CBS 5 Exacerbates Deadly Confusion About Bike Lane Right-of-Way

## Yee's report## didn't exactly help with confusion for people driving and biking. Image: CBS 5

A clear understanding of California’s right-of-way laws is crucial if drivers are to avoid colliding with people using San Francisco’s bike lanes. As we saw this week, a “right-hook,” in which a driver turns right into the path of a bike rider, can be fatal.

But when CBS 5 reporter Linda Yee sought to clarify those laws for the public, well, she failed. The news segment aimed at clarifying confusion erroneously stated that drivers can enter a bike lane, in front of bicycle traffic, as long as the driver is in front of the bike rider.

CBS showed a common scene on Howard at New Montgomery Street, in which a driver appears ready to turn into a bike rider's path in the bike lane.

Yee spent a good amount of time explaining the fact that there is much danger and confusion in SF’s bike lanes, but didn’t actually cite the California Vehicle Code (see that below), only sourcing an SFPD officer who explained that a bicycle rider can only pass a right-turning driver stopped in the bike lane when it’s safe to do so.

“I would say it is flat out wrong,” said Robert Prinz, education coordinator for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.

In their classes, the EBBC and the SF Bicycle Coalition teach bicycle riders and motorists that when it comes to right turns, “a bike lane is a travel lane, just like any other one on the roadway,” as Prinz put it. “So if a car driver is making a right turn without merging into it then they are always in the wrong by not turning right from the rightmost lane, even if they arrived at the intersection first.”

“Would a car driver be expected to yield to another driver turning right across their path from one of the middle lanes? The same situation applies for bikes.”

A proper right-turn in a bike lane, as shown by the SFBC.

Here’s what the CVC says, via the SFBC’s page on right turns:

Motor Vehicles in Bicycle Lanes

21209. (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows:

(1) To park where parking is permitted.

(2) To enter or leave the roadway.

(3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.

[there’s more about motorized bicycles in bicycle lanes, not prohibited so long as they’re operated reasonably and prudently]

Turning Across Bicycle Lanes

21717. Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section 22100 [general turning regulations].

The CBS segment showed the SFBC’s diagram explaining that drivers are expected to merge close to the curb when making turns, and not turn across the bicycle lane. But SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, who was interviewed for the segment, said CBS left out the majority of what she said about the responsbililty of motorists to yield to bicycle traffic before merging into a bike lane.

“The number one cause of injuries for people biking in San Francisco is right turning vehicles. We were glad to see that CBS wanted to do a piece on how to avoid this all-too-common and often deadly crash,” said Shahum. “We spoke extensively with the reporter about what drivers should do in order to avoid this dangerous right hook, including the importance of ‘turning from the curb.’ It’s disappointing to see that this was not highlighted in the final piece.”

As Shahum explained in the segment, bike riders do have the responsibility of passing to the left of right-turning drivers, and squeezing by a driver’s right side is dangerous.

But Prinz said the misunderstandings about bike lane right-of-way seems common among police departments in the Bay Area.

“I’ve had this same conversation about bike lanes and right turns with other PDs in the East Bay,” said Prinz, “and it comes as a revelation almost every time once you ask them to substitute the bike for another car in the same situation.”

“It is frustrating and downright scary that even the SFPD doesn’t understand this, and it makes me wonder how this clouds their perception of fault at the site of a collision.”

  • Anonymous

    You probably love the transition on Townsend going South to North at 4th. Bike lane becomes sharrows to the left of a series of bus stops

  • Anonymous

    “The news segment aimed at clarifying confusion erroneously stated that drivers can enter a bike lane, in front of bicycle traffic, as long as the driver is in front of the bike rider.”

    What is erroneous about that? If the driver is in front of the bike rider, he can merge into the bike lane and slow for the turn. The cyclist behind the motorist may have have to slow and/or merge left to pass the slowing/turning motorist. That’s why through cyclists are allowed to leave the bike lane prior to the intersection per 21208(a)(4) (“When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.”).

    “… sourcing an SFPD officer who explained that a bicycle rider can only pass a right-turning driver stopped in the bike lane when it’s safe to do so.

