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.

  • Michael P.

    Honestly, I can sort of sympathize with their plight. Have you ridden around those Blazing Saddle bike tourists? They have no idea what they’re doing and they’re sort of dangerous, weaving all over without warning. I think if these signs were more clearly suggestions and not so official looking, they’d be helpful for everyone.

  • JohnB

    Michael

    Yes, common sense should transcend any vehicle code and riding “side-by-side” is widely regarded as hazardous. I would not have thought we even need a law about that – I recall it in school around 4th grade.

  • Michael, I think you’re right that guidelines are needed to ensure the safety of international visitors cycling to Sausalito. But the answer is not to go beyond what the state vehicle code allows and illegally restrict cycle traffic.

    The fact that Sausalito has seemed unwilling to do what is needed in response to an increase in cycling- reallocate motor vehicle parking and transportation space to cyclists- has only exacerbated the problem.

  • JohnB,

    While riding side by side in situations where traffic speeds are disparate, a lane is otherwise shareable, and doing so means that car drivers are unnecessarily delayed is inconsiderate, doing so when going the speed of traffic, or riding in a narrow lane is not illegal, and should not be considered bad etiquette. Bikes have a right to the road. And perhaps we should also have a right to use our streets as social spaces?

  • If the city is concerned about tourist cyclists then why are the vast majority of the signs installed north of the ferry terminal in an area where there are very few tourist bicyclists???

    And you have to wonder about the city’s liability. They create an illegal substandard bike lane (it is too narrow) that is too dangerous to ride in and then they “require” cyclists to ride in it.

  • There unfortunately seems to be an entrenched resentment against cyclists among some residents of Sausalito, in spite of the fact that encouraging carbon free transport is in the city’s interest, being so close to sea level.

    When I was riding along Bridgeway last Friday, I saw ball bearings scattered in the bike lane on Bridgeway- a potentially serious threat to cyclists’ safety- which I quickly reported to the Sausalito PD. So, be careful if you are riding through town- there are some dangerous people out there with a grudge. At this point everyone just needs to take a deep breath and respect each other out on the road. Sorting out Sausalito’s transport issues will take some time.

  • CBrinkman

    Poor Sausalito; stuck in the past, afraid to embrace the future of expensive gasoline and increased bicycle-mobility. Darn you tourists on your little bikes with your bulging wallets and working credit cards! Away, away!

    I wonder what kind of liability the City will have if a cyclist in the bike lane gets doored for obeying the signs?

  • JohnB

    Josh,

    Yes, bikes are entitled to an reasonable share of the road. But only if they keep up with the flow of traffic. Interfering with the flow of traffic is contrary to the Vehicle Code and that applies, interestingly, even if the actual flow is above the listed speed limit. Anyone who has tried to do 55 in the passing lane of a freeway knows that one.

    So while a slower single-file bike keeping right doesn’t interfere with the flow of traffic, a side-by-side situation definitely does.

    And of course it is much more hazardous for an auto to pass two cyclists side-by-side.

    So I think side-by-side and/or taking the entire lane is OK is you are not slowing down traffic. In a congested town that is less likely, of course.

  • @CBrinkman I have seen the aftermath of a very bad dooring in Sausalito. Two cyclists riding single file, door opens, boom. First cyclist went into the door, second cyclist ends up going over the top. If the guy’s Kestral being in 4 pieces is any indication, he was in for a long rehab.

    I’m sure the liability went to the guy who opened the door into traffic, not the city.

  • Jym

    @JohnB – “Widely-regarded” and accurate aren’t particularly the same thing.

  • Velocentric

    Making your advisory signs look like regulation signs is illegal and dangerous. It causes confusion where such can be deadly.

    Yellow=Advisory, White=Regulation This is a very basic rule all over the country.
    Sorry, I find it difficult to believe that no one involved in this shenanigan didn’t know this.

  • John B. sez:
    “riding “side-by-side” is widely regarded as hazardous. I would not have thought we even need a law about that – I recall it in school around 4th grade.”

    Well, John, referencing what you learned in the 4th grade is only useful if you expect everyone to bicycle like children.

    I agree that cyclists should be courteous and not impede cars unnecessarily, but in that they are no more obligated than a cement truck or lost tourist in an rented SUV.

