Last month I discussed California laws regarding bikes on the road. A reader asked that I do the same for pedestrians.
Outside of specific crosswalk rules, there are only two laws in California that tell a pedestrian where to walk. Please note that the definition of “pedestrian” includes anyone using human power other than a bicycle, and it includes disabled people using wheelchairs or other motorized devices.
California Vehicle Code 21956 includes two parts. Part (a) states that “no pedestrian may walk upon any roadway outside of a business or residence district otherwise than close to (the) left-hand edge of the roadway.” Part (b) states that “a pedestrian may walk close to (the) right-hand edge of the roadway if a … means of safely crossing the roadway is not available or if … conditions would compromise the safety of a pedestrian attempting to cross the road.”
Vehicle Code 21966 states that a pedestrian shall proceed along a bicycle lane where there is an adjacent adequate pedestrian facility.
The definitions of business and residential districts are complicated and would require you to take measurements and count buildings to determine whether you are in one, but it seems that the intent is to address areas where there is no sidewalk.
So if the rules are so simple, why is it that pedestrians don’t follow them? Agreeing on a set of rules and using them to predict one’s behavior generally enhance safety on the road. My observation using local roads in my car, on my bike and on foot is that pedestrians in the residential areas of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are as likely to violate the above rules as they are to live by them. In addition, there is no effort to enforce these rules, and as a result we all probably have our favorite pet peeve about them. I think that the reason is pretty simple – there are many instances in which following the rules would be impossible or dangerous. Examples include:
• Discontinuous paths on one side of the street. Using them in one direction forces the user to walk with traffic where the path disappears.
• Irregular shoulders where there is a wide shoulder on one side and none on the other.
• Parked vehicles blocking one side of the road.
• Blind intersections. I try to walk on the correct side of the road, but I often cross to the other side at intersections where a right-turning car cannot see me and I cannot see the car.
Speaking for myself – and consistent with a Nextdoor discussion on this subject that I initiated – I would appreciate, as a courtesy to others, that people follow the intent of the law in walking facing traffic unless there is a good reason not to do so. This will minimize the times that people unnecessarily impede others trying to pass them. Also, if you are walking a dog, one never knows what will happen when two normally friendly dogs meet each other in the street.
Rules for equestrians
I was also asked about horses. The basic rule is simple.
Vehicle Code 21050 states that “any person riding or driving an animal upon a highway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle … except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.”
Similar to pedestrian safety, there are times when this simple rule has to be violated. When riding on windy rural roads, equestrians may be taught to take curves on the outside. The same common sense that applies to pedestrian rules must be applied here as well.
Finally, be careful when approaching horses or other animals; you, as a motorist or bicyclist, have responsibilities as well.
Then there’s Vehicle Code 21759. It states that the driver of any vehicle approaching any horse-drawn vehicle, any ridden animal or any livestock “shall exercise proper control of his vehicle and shall reduce speed or stop as may appear necessary or as may be signaled or otherwise requested by any person driving, riding or in charge of the animal or livestock in order to avoid frightening and to safeguard the animal.”