Sausalito Installs Bicycle Signs That Contradict California Vehicle Code

Single_file_bike_lane_small.jpgA sign in Sausalito that contradicts state law. Photos: Joshua Hart.

While Marin County has been designated a "national model" for bicycling and walking, one of four counties that have received a $25 million grant from the Federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), Sausalito has been notably hostile to the influx of cyclists who come over the Golden Gate Bridge, particularly tourists who rent bicycles in San Francisco.

According to David Hoffman, Director of Planning for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC), "over the last several months, some elements — coming from both citizens and city leadership — have suggested removing all bicycle parking racks in the town, proposed to ‘truck cyclists out of town’ and are opposing planned future improvements to cycling facilities."

What’s worse, the city of Sausalito recently installed a number of signs along Bridgeway that contradict California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 21202 and tell cyclists that they "must ride single file in bike lane" and ride "single file on roadway" when passing through the town. In fact, the CVC allows cyclists to ride in the middle of a narrow lane, does not explicitly prohibit riding side by side, and allows cyclists to leave the bike lane under a number of circumstances.

According to Dan Gutierrez, Policy Chair of the Caltrans District 7 Bicycle Advisory Committee, this is a case of improper, non-standard signage. "The CVC does not require that bicyclists must only ride in bike lanes, since a bicyclist moving at the speed of traffic or faster may use a travel lane, and even those moving slower may still leave the lane when passing other drivers, preparing for a left turn, avoiding hazards (such as the door zone), and when approaching places where right turns are authorized [like driveways and intersections]."

So is Sausalito making up its own traffic laws?

single_file_roadwaysmall_.jpgAfter the descent from the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito, cyclists are welcomed with improper signs on trash cans.

City Engineer Todd Teachout said the new signs are not anti-cyclist but are part of a strategy to deal with bicycle traffic. Teachout said that over the last three years "the city has been grappling with a large and increasing influx of not-so-skilled cyclists on city roads." He added, "the signs in question are advisory, not regulatory."

The signs, however, are black and white, the standard for a traffic regulation, and give the impression that they are law.

Jim Baross, president of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO), said, "There are supposed to be standardized rules for behavior, traffic signs, and roadway markings all across the State of California. Our safety and lives are put at risk when cities ‘go rogue’ with traffic operation."

According to Hoffman of the MCBC, the signs were authorized directly by the City Council, without being vetted by the Police Department or Public Works. Both agencies are now reviewing the legality of the new signage in light of questions posed by Streetsblog.

Jason Meggs of the Bicycle Civil Liberties Union is concerned about the potential impacts of Sausalito’s actions on the rights of cyclists throughout the Bay Area. "They are sending a message that cyclists are welcome in Sausalito only if they stay out of the way of car drivers."

On a recent sunny day in Sausalito, Streetsblog interviewed cyclists who were waiting for the ferry to return to San Francisco. Sarah Andersen, a woman from Denmark who had rented a bike in San Francisco and pedaled over the bridge, was shocked by the attitude of the city council.

"They should be glad they don’t live in Copenhagen because cyclists are everywhere," she said. "They’ve just got to get used to it — it’s the future after all."

Despite being labelled a "plague of locusts" by some in the city, the economic benefits cyclists bring to Sausalito are hard to dispute. According to MCBC’s Hoffman, "Sausalito was the only city in Marin County last year that showed positive sales tax growth. Tourism — particularly bike-based tourism — is likely responsible."

The MCBC has been meeting with City officials in an attempt to get the signs removed, though when that could happen is still unclear.

Hoffman, who insisted he would rather spend his time developing the bicycle network in southern Marin County than quibbling over signage, added, "our biggest concern at this point is getting the Council to embrace good bicycle facilities in the town."

single_file_bike_lane_2.jpg

car_door_small.jpgRequiring that cyclists use the bike lane is not always in the interests of safety. As this photo illustrates, the only safe place for a cyclist to ride is well outside the door zone, which means outside of the bike lane.

