind common sense and reasonable use. Both the California Bicycle Coalition and SFBC supported the bill.

So, cyclists: enjoy your new legal status as you cross Masonic on your daily commutes or weekend spins to Marin.


  1. That is good. But they still didn't clarify whether bicyclists have the right of way in crosswalks, as pedestrians do.

  2. @ Jef, It looks like VC Sect. 6 Sect. 231.6 (a) (1) addresses that situation quite clearly.