Although bicycling in San Francisco is both a pleasant activity and wonderful way to commute around the city, it can be a dangerous undertaking for a variety of reasons. Below is a brief description of simple ways to ensure that your bicycle ride is a safer experience. Unfortunately, bicyclists have to contend with the ever-present threat of careless unyielding drivers, coupled with undereducated authorities who many times do not know the laws pertinent to cyclists.
As a bicyclist, you have the absolute right to travel around San Francisco safely and use the streets just as any other vehicle does. The California Vehicle Code (CVC 21200) says: Every person riding a bicycle upon a [roadway] has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle.
If you are told by someone you do not have a right to take the lane, make sure that you are informed of your rights and can communicate with them. It is important to know that it is against the law in San Francisco to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk, as this can be dangerous for elderly or disabled people, those walking with baby strollers, etc. The only exception to this rule pertains to children, who are legally permitted to ride on city sidewalks. Remember that if you travel by bicycle you have both the same rights and responsibilities as those in cars, you must stop at red lights and stop signs, signal your turns and take the lane when necessary.
Accidents happen when negligent drivers open their car door without first looking to see if a bicycle is approaching. In defense, try to allow parked cars more room, give them 3 to 5 feet of clearance to reduce your chance of being struck by a negligently opened door. When preparing to turn, use the hand signals you learned in driver education. Passing between cars or buses and the curb in order to turn right is tempting, but makes it difficult for motorists to see and avoid you. This is a leading cause of bicycle collisions.
If the roadway is wide enough for you to ride next to moving cars, stay to the right. For a lane to be wide enough, there should be 3 feet of space between you and passing cars, in addition to the 3 to 5 feet of distance between you and parked cars or a couple of feet between you and the curb. If the road isn’t that wide, you have the legal right to ride in the center of the lane.
In the event that you are involved in a collision, ensure that someone calls the police. Also, make sure that a police report is filed. Many times police officers will come to the scene and decide not to file a report, so it is essential to insist that they do so. Additionally, obtain accurate information about the driver and the vehicle involved in the incident; including the information from their driver’s license, insurance card, and license plate number. It is also important to get the contact information from every witness.
A wonderful resource to assist in instructing you how to safely navigate the streets of SF is the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which offers free classes for those who are interested.
By Jennifer Nicoletto, Esq