  • cyclotronic

    now that i’ve got that off my chest, i would like to recommend that they replace those signs with a bike lane instead of that useless middle lane. problem solved.

  • cyclotronic

    her’s another one from sausalito. a cop who did a sudden u-turn in the middle of the block without lights and almost swiped me. the reason? to catch a cyclist and give him a ticket.

  • cyclotronic

    if you’ll notice- what pisses off drivers? being delayed even a few seconds. seeing someone tresspass a minor law designed for them. what pisses off a cyclist? the threat of grave physical injury for one of the above. think about it.

  • @Noah: CA cities and counties are required by law to use the uniform standards of traffic control established by the state. The signs being used in Sausalito are found nowhere in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), do not reflect any established law within the CVC, and are therefore illegal. The relevant code of the CVC:

    Traffic Control Devices: Uniform Standards

    21100.1. Whenever any city or county, by ordinance or resolution, permits, restricts, or prohibits the use of public or private highways pursuant to this article, any traffic control device erected by it on or after January 1, 1981, shall conform to the uniform standards and specifications adopted by the Department of Transportation pursuant to Section 21400.

    Added Ch. 671, Stats. 1980. Effective January 1, 1981.
    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21100_1.htm

  • cyclotronic

    when the driver passed me in the other lane on the blind curve where richardson turns into bridgeway, the reason why i tried to catch up to him was to give him a big hug.

  • cyclotronic

    sausalito is not a town full of passive-aggressive reactionaries maquerading as liberals, that is an unfair generalization.

  • @Cyclotronic: The reason why Sausalito hasn’t installed bike lanes on the south section of Bridgeway is that the Fire Dept. wants a clear lane for access in case of emergency- not an unreasonable concern. Perhaps sharrows in the middle of the lane and a 15mph speed limit would do the job.

  • cyclotronic

    bike lanes in no way change the size of the road for fire dept access. the real reason is because the businesses at the end of the block use the lane for truck deliveries. come to think of it, those trucks offer a bigger obstruction to fire trucks than bike lanes would.

  • cyclotronic

    the speed limit change is a good idea. at 15mph bikes could reasonably take the lane. really, i don’t mind it as it is. the section beforehand is the truly dangerous part, coming from highway speeds (and mentality) down to twists and turns, and confusion for the unfamiliar. I always take the lane before the first turn, at the speed limit. Some driver don’t like this, but they are attempting to speed.

  • mcas

    @Noah & Matthew: CVC 21100 lists about 20 things (including *permitting* (but not requiring) cyclists riding on the sidewalk) that local authorities can regulate outside of CVC. If it isn’t listed, you can’t do it– and riding 2 abreast isn’t there. Link: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21100.htm

  • cyclotronic

    According to Sausalito’s Police Chief Scott Paulin, the citizens are upset there isn’t anything better to complain about than cyclists.

  • cyclotronic

    A sign on Alexander Ave. just before Edwards Ave. that reads “cyclists allowed full use of lane” and sharrows down to Bridgeway would be a great idea. It would also help tourists find their way through that part. Nothing worse than a tourist in a car debating a right hand turn onto Main St., well, except for a local trying to pass you, crossing the yellow line at the blind curve onto Bridgeway.

  • cyclotronic

    JohnB,

    Your comments on “impeding flow of traffic” are absurd. Bicyclists aren’t riding in “the passing lane of a highway” in Sausalito, they are on a two lane road. If you go the speed limit and impede the flow of traffic on a two lane road, as anyone knows, you will not be pulled over for impeding the flow of traffic, if you are in a car.

  • All – multiple issues here:

    * Signs that are not MUTCD compliant (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices). That’s the federal “bible” of signing and facilities. CA has it’s own manual – the CA-MUTCD – in both cases the signs in Sausalito are no compliant. The Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) is working with the City to remove/modify/change these signs. I’m personally working with City staff on this issue, and I hope to have a satisfactory resolution in the near future.