    These signs are discriminatory, bigoted in fact; cyclists are legal road users and you may pass them when safe to do so. Suck it up, John.

  • mcas

    My favorite was when I pulled over for riding two abreast.. and the cop got out and said, “Are you familiar with the road laws of Sausalito?” To which I replied, ‘You mean CVC 21202? Yes– very familiar.” …he wasn’t happy. But, I realized I’d hold up the group of 10 if I kept shooting off my mouth, so I just said ‘Yes, sir’ and got away with only a warrant check….

  • CBrinkman

    “I’m sure the liability went to the guy who opened the door into traffic, not the city.”

    Good point John – but what if the driver has no insurance? Now where do you go? Probably the City for thier (possibly) illegal signs. Oh Susalito. We shall just start calling you Cranky City. And get off my lawn you kids!

  • If the signs aren’t legal no reason not to paint over them. Or put up signs listing CA road laws like “Cars are required to share roads with bicycles”. You could always start complaining whenever there are problems, or whenever you stop at the cafes, complain about the treatment and how you won’t be returning. Skyline and the Santa Cruz mountains are calling out to you too.

    Other tactic: overthrow the council. Or raise the problem of Marin County commuters coming into SFO and interfering with the rights of the cyclists to enjoy their city. They can’t have it both ways: block out the city folk and still come into town themselves.

  • Noah

    Nothing in 21202 prohibits a city from enacting a single-file requirement, assuming that the single-file requirement does not prohibit passing.

    “So is Sausalito making up its own traffic laws?”
    — I would think the answer to this must be yes. Pretty much every city and county in CA has some its own traffic laws. It’s how the state is set up.

  • ZA

    The solution to the immediate problem couldn’t be simpler. Either:

    1. Force the city council to formally enact an ordinance governing bicycle traffic within their jurisdiction (that isn’t clear to me from this article)

    or

    2. Redesign the sign to include the words “Advisory” and be Yellow.

    The city could also have a general sign to welcome & remind visitors on road sharing safety at the key entrances into Sausalito, including the ferry terminal.

  • I should add that as an intl tourist to the area a decade ago, the issues I had were
    * getting through south SF to the airport safely.
    * being hassled by some delivery van in SF proper for being too far out in a lane. I think they expected me to be grateful for being told this, rather than being told about the lane next to them they could use if they had any issues.
    * Some random driver telling me off on my way through Yosemite for not pulling over to let a car behind me past, when there was no reason to stop them pulling past me either.

    Comparing the UK to the US, one thing the US drivers have is the expectation that nothing is in the way and that you can drive along without paying attention. In the UK the oncoming vehicle will clip your wing mirrors if you don’t pay attention; bikes are easy to get based in comparison to an oncoming bus.

    What these signs represent is an inability of the town to adapt to the future.

  • Nick

    Sausalito residents need to come to grips with the fact that they live in a tourist town. The way they feel about bicyclists- they’re annoying, unnessary, and potentially dangerous- is the way the rest of us feel about cars.

  • lance

    Seems like the City of Sausalito is thinking about safety…but these signs are pretty misleading…
    I think most local, seasoned cyclists will ignore the signs especailly if they know it’s not an enforced law…spread the word…

  • If the issue is international travellers, then perhaps the ferry could have guides and maps (even in german) discussing how to cycle safely round US towns. Not some “you are under-people, get out” text, more “please help us living in the town by parking considerately, not cycling on the sidewalk. And dont think having a green light won’t me cars will turn right over you”. Something constructive, not combative.

  • Noah,
    Though I’m not as expert in CVC as mcas, I’m pretty sure a city can’t just institute its own laws with regards to a particular class of mobility. In some cases, I believe the size of a city contributes to whether local lawmakers can make exceptions that supercede particular state laws, i.e. a law that would make sense for dense urban setting vs. a law in a more rural town.

    My only expertise in this was in NY, where any city over 1 million could enact specific local laws related to traffic. In NYC, Rules of the City of NY superceded state law, including the “two abreast” law. A noted Critical Mass lawsuit was partially related to this.
    http://www.nyclu.org/node/1133

    Does anyone here have a better understanding of the CVC?

