Bicycles and You on PCH—Take a Deep Breath

Drivers have many misconceptions about bicyclists.

Nearly a year ago, I was frustrated, as were other Malibuites, about the bicycles on Pacific Coast Highway running red lights and riding three-abreast in the right lane. There were other “infractions” that people wrote letters to the editor about. Anger was building, so I came up with the idea of starting a Facebook page called, “Share the Road, Share the Ticket.” Ouch! What brouhaha ensued! 

Some people in the bicycle community flipped out, and the blog posts flamed red with anger toward me. I took a licking and kept on ticking, bringing my wounds to the Malibu Public Safety Commission of which I am a member. It turns out fellow Commissioners Chris Frost and Carol Randall had tried to fix the bicycle problems in Malibu for a long time too. 

I threw up a white flag and asked the cyclists to have a meeting with me (I was wearing a bicycle helmet and brought my pepper spray). The meeting went well, and from it evolved a bicycle workshop and some great guys I met who have smoothed the way to greater understanding. 

The Public Safety Commission held a public workshop this past Saturday to discuss bicycle safety on PCH. Residents, several City Council members and a number of bicycle club members attended the session. It was an eye opener, and we all learned a lot from each other. Afterward, I asked Eric Bruins who bikes to work in Malibu and who attended Saturday’s workshop, to clarify common misconceptions drivers have about bicyclists and explain what it’s like to ride a bike on PCH. He has a lot of knowledge and is happy to post comments clarifying what bicyclists encounter on PCH. We want to hear from you residents too. Tell us your issues and concerns.

Myth: The white lines running down the right-hand side of the traffic lanes are authorized bike lanes.

Fact: PCH does not have bike lanes in Malibu. The white line, known as the fog line, marks the edge between the travel lane and the shoulder. The shoulder is not considered part of the “roadway,” which is defined as the part of the highway ordinarily used for vehicular travel.

Myth: Bicyclists must stay to the right of the fog line at all times.

Fact: Because the shoulder is not actually part of the “roadway,” bicyclists are not required by law to ride on it, although many do so out of courtesy to motorists. The shoulder is full of debris and other hazards that could put a bicyclist at risk, such as broken glass, gravel, rough pavement or parked cars. Many of these hazards are not readily seen from behind a steering wheel. Parked cars are a particular danger because someone may open the door suddenly into the path of a bicyclist, which could lead to a dangerous collision. Many bicyclists stay three to four feet away from parked cars to avoid risk of winning the “door prize.” Often times, avoiding these hazards requires leaving the shoulder.

Myth: Bicyclists are not allowed to ride in the traffic lanes.

Fact: Bicyclists are given all the rights and responsibilities of drivers of a motor vehicle, including the right to ride on the “roadway” (which we already determined does not include the shoulder). The law requires bicyclists to ride “as far right as practicable” except in a number of situations. One of these situations is when the lane is too narrow for a car and bicycle to safely share a single lane. The travel lanes on PCH are too narrow to share in all but a few places, meaning that a bicyclist in the right lane may ride in the center of it.  This position is safer for everyone because it increases the bicyclist’s visibility and prevents unsafe passing.

Myth: Bicyclists are allowed to go through red lights at T intersections like Big Rock and Kanan if there is no traffic coming.

Fact: Like a car, bicyclists are required to stop at red lights, even at intersections without cross traffic. Many of these T intersections have crosswalks or driveways that could pose a hazard. On the east end of town, residents use the gaps in traffic to get out of their driveways and garages and are not expecting bicyclists to be there after running the red. That said, no bicyclist has caused a collision by running a red at a T intersection on PCH in at least the last decade.

Myth: Bicyclists do not have to stop at stop signs if there is no opposing traffic.

Fact: Again, like a car, bicyclists are required to stop at stop signs. However, there is no requirement in the California Vehicle Code that they put their foot down (another common myth). Also like cars (but not in a good way), bicyclists tend to slow down, make sure there’s no cross traffic, and proceed without coming to a complete stop.  It’s called a California Stop for a reason. The main safety issue arises when anyone one the road—be it a bicyclist or a driver—does not respect the right-of-way of the other person, leading to a potential conflict.

Myth: Bicyclists must use the right-turn lane to stop at a light even if they are going straight in order to stay out of traffic.

Fact: According to the vehicle code, bicyclists are supposed to be in the through lane unless they are turning, just like any other vehicle. Due to the configuration of the shoulder and right turn lanes on PCH, most bicyclists continue on their line instead of merging over into traffic. What seems to work best is for through bicyclists to ride along the left edge of the right-turn lane. Bicyclists must not ride through an intersection from the right side of the right turn lane. This creates a “right hook” conflict between the bicyclist and turning vehicles where the driver turns across the path of the bicyclist. Drivers merging into the turn lane should signal and look for bicyclists in their mirrors and blind spot before turning.

Myth: Bicyclists stay in packs and ride side-by-side because it is safer.

