Imaginary bike law in Pacifica

Police in Pacifica, California enforce a non-existent mandatory bike path law.

Sharp Park Road descends rapidly from Skyline Boulevard down to the Pacific Coast, with stunning views of the ocean below as you descend.

Sharp Park Road Pacifica California

John Luk and his friends were descending into Pacifica at the 35 MPH speed limit in the right lane last weekend when Pacifica police pulled them over and ordered them to ride the wrong way against traffic in that “bike lane” on the other side of Sharp Park. Their direction of travel was forward (westbound) in the image, but the cop wanted them going the wrong direction in that crappy, narrow “lane”, which is more like a sidewalk. Luk tweeted:

Decending SharpPark, a PacificPD pulls us over, says we can’t go down b/c no bike lane. Told to use opposite side. Against flow of traffic.

California has a mandatory bike lane law, but bike lanes are marked with signs and a six inch white stripe in California. There’s no way the sidewalk along the eastbound lane of Sharp Park qualifies as a bike lane. There is no mandatory sidepath law in California.

Probably thousands of people cycle through Pacifica on a nice weekend, so I’m stunned the police seem so unaware of state law.

In similar situations, I’ve just done the passive aggressive thing by overtly submitting the police officer’s suggestions, but then going back to riding safely and correctly after he’s out of sight because, frankly, I’d like to just get on with the business of riding my bike.

What about you? When Officer Friendly tells you to ride against traffic on cracked, weedy sidewalk, how do you respond?


  1. Ummm….  doesn’t the “mandatory bike lane” law also specifically have an exclusion for cyclists riding at the speed of traffic?  Or is that exclusion just for the “as far right as practical” law?

  2. That’s why I carry (encased in hard plastic) 21200(a) of the California Vehicle Code: gives bicyclist all the rights to the roadway as person driving a car. Also, riding against the flow of traffic is illegal, and in many places riding on the sidewalk is also illegal.

  3. That’s right Ross — CVC 21208 specifically says it applies “at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic.”  Never mind the “same direction” requirement too!
    I don’t know what law the cop thought he was enforcing, though — I’m just guessing 21208 but I could be wrong.  John Murphy has an email in to the Pacifica PD about this so maybe we’ll see an update from him at

  4. I would probably just say: “I give up. Can you give me and my bike a ride home? On second thought, leave the bike here, I just can’t deal with the fascism anymore.”

  5. Well I’ve had a cop tell me to get on the sidewalk, claiming that “the #1 problem in sweetwater is car accidents” – pretending to care more about me than I care about myself. I was surprised to hear that from a cop, but I told him that there should be no problem riding in a residential neighborhood with a speed limit of 30 mph. I just kept going, ignoring his instructions.

  6. Where does one pick up such a treasure? I’d like to flash that FBI-style next time I get honked at when I’ve taken the lane.

  7. I do what you do, but then I call to complain to the PD and follow up with a letter. The objective is to get the law correctly communicated to Officer Friendly outside a law enforcement situation.

  8. Don’t worry!  The League of American Bicyclists will deal with the problem just as they’ve dealt with so many similar ones…right after tea…and perhaps a stroll around the Mall. 

  9. “I don’t know what law the cop thought he was enforcing, though”

    I used to assume police officers had the whole vehicle code memorized, and kept an eye out for specific violations.  Sort of like Robocop, I suppose.

    It turns out they’re really just looking for things that are out of the ordinary.  If something looks odd, they stop you, and THEN try to figure out which violation it was.  A cyclist controlling a lane is “odd”.

    Since they’re working from an abridged version of the vehicle code (the CHP Redi-Ref), it’s no wonder they sometimes stop cyