My previous columns focused on safety in town, but riding on rural roads or in a group of cyclists creates its own set of concerns.
Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley and Woodside are the gateway to the Santa Cruz Mountains, and cyclists are often more numerous than cars on some of their roads. Of course, the rules of the road are the same as in town, but two sections of the California Vehicle Code come into play more often in rural areas, and both cyclists and motorists should be aware of them.
• Section 21760 of the vehicle code (the 3-foot rule). This law requires that a motor vehicle overtaking and passing a cyclist must maintain “more than 3 feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.” There’s a caveat, however: It isn’t always possible to do this. In that case, “the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility and surface and width of the highway.”
What does this mean? Certainly, it can mean one thing to the motorist and another to the cyclist.
When this regulation took effect in 2014, there was much public discussion about the need to cross a double yellow line to create 3 feet of separation. Whether or not this is permissible was deliberately left vague.
My view as both a cyclist and a motorist is that of course it is permissible to briefly cross the yellow line, taking into account all of the conditions listed above. That is what you would do if there were a downed tree in your way, isn’t it?
My plea to motorists is to please take the regulation seriously and to balance your irritation against the risk to the cyclist from brushing by him or her.
I also ask cyclists to please be aware of the impact you are having on traffic behind you and look for ways to make it easier for the nice, polite motorist behind you to get by.
• Section 21656 of the vehicle code (slow-moving vehicle). This rule requires that if a bicycle (or any other vehicle) is moving at less than the normal speed of traffic and five or more vehicles accumulate in a line behind him or her, the cyclist shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs, or wherever it is safe to do so. Again, this language may well mean different things to a motorist and to a cyclist.
If a marked turnoff is present, most cyclists will do the right thing and pull over. (I understand that turnouts recently installed on Mount Diablo have significantly reduced motor vehicle-bicycle accidents). But I have passed up possible pullover spots that motorists behind me probably thought I should use because I did not feel it was safe to do so (for example, a gravel driveway that is around a blind corner). A cyclist must think twice about slowing down suddenly when being tailgated by an impatient driver.
When figuring out what to do in a real-world situation, common sense must apply. No one is going to measure 3 feet and issue someone a ticket for passing with 3 inches less clearance. And cyclists should consider even one behind him or her for a long time to be the same as five. The intent of both regulations should be clear to all, and courtesy is a big help in reducing friction.
This column has addressed a cyclist riding alone, or with one or two others; next month, I will discuss etiquette and the law when cyclists are in a large group.
Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email your questions or comments to [email protected] cfhengineering.com.Following the state’s rules on rural roadsMegan V. Winslow/Town Crier Motorists passing cyclists are required to give them a wide berth.