    “I would say it is flat out wrong,” said Robert Prinz,”

    How is that wrong? A bicycle rider can pass a right-turning driver stopped in the bike lane when it’s NOT safe to do so? Uh, no. That would be an unsafe pass, by definition, and direction violation of 21208(b): “No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety…”.

  • Anonymous

    “The problem is when trucks overtake cyclists to turn right. ”

    It’s not a problem if you have your internal mental alarms calibrated correctly. First, whenever approaching any intersection one alarm should go off – use a mirror or look back briefly to see if the potential for anyone to right hook you is there.

    If there is a potential right hook situation, a second alarm should go off. If that potential right hook is from a truck or bus, there should be a 3rd alarm. In any case, you need to be sure to stay behind that vehicle that is on your left, often moving out of the bike lane and behind it, that can and may be turned right. Be prepared to hit the brakes if they slow down in order to stay back.

    NEVER let your front wheel pass the rear bumper of a vehicle on your left that can and may be turned right, and right hooks will not be a problem.

  • Yes, Ive also been honked at on a bike when making a left turn from a left turn lane.

  • Anonymous

    “then it unraveled when both the SFPD officer and the reporter at the end of the video went on to state that whoever is at the intersection first has the right of way, regardless of their road position.”

    Neither said or implied, “regardless of their road position”.

    Since they had already said right turning motorists need to turn right from the curb, inside the bike lane, it would have been redundant to state that again. They have limited numbers of seconds.

    Given that the right turning motorist is in the bike lane, yes, whoever is at the intersection first has the right of way.

  • Anonymous

    The important thing is that BICYCLISTS understand that trucks and buses can and may be turned right from the lane adjacent to the bike lane. And, regardless of the law, car drivers do that too. It’s only prudent to be prepared accordingly: don’t pass on the right, especially if they slow down and you have to hit the brakes to keep from passing.

  • Anonymous

    At 42s a bicyclist in a green shirt and red helmet goes flying by in the bike lane even though he is going straight and the lane next to him is empty (and remains empty for at least the next 9 seconds) – I would be in that traffic lane if I were him…

  • Anonymous

    SFPD officer: “if the bicycle for instance is behind the car, the bicyclist can’t go past the car until it’s safe to do so or it’s an unsafe pass”

    reporter Linda Yee: “Police tell me tonight that often, that what the rule is, the first person at the intersection has the right of way”

    From my perspective, a correct interpretation is not only about what was said but what was left out. Especially with regard to a law that is critically important for safety but often misunderstood the report should have clearly indicated that drivers are supposed to 1) signal before entering the bike lane, 2) yield to any road users already in the bike lane, 3) merge into the bike lane within 200 feet of the intersection and signaling again before making a right turn.

    If a driver of a car (not a truck or bus which cannot realistically make a right turn from the bike lane) does not do all of the above then it is not a legal turn, and arriving first at the intersection as indicated by the SFPD officer and the reporter does not tell the whole story. The “unsafe pass” referenced would be equivalent to a bicyclist either squeezing to the right of a car that has already merged into the bike lane or jumping out to the left of the car into moving traffic, both of which are obviously bad ideas and not what this report is about.

  • Anonymous

    I would say both are important, but since drivers are tested and licensed there are opportunities available to make sure everyone knows and understands this law, and that enforcement is done by police relative to the impact on public safety.

    When it comes to bicyclists we already offer hundreds of free bike skills and safety classes in the East Bay to thousands of adults, families, and youth in three languages every year covering the exact concepts you described. However, until traffic safety education is a required part of gradeschool education (like in the Dutch city of Utrecht) we can’t expect every cyclist on the road to have the same level of competency. That’s where better infrastructure comes into play, which provides both experienced and newbie cyclists with the same approximate level of protection while encouraging safe behavior.

  • Anonymous

    “The news segment aimed at clarifying confusion erroneously stated
    that drivers can enter a bike lane, in front of bicycle traffic, as long
    as the driver is in front of the bike rider.”

    What is erroneous about that? If the driver is in front of the bike
    rider, he can merge into the bike lane and slow for the turn.