Fact: This is pretty much true. In addition to being social and aerodynamically efficient, riding in a pack increases visibility to drivers—the number one factor in preventing collisions. As we covered above, bicyclists are allowed to ride in the center of a narrow lane at their discretion. Once a bicyclist is in middle of the lane, there is no difference under the law between riding side-by-side and single-file.  Either way, a driver will have to change lanes to pass legally and safely.

Myth: Bicyclists must get out of a car's way if the driver is going faster.

Fact: Just as when approaching a slower car, the responsibility is always on the overtaking driver to pass safely. There is a common belief that bicyclists may not “impede” traffic, however the legal definition is much narrower than most people realize. On a two-lane road, the law requires slower vehicles to use turnouts or safely pull over when five or more cars are behind. On a road like PCH, where there are two lanes in each direction, it is always expected that faster traffic pass using the left lane. If there is another vehicle in the left lane, then one should slow down and merge when it is safe to do so. Drivers: Always, always, always, leave at least three feet between your car and a bicyclist.

Myth: Most bicycle accidents are the bicyclist's fault.

Fact: Of bicycle-vehicle collisions on PCH, three out of four are the driver’s fault according to a 5-year study of traffic data from the California Highway Patrol.  The most common collisions are sideswipes, right hooks and left crosses (turning left across a bicyclist’s path). These are all avoidable if drivers pass with at least three feet of room, signal and remember to check their mirrors and blind spots. The comparatively few collisions that are the bicyclist’s fault are usually when a bicyclist is riding against traffic or intoxicated. Other factors may include riding at night without lights, failing to signal or failing to observe right-of-way.

Myth: Sheriff’s officers do not ticket bicyclists.

Fact: Bicyclists can and do receive citations for vehicle code violations, just like drivers. Sheriff’s officers are required to enforce the law equally, without favoring any one group over another. However, limited resources require that the officers focus their efforts on violations that are most likely to lead to serious collisions, such as speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence. As a result, less serious violations, whether by cyclists or drivers, may sometimes be overlooked under some circumstances.


Please leave your questions below in the comments section, and our bicycling friend will do his best to answer them.