  • Jym

    =v= IANAL, but as far as I know the CVC limits what the municipality can do. For bikes this is generally limited to riding on sidewalks (legal in some jurisdictions but not others) and whether residents have to participate in a bike licensing and registration system. Local jurisdictions also have some discretion over where and whether to put up “No Parking” signs next to bike lanes.

    Anything that outright contradicts the CVC is, of course, bogus. It took years to get Tiburon to dispense with some of its unlawful CVC-contradicting signage, though. It’s not hard to understand why people would see fit to deface or alter these signs.

  • Get rid of ALL signage, eliminate non-local motorised through-traffic, narrow the roads, impose a 20mph speed limit enforced by thingamabob on automobile engine computers tied in with GPS, give all residents free passes for buses and ferries.

    The future in addition to bicycles is a direct high-speed ferry to high speed rail station and a direct train to Downtown SF or via transfer to light rail or BRT on Geary in the Richmond. Also, free public transport in SF.

  • Nick

    The “must ride in bike lane” sign also promotes illegal activity. Tourists who are less than 18 years of age can legally ride on the sidewalk in California. And just because a street has a bike lane that does not mandate that the cyclist has to use it.

    Places in SF can be pretty backwards as well. I spotted a “Bicycle Riding Prohibited for Your Safety” sign just yesterday.

  • JohnB

    Pete/Mcas

    The issue here isn’t really side by side cycling at all. In a side-by-side situation, the cyclist on the right is cycling normally and isn’t impeding traffic. So in a way the side-by-side issue is a red herring.

    The issue, of course, is the guy on the left. He is riding to the left of a lane he should be riding on the right of. Not legally in all places (and this is one of those laws that varies depending where you are).

    But “Slower Traffic must keep Right” is in the Vehicle Code as well as not impeding the flow of traffic. So it’s really somewhere between stupid and inconsiderate, on the one hand, and illegal, on the other.

    From what I’m hearing here, wishing to boldly assert a technical right is more important to some here than to be safe and courteous. And that is wrong in every jurisdiction.

    Finally there is no reason to ride side-by-side. It increases risk without any purpose, except presumably the ability to chat. Here’s a hint – get an intercom like motor-bikes use. And stay safe.

  • Brian S.

    Haha that’s funny bicyclists demanding someone else follow the vehicle code. I think the rest of us should start to comply the first time I see a bicyclist stop at a stop sign.

  • patrick

    oh noes! the elusive driver who thinks cyclists should obey the law!

    I think “Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone” is the appropriate response here.

  • Brian S.

    Yes, I think cyclists should obey all traffic laws the way I always have as a driver. I’ve been a licensed driver for 32 years and never had a moving violation. So, yes, when it comes to driving, I am without sin.

  • patrick

    somthing makes me not believe you, oh maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never seen anybody who knows all the laws, much less follows them. Just because you haven’t been ticketed doesn’t mean you don’t break the law. I see cops watch drivers breaking the law and not pulling them over all the time.

  • Brian S.

    Ignoring your rudeness in calling me a liar, perhaps we can agree that if police see drivers or cyclists break the law, they should ticket them. I see cyclists run stop signs every single day in front of cops and have never seen the police enforce those laws. I have often seen them pull over drivers who commit the same infraction.

  • What a great use of taxpayer money, making illegal signs. I look forward to a $1 fee for council members to take their seats to pay for this.

  • Jym

    @JohnB – Actually, there ARE reasons to ride side-by-side, which you would know if you had any experience road riding. Imparting uninformed nonwisdom at us in blog comments doesn’t really help anything.

    In situations where it’s reasonably necessary to take the lane (for greater safety, as per the law), there’s no real reason NOT to ride side-by-side.

  • JohnB

    Brian S

    I actually saw a cop ticket a cyclist on Cole St. in SF the other day, for blowing through the stop sign at Carl.

    It’s actually the first time I’ve ever seen a cyclist ticketed.

    If it makes a difference, the cops have recently been going after so-called “quality of life” crimes in the Haight recently. As well as chasing down the kids on Haight, they also operated a sting to catch errant motorists at the Fell/Stanyan and Haight/Stanyan intersections.

    So if they are getting stricter with all road users, it doesn’t seem unfair to ticket cyclists too. And better of all of us who don’t break the law.