    Does this imply if I am switching lanes on the freeway, and there is a car to my right going 15 MPH faster than me, I can just switch lanes in front of that car as long as I am in front of them, and if they rear-end me they are at fault?

    Bikes are not stationary objects. You have to be able to make a clean merge. Being “in front of” someone does not imply a clean merge is possible.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, that’s much reasonable. You’re absolutely right.

  • We just had a dispute that resulted in an acknowledgement of agreement, folks. This is a very rare occasion for the Streetsblog comments section. Let’s all take a moment and cherish this.

  • oskar

    This too happened to me in ’07 when a vehicle turning right onto Van Ness from Market westbound hit me. The driver was a tourist and did not seem to understand this rule.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    But now I’m thinking, perhaps the cyclists that squeeze themselves up to
    the left side (and front) of the car are assuming the driver will be
    turning right and just forgot/failed to signal.

    Jenny, exactly so.

    I can’t speak for all cyclists — and I’m sure some subset of the passing-on-the-left people may be after a time gaining head start, rather than a safety-related one — but for my part I assume any motor vehicle in a right lane will make an unsignalled right turn, and venture there only with caution.

  • I certainly get to the left (or front) of stopped/paused cars that are obviously turning whether turn signal, turn lane, lane or tire position.
    And I shake my head when I see cyclists passing them on the right and turning cars that are not as far right as practicable.

  • I position myself on the left if I think the car will be turning right. This is often based on the position of the front wheels, since most motorists in this city fail to use their signals in a timely manner, or at all. The other clue would be that they have properly merged into the bike lane in preparation for a right turn, but that’s a rare sighting.

    The idea behind the green bike box is to avoid the “swarming like bees” situation.

  • Anonymous

    Love those green boxes! Always makes me nervous watching the bees swarm. Typically, those in the first car (or Muni bus! Yikes!) do wait for the cyclists up against their left side to clear but it sure looks precarious with such little space between the vehicle and what’s usually a Muni island/median.

    Only once did I ever move to the left of a Muni bus at a light and I never did it again.

  • justin

    My point is that, from the perspective of the average driver or cyclist, the police force doesn’t care enough to be informed, knowledgable, interpret fault correctly, or have an accurate understanding of the vehicle code.

    I was hit last year while biking (hit-and-run), was scraped and bruised, got a license plate number and had two witnesses. SFPD would not come to the scene, and it took weeks to find out my report was filed as “Property Damage Only,” no follow-up would be done, and they wouldn’t even contact the witnesses.

  • justin

    If your chosen mode of transportation can squish people, it should make you nervous and fearful to operate. Problem is, SF drivers are fearless.

  • Good thing professional truck drivers never make mistakes that cause injury:

  • Anonymous

    “(3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.”

    Seriously? If this is true, then no SF bike lane is sacred anywhere. This law needs to be amended from 200 feet to 20 feet.

  • firejack007

    The problem here is bicycle activists wanting to be the same as cars. You’re not. You’re an addition to the roadway that was built for automobiles. Bicyclist don’t think they need to yield to anything. Seen many zip on by stop signs and stop lights. What’s missing here is the bicycle should stop and yield to the car. Letting them go left around the car is inviting more tragedy. Being a firefighter for 34 years, I’ve seen plenty mishaps. The vast majority was when the bicycle mixed in with cars. Like the example of a semi making a wide turn, the car stops and yields, it doesn’t go around. The safety and respect that I was taught as a child has completely disappeared. State laws are too involved into bicyclist’s ‘rights’ rather than bicyclist’s safety.

  • murphstahoe
  • ladyfleur

    Why is that when people say “cars and bikes don’t mix” the implication is that bikes should be banned, not cars. They feel so entitled to the road as drivers they don’t bother clarify who should get off the road.

  • Cynic

    The best-selling car in the world, Ford’s F-150, is now longer than 20 feet.

  • JulesKelworan

    I am trying to figure out exactly how the dotted lines for the bike lanes work. A lot of the ones I see don’t become dotted until almost right before a turn, and the law says that I can merge into the bike lane starting 200 feet out, so I want to know exactly which one is right (i.e. I want to make sure I can break the solid white line, because frankly if I can’t, there are some ridiculous turns on my daily commute, where there is no dotted line until *right* before the turn, or no dotted line at all, and I’d probably contact the local safety people about extending the dotted lines).