hellwood March 18, 2012 at 05:23 AM
RE: "billdsd 9:59 pm on Saturday, March 17, 2012 Unfortunately, you just pretend that you already know everything without ever having studied that subject. That's why you can't understand. Let go of your arrogance and do a little studying." Arrogance is when you insult people who disagree. Ignorance is when you cant imagine that other people can be intelligent. We are all still waiting for you to convice all of us that bicycle riding on PCH is safe. Trust me, we are smart enough to listen to your theories and decide for ourselves if they make sense based on our experiences. There are actually some very intelligent people reading who wont listen to your crap because of your insults.
billdsd March 18, 2012 at 05:24 AM
You completely fail at understanding the point. My training in mathematics does not help me understand bicycle safety. It helps me understand mathematics. My training in bicycle safety is why I understand bicycle safety. That was the point. The point that you missed entirely. You have to study a subject in order to understand it.
billdsd March 18, 2012 at 05:26 AM
So you haven't studied it at all. You have to understand how crashes actually happen in the real world and you have to learn techniques for how to prevent them or at least make them dramatically less likely to happen. I've done the homework. You've showed up in class and tried to fake your way through an oral report hoping that nobody noticed that you didn't do the reading.
hellwood March 18, 2012 at 05:30 AM
@billdsd well, your superior math skills sure aren't helping you get your point across
billdsd March 18, 2012 at 05:32 AM
They aren't my theories. I didn't invent bicycle safety. I learned it from bicycle safety experts. I have been practicing it for years and between the study and the practice I am quite good at riding safely. Saying that someone is ignorant of a subject that they clearly have not studied is not so much an insult as an observation. As for the validity of your uniformed opinions: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” ― Isaac Asimov He was talking about political opinions but the theme works for this any many other subjects just as well. Ignorance is not as good as knowledge.
billdsd March 18, 2012 at 05:34 AM
Unfortunately your poor reading comprehension is making communication difficult. I'm not sure how I could have stated it more simply. You have to study a subject to understand it. What is so difficult to understand about that?
Steve Woods March 18, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Your egotistical arrogance does nothing to solve reality based problems .
hellwood March 18, 2012 at 05:47 AM
@billdsd You think that learning from a book in a classroom makes everybody else that has real life experiences inferior. You need to think about who your audience is. Do you really think that the residents of one of the wealthiest towns in America got here because of their ignorance? Your mathematics analogy just shows us that you think that you are smart because of the books you've read. Us ignorant residents who live on PCH see stupidity beyond belief that they dont teach in classrooms.
hellwood March 18, 2012 at 05:50 AM
RE: "billdsd 10:26 pm on Saturday, March 17, 2012 So you haven't studied it at all. You have to understand how crashes actually happen in the real world..." Oh, I guarantee that anybody that lives here on PCH has seen more accidents happen "in the real world" than you have seen in your classroom
billdsd March 18, 2012 at 06:03 AM
The difference between you and me is that I learned from people who analyzed the causes of crashes and their frequency. You just make it up and pretend to know. Do the homework or stop pretending to be an expert. You pretense that you understand bicycle safety without studying it is the ultimate in arrogance.
billdsd March 18, 2012 at 06:06 AM
I have over a half a million miles of driving experience in over 32 years of driving and well over 100,000 miles of road bicycling experience. I have plenty of real world experience. However, the experience is not fully understood without knowing the theories. Understanding crashes requires analysis. That something that you haven't done. That analysis is a lot more work than reading the books or taking the classes. The mathematics thing was just a point about having to study things to understand them.
Brantley Watson March 18, 2012 at 06:47 AM
We at Patch always encourage active debate, but it is imperative that any debate remain civil. Any profanity whatsoever will not be permitted on the site. I ask that you please stay on topic and refrain from using offensive language. Thank you.
Goodgulf March 19, 2012 at 03:43 PM
You should be scared to ride on the sidewalk, it's 1 of the two most dangerous riding styles (The other is riding against traffic.). That being said, it's still statistically pretty danged safe.
Goodgulf March 19, 2012 at 03:50 PM
OK, proving your point should be easy them. Check out the FARS database (Just google it, I don't know if I can post links here.) This maintans records for the conditions and locations of every fatality involving autos in the USA. Show us how the fatality rate for cyclists is higher along that stetch of highway. The data is all there.
David Huntsman March 19, 2012 at 09:32 PM
The last few days of conversation where motorists insist on the right to drive a car fast and not change lanes for cyclists on Pacific Coast Highway is analogous to slobs insisting they have the right to foul the pool, even though the law says they can't, and even though other swimmers ask them not to. "We've been fouling the pool for years, why should we climb out and use the toilet just because it endangers you? If you don't like human waste in the pool, swim elsewhere!"
hellwood March 19, 2012 at 10:06 PM
@david We have also been talking about how bicycle riders who cant even keep up with the flow of traffic find it necessary to ride out in the middle of the road regardless of how much room they have on the shoulder
David Huntsman March 19, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Yes - I was referring to you.
Goodgulf March 19, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Of course, riding further into the lane (Minimum of 3 feet from the edge of the roadway...not the curb edge or the gutter.) is what every cycling safety organization I am aware of recommends because it's significantly safer than riding to the far right.
hellwood March 19, 2012 at 10:17 PM
@david You are the minority. I have driven around a million of you. A majority of riders manage to stay out of traffic. So who is really fouling the pool for everybody else?
David Huntsman March 19, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Goodgulf March 19, 2012 at 10:20 PM
David is part of traffic. Get over it.
David Huntsman March 19, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Goodgulf, it looks like hellwood is suggesting the shoulder is relevant. I don't think he's even gotten to the lane sharing issue. He wants the educated people to "get out of the pool"... These things take time.
hellwood March 19, 2012 at 10:29 PM
The world revolves around you David. Riding in the middle of PCH could save mankind! you ARE the man!
hellwood March 19, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Don't worry goodgulf. You are special too! :)
David Huntsman March 19, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Just doing my bit to preserve western civilization, one public right-of-way at a time...
hellwood March 19, 2012 at 10:47 PM
@david OK, fine by me. Just don't get yourself killed trying to prove a point
Goodgulf March 19, 2012 at 11:01 PM
If he was trying to get killed, he'd ride on the sidewalk or against traffic. To lesser degree, he'd ride far to the right. But he rides with at least 3' of clearance between himself and the right of the useable lane, as is suggested by cycling safety organizations the world over. Actually, this is a bit of a misnomer, as even the most dangerous forms of cycling that I list (In decreasing order) there are statistically pretty darned safe.
billdsd March 19, 2012 at 11:05 PM
By riding in the middle of the lane bicyclists make themselves dramatically more visible and make it absolutely clear that it is not possible to pass within the lane. It's completely obvious from hundreds of feet away that you will have to change lanes to pass. That's makes bicyclists safer. It's in all of the safety books and taught in the safety classes. It also works in the real world.
billdsd March 19, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Bicyclists are never required to ride on the shoulder. Bicyclists are traffic. Why can't you just change lanes? Are all lanes but the slow lane made of red hot lava? Will you have seven years bad luck if you change lanes to pass a bicyclist?
CAROLYN RODIONOFF February 21, 2013 at 10:14 PM
Hi Jamie, I've read the article (nicely written/well researched) and the comments to what you said. I have had the same question in my mind. I have, to date, lost two friends on that highway, and wish that they had chosen to ride somewhere else. I'm not arguing the political correctness of either side...just saying that PCH, at least in Malibu, is dangerous in a car...I would strongly (and do) urge all I love not to bike on it. They can be right...and still dead :(


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