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I did some searching, but I can't seem to find a definitive answer to this question. Is it legal to ride against traffic on a one-way street (no bike lane) in California, specifically in Los Angeles?

VC 21202(b) says:

(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.

This doesn't explicitly mention going against traffic, but since it's talking about one-way streets and riding close to the left curb, can we assume that the implication is that the rider is going the "wrong way"?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

21202 is discussing the position within the lane(s) that a cyclist can ride. You cannot take 21202 on its own without considering the rest of the vehicle code. 21650.1 states that a bicycle shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven on the roadway. So, California Vehicle Code says you cannot ride against traffic on a one-way street if you are on the street, shoulder, or bike lane (if present).

However, the City of Los Angeles has local ordinances that govern bicycle riding which allows you to ride on the sidewalk, but does not specify a direction. I suspect, but am not certain, that you can ride against traffic while on a sidewalk within the city limits of Los Angeles.

Clear as mud? A good place to start on California Vehicle Codes governing bicycles is the CABO website.

21202:
(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal 
    speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as
    practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the
    following situations:
 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.

21650.1:
A bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in 
the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway. 

LAMC 56.15:
 1. No person shall ride, operate or use a bicycle, unicycle, skateboard, cart, wagon,
    wheelchair, rollerskates, 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.
 2. No person shall ride, operate or use a bicycle or unicycle on Ocean Front Walk
    between Marine Street and Via Marina within the City of Los Angeles, except that
    bicycle or unicycle riding shall be permitted along the bicycle path adjacent to 
    Ocean Front Walk between Marine Street and Washington Boulevard.
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In the case of a one way street, the implication is that you "may" ride (not must ride) close to the left hand curb. If you are traveling in the direction of traffic, this allows you to complete a left hand turn in a safe and sane manner.

The provision in California Vehicle Code Section 21200(a), listed below, makes clear that a bicycle on the street is subject to all the same laws as a motor vehicle, the only exception being where those laws can't be applied due to the nature of a bicycle. (For example, emissions standards). That would indicate to me that the expectation is that a bicycle ride in the direction of permitted traffic, when on a one way street.

21200: (a) 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, including,
but not limited to, provisions concerning driving under the influence
of alcoholic beverages or drugs, and by Division 10 (commencing with
Section 20000), Section 27400, Division 16.7 (commencing with
Section 39000), Division 17 (commencing with Section 40000.1), and
Division 18 (commencing with Section 42000), except those provisions
which by their very nature can have no application.
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