  • Bill Sellin

    Law says 200 feet – dotted line warns bicyclists of turn coming up so they may merge out of bike lane & prompts drivers to do the right thing. You can merge into the bike lane at 199 feet across the solid white line but not 201 feet back, if you signal, merge without impeding a bicyclist & follow bicyclists to the corner at their speed, where they may or may not move left to allow you to turn (courtesy – not required) Some corners don’t have room between short blocks & driveways to dash out the full 200 feet. If in doubt, wait until the dashed portion.

  • Bill Sellin

    Right Bike Lanes are far from ‘sacred’ – no magic (or holy) paint available. CVC says merge out of the Bike Lane when approaching a place where cars may be turning right – so move left & control the travel lane!

  • Bill Sellin

    Me too; but Bike Lanes teach edge riding behavior – same guy would probably stand in the middle of the Bike Lane at a red light (if he stops at all) & not let cars turn right behind him…

  • CornDogHog

    Cyclists just want to be safe, that’s all, and that means both cyclists and drivers sharing the road, just like Europe is capable of doing with having nowhere close to as many fatalities as the states do.

    Cyclists would not need to stop and yield to a car if that car isn’t trying to unsafely force themselves into their lane. Besides, it is easier to stop and go in a car, where all you’re doing is pressing a pedal, than it is to get your whole body and bike back up to speed with your leg muscles.

    And people on bikes that break the law is a separate issue from sharing the road. They can and are cited from breaking the laws that they must follow like motorists do. You cannot say that safe cyclists do not deserve to be safe because of careless cyclists who break the law.

  • Brian

    Crazy. I go on the sidewalk. My town has right turn lanes for cars that put the bike lane in the middle of the road. I use it once, and two cars nearly hit me. never again.

  • Just keep in-mind that in-order for an 18-wheel truck to make a right turn at most intersections, the driver must swing left far away from the bike lane, which obstructs rearward vision in the passenger-side mirror as the cab swings left and the nose of the trailer swings out to the right, and then the driver must swing hard back to the right, in order for the trailer to clear the curb.

    Moreover, after the truck tractor begins to turn to the right of the trailer, all the driver can see in his passenger-side mirror is the right side of the trailer.

    At that point any bicyclist on the truck’s right side is completely blind to the driver, so you are taking a reckless chance ignoring the truck’s right turn signal and trying to pass on the truck’s right when it is turning right.

  • The US is not Europe, and if you like Europe so much why not move there? Now in London, England bicyclists are instructed to stay back from large trucks and buses and avoid riding on the blind side of such vehicles in order to avoid situations with high levels of risk where the driver often can not see you.

    Here in Colorado our law says that bikes are allowed to run red lights and stop signs as long as they yield to traffic with the legal right-of-way as well as pedestrians, but this law has resulted in a huge amount of confusion and repeated accidents where bike riders run over pedestrians or get t-boned by cars, trucks and buses that had the legal right of way.

  • If powered vehicles must get off the road to make them safe for bicyclists who all too often ignore traffic laws my more than 30 years of experience in wholesale fresh food supply chain, warehousing, and distribution says that urban grocery stores will rapidly run out of food.

  • And an 18-wheeler is legal at 72-feet for a single trailer and at up to 105 feet for Rocky Mtn. double-sets.

  • Quite likely because the law was different where they were from. As I explained to some bicycle rights advocate in Los Angeles who was whining about an out-of-State driver who violated a green lane to turn right, only 12 States actually have green lanes for bicycles, and of those 12 States, in 9 of them, they only have green lanes in one city, whereas tourists can fly non-stop to LAX from over 100 cities in multiple countries, with the residents of more than 90 of those cities having never seen a green bicycle lane prior to their arrival in Los Angeles.

    What would help greatly would be requiring all US States bicycle laws to adhere-to Federal UVC, which is quite different from local bicycle laws in several States including California.



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