    * Angry (and justifiably so) residents of Sausalito that are tired of the spandex warriors flagrantly disregarding traffic laws. These folks don’t make it easy on anyone, and they give us all a bad name. If you’re a spandex warrior and you’re reading this blog comment, please consider your actions. I’m a paid advocate, and my job is to get better and increasing numbers of bicycle facilities on the road; pissing off the locals makes my job incredibly difficult, as these same angry people believe that more facilities will bring more scofflaw cyclists. …And I am not without sin; if NOBODY is around at an intersection (I am the ONLY vehicle, I’m going to roll that stop sign. But nobody ever sees me do it.

    * Sausalito City leadership that is responding to the folks that have elected them in to office. The political winds are shifting in Sausalito. Griping on a blog won’t change City leadership’s collective mind. This is a much longer-term issue, and I can assure readers that the MCBC is reaching out to these folks to see where we can meet, what their real issues are, and if some sort of solution can be reached. That said, I encourage you all to keep an eye peeled on Streetsblog and on the Marin County Bicycle Coalition website (www.marinbike.org) for the latest updates. If you’re willing to actually GET INVOLVED, please drop me a note – you’ll find my contact info on the MCBC website.

    David Hoffman – Director of Planning

  • JohnB

    Cyclo

    Actually auto drivers do get pulled over for “going too slow”.

    And you are supposed to pull over if 5 or more cars are behind you.

    I have no objection to one or even cyclists taking the entire lane as long as they are traveling at the flow of traffic.

    But outside of congested city streets and downhills, that generally is not possible. So moving over is the legal, courteous and safe thing to do.

  • I’d have to agree with David. In interviewing shopkeepers in Sausalito for this article, along with an appreciation of the economic benefits that cyclists bring to the city, there was a real resentment against those who fail to respect others, with many reporting almost being hit by the “spandex speedsters.” From many years of riding across the bridge, I am personally sick of the arrogance that some cyclists display, with no patience or compassion for those slower than themselves or those who are in awe, seeing the bridge for the first time. I understand how it happens: the blood pumping, the endorphins flowing, the survival instinct engaged when faced with potentially predatory metal boxes. I have seen it rising in myself in the past, and I continually work to become a more patient, understanding road user. Of course reckless behavior from a driver is several magnitudes more dangerous to public safety than a cyclist.

    We just need more empathy out there on all sides. Drivers are not some enemy species- much of the time they are as much victims of our car-dependent transport system as cyclists or pedestrians- just look around you next time you’re on the freeway- people are miserable stuck in their cars.

  • aaron

    One of the benefits of more people riding bikes is less gridlock and smoother flow of traffic. When cyclists leave the bike lane to take up a full car lane just “because they can”, they are snarling traffic unnecessarily.

    As a full time commuting cyclist that hasn’t owned a car in over 10 years, this pisses me off.

  • Aaron, no one is suggesting that cyclists should be able to obstruct car traffic unnecessarily. When there is a narrow lane that is impossible for a bike and car to share safely, positioning oneself to ‘take the lane’ ensures that drivers don’t incorrectly pass you when there isn’t sufficient space. This is accepted practice amongst national Bike Ed curricula: http://www.bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/index.htm

    There is unfortunately a bias against cyclists riding side by side in a narrow lane, even from cyclists. One cyclist I interviewed for this article told me that if cyclists ride side by side, they “deserve to be hit by a car.”

    All else being equal, if you are a car going 20mph or two bikes riding side by side going 20mph, you should have the same rights under the law. Unfortunately, mainstream society is biased against cyclists using the road in general, and this is often internalized in cyclists in what John Forester called the “cyclist inferiority complex.”

    As with most transportation issues, if you look deep down this is really a class issue, which makes what’s going on in Sausalito a fascinating study in cultural tolerance and power dynamics.

  • No need for name-calling. Also, one needn’t be young, athletic or healthy to ride a bike, though riding it will help you move in the direction of two out of three of those goals.