  • Nick

    At what point would it be more effiecnt for cyclists to ride side by side in a mass, then single file and outside of the door zone? Like on Oak Street in SF, if there are 10 cyclists waiting at the light shouldn’t they ride in a group for those 3 blocks instead of single file?

  • patrick

    I don’t really believe you are ignoring it, since you mentioned it, just like I don’t believe you’ve never broken the law while driving.

    And saying I don’t believe you is different than calling you a liar, I consider a lie to be an intentional deception, whereas I think you actually believe you haven’t broken the law while driving, while I believe that you have.

    “perhaps we can agree that if police see drivers or cyclists break the law, they should ticket them”

    Yes, we do agree on that, I’m all for the police fairly and consistently enforcing the law. Unfortunately I’ve seen police ignore driver’s violations of the traffic laws far more often than I’ve seen them enforce the laws. How often do drivers fail to signal appropriately when changing lanes, or turning? How often do drivers fail to come to a complete stop at a stop sign? How often do drivers speed? etc…

  • Ben

    how come people can ride side by side in their car?

  • Brian S

    “I think you actually believe you haven’t broken the law while driving, while I believe that you have.”

    Are you a fundamentalist of some sort, the kind who believes things based on zero evidence since of course you don’t know me and have no information about the way I drive?

    “Unfortunately I’ve seen police ignore driver’s violations of the traffic laws far more often than I’ve seen them enforce the laws.”

    That’s not the issue. The issue is have you EVER seen the police enforce traffic laws for bicyclists, specifically give a ticket for running a stop sign? I haven’t, certainly not in San Francisco. I have seen police give tickets to car drivers for running stop signs, perhaps not every time they should have, but at least occasionally. I would love to see at least the same ratio of enforcement for cyclists if we can’t live in a world where the law is always consistently enforced.

    “How often do drivers fail to signal appropriately when changing lanes, or turning? How often do drivers fail to come to a complete stop at a stop sign? How often do drivers speed? etc…”

    Again I can’t speak for all drivers, just for my own behavior for which I have experiential data and you don’t. Do some drivers behave unlawfully? Clearly many do and they should be cited for it. Do any bicyclists stop at stop signs in San Francisco? I’m sure there must be some who do but I can’t remember the last time I witnessed one.

  • Todd Teachout is a cyclist. It is a real shame to see him promulgating this BS.

    – J

  • patrick

    “the kind who believes things based on zero evidence since of course you don’t know me and have no information about the way I drive”

    I have lots of evidence: every driver on the road. What I have no evidence of is you having never broken the California Vehicle Code, or the code of whatever state you live in.

    “have you EVER seen the police enforce traffic laws for bicyclists, specifically give a ticket for running a stop sign”

    Yes I have, but of course it’s as easy for me to say that as it is for you to say you’ve never broken a law while driving. And it certainly is the issue, you said “I think the rest of us should start to comply the first time I see a bicyclist stop at a stop sign” which at the very least implies that cyclists are the main offenders, when the reality is that drivers break the law much more often than cyclists, at far greater cost (over 40,000 people killed per year, the number 1 cause of death for children).

  • Brian S

    “I have lots of evidence: every driver on the road.”

    Another sign you’re a fundamentalist. You make absolutist statements about all of anything based on no empirical data.

    I do find it interesting that you refuse to deal with the fact that very few bicyclists in San Francisco ever stop at stop signs. I’m not an absolutist which is why I’ll concede that a few probably do, I just don’t see ever seem to encounter them on the roadways. The most harrowing encounters I’ve had with cyclists who don’t seem to think stop signs apply to them have happened not when I was driving but when I was acting as a pedestrian and they just slam right into you and then give you attitude because they consider themselves morally superior not only to drivers but to walkers. Unjustified feelings of moral superiority are another sign of fundamentalism.

  • coyote

    Sadly, this is a result of Sasualito’s continuing problem with ‘rogue’ cyclists. You know the ones… they tear through red lights and stop signs like they’re on a velodrome. Sausalito’s Police Chief Scott Paulin says that it’s the number one complaint his office receives.

    I’ve spoken with some of the cyclists who do this, warning them that they’re going to ruin it for everyone by making Sausalito a hostile place for bicyclists. Their response is usually a middle finger and a ‘F— YOU!’

  • coyote

    @SteveL “If the signs aren’t legal no reason not to paint over them.” Yes, actually, there is. It’s destruction of public property, vandalism, and just plain bad manners.

  • JohnB you are misinformed on the issue.
    Slower traffic keep right refers to keeping in the right lane. Otherwise slower cars would be forced to drive in the gutter. In a two lane (each direction), there is no impeding traffic, as the faster traffic can pass in the left lane.

    As an example, it is not illegal for two motorcycles to ride side by side in a lane in California.

  • JohnB

    Stats

    My interpretation of the “slower traffic must keep right” rule is that it applies where there is more than one lane of traffic in a given direction.

    So if a car is in my way, it doesn’t have to ride in the gutter. I pass when it is safe to enter the oncoming lane.

    But if there is a bike and a car traveling in the same direction, then effectively there are 2 lanes of traffic and so the bike should keep right.

    Also remember that there is yet a third part of the Vehicle Code that covers this. If there are 5 or more vehicles behind you, you are required by law to pull over as soon as it is safe to, to let them pass.

    Laws or not, you should NOT be needlessly holding up traffic nor causing passing vehicles to take on additional risk. It’s just common sense and courtesy.

  • patrick

    “I think the rest of us should start to comply the first time I see a bicyclist stop at a stop sign”

    hmm… so when YOU see something happen, all people should do what you say, who’s the fundamentalist?

    “You make absolutist statements about all of anything based on no empirical data”

    Actually observation is the very essence of empirical evidence.

    “I do find it interesting that you refuse to deal with the fact that very few bicyclists in San Francisco ever stop at stop signs”

    I find it interesting that you refuse to deal with the fact that on average over 40,000 people are killed per year, and that cars are the number 1 cause of death for children. I also find it interesting that you talk about empirical evidence, but have only provided unsupported anecdotal stories.

    “harrowing encounters I’ve had with cyclists who don’t seem to think stop signs apply to them”

    here you are trying to frame the argument as if the only issue is your harrowing encounter with cyclists, and you imply all cyclists irresponsible.

    I think the average of 20 pedestrians a year killed by cars in San Francisco speak to the real hazard on the road.

    “Unjustified feelings of moral superiority are another sign of fundamentalism.”

    Considering that your position is that all cyclists are irresponsible scofflaws and that drivers should only be required to follow the law when YOU see cyclists stop at stop signs, I’ll assume you are referring to yourself here.

  • Hey Patrick and Brian S,
    Stop the personal attacks about fundamentalism and absolutism, please. It adds nothing to the debate and runs afoul of our moderation policy
    http://sf.streetsblog.org/about/#who

    thanks,
    Management

  • david

    This is great coverage of an important issue. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  • cowinhollow

    Is there really a law that applies to bicycle lanes? I just think these are common sense, and most of the tourists spend time chatting and pointing if they are side by side, and do not pay attention to the rules of the road. A little safety reminder seems to be smart. Even for the experienced rider it is much better focusing on passing an individual rider or a group of individuals that are single file, than trying to find out if two riders are going to close me out inside, or to the left or right. I hate it when I come up on a group of 2 or even 3 riders riding side by side, and they are pointing and talking with each other, and I have to shut down my momentum to figure out what the heck they are doing.

  • peternatural

    I see cyclists stop at stop signs all the time… when another person has the right of way.

    Here’s a proposition: “Cyclists nearly always fail to stop at stop signs.”

    Here’s another: “Cyclists nearly always yield when they should.” (When someone else has the right of way).

    In my experience, both are true. Some people seem to focus on the first and never admit the second.

    E.g., here’s one way a cyclist might yield but not stop: they approach a 4-way stop; a car traveling in the cross-direction has already arrived at the intersection and is waiting to cross… the cyclist slows down, making it clear the car can proceed. The car drives through… the cyclist rolls through afterward. The cyclist didn’t actually stop, but did yield. There was no one else around. Failing to stop did not inconvenience anyone, or endanger anyone, or cause any problem. But some people, observing from a 5th story window, would rush online to type “I saw another cyclist who didn’t stop at a stop sign!!!”

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