  • cyclotronic

    johnb – i have yet to see a car get pulled over for going the posted speed limit, FOR GOING TOO SLOW. somehow i doubt it ever happens. if that’s the kind of logic you need to make your case, so be it. if i am going the speed limit, i will take the lane at my discretion, end of story. i have more important things to think about than your sense of courtesy or approval. all i really need from anyone in a vehicle is to notice my presense and obey the traffic laws.

  • Meritory

    I find it ridiculous that cyclists are being targeted like this. First, the roads were built only for cars, blatantly discriminating against affordable transportation. Then, when bicycles (one of many alternative forms of transportation) achieves a step towards equal road access (bike lanes), the city of Sausalito wants to demonize them.

    If cyclists are not required to have licenses, they won’t learn how to ride. If roads are designed to exclude them, they won’t want to ride. If signs force them to ride to an unrealistic standard, they can’t ride.

    If anything, we need to get the cars off the road. After all, cars are the big killers, not the cyclists.

  • Ryan Holman

    They should make the signs yellow so that it’s legal. I don’t think Sausalito is being unreasonable overall, it has become unbearably congested with cyclists, primarily tourists and others unfamiliar with cycling. It’s not like they suddenly hate bikes, it’s just that there’s been a sharp increase beyond the very small communities capacity that they’re trying to address

  • Downtown SF has been unbearably congested with cars. I think there has been a sharp increase beyond the very dense downtown’s capacity.

    And yes, I see the irony in the fact that I’m typing this as Critical Mass is about to start and I love every ounce of it.

  • Tom Murphy

    After a quarter century of riding through Sausalito for recreation, exercise and commuting, I’d actually like to commend the city and the Marin County Bike Coalition for constantly trying – emphasis, trying – to balance the needs of cyclists (including the tourists) against those of other residents. Just about everyone in town rides a bike at times, so it’s not like most Sausalitans hate cyclists (yeah, there are always a few).

    The bike lanes in town are far from perfect, but they’re also dramatically better than just a couple of years ago — thanks largely to the patient work of MCBC’s David Hoffman. I have a feeling he and the city will adjust the signs noted in this article, and I also believe those signs were really meant to guide the less-experienced tourist-cyclists who, frankly, could use a little advice now and then.

    The vehicle code may not directly authorize such signs, but I’ve never ridden anywhere in Europe, the US or Canada where I didn’t see signs put up by well-meaning locals who were aware of local hazards. On the Tiburon Loop, for example, there’s a sign advising cyclists to ride “as far to the right as practicable.” It’s been there ever since I started riding the loop. Does it comply with state law? Probably not. But I wouldn’t advise any newcomers to ride two-by-two in the middle of the road on The Loop unless they’re damn sure of what’s coming up behind them. Cars like to speed around those turns, too.

    Cyclists and motorists should always be open to guidance from locals who may be more aware of hazards than a visitor. There are certain narrow sections of Bridgeway in Sausalito where I ALWAYS ride single file and stay in the bike lane for my own safety. That said, I’m not shy of getting out of the bike lane to pass slower traffic or avoid car doors, which isn’t prohibited by any signs that I’ve seen there (and I’ve looked).

    Finally, let me quote from MCBC’s “Bicyclists Code of Conduct,” which was written by cycling guru Joe Breeze. While it notes the cyclists right to share the lane, it also says:

    “Generally, it is prudent to stay as far to the right as practicable. When riding with others, do not block traffic, ride single file. Be aware of other road users at all times.”

    Amen.

  • Nice words, Tom. But the signs are still illegal. Nothing wrong with “Cyclist advised to ride in bicycle lane when safe.” But that’s not what the signs say.

  • Thought this was a nice little write up and applies well to this discussion.

    http://www.portlandize.com/2010/03/traffic-safety-and-our-focus-on-issues.html

  • Wow! This is pretty complicated and I hope the bicycle sign issue has been straightened out.

  • Buy a Car

    Let’s just ban the bicycles.  The people wearing their little spandex suits and blocking traffic are sanctimonious jackasses.  It would be good riddance to get rid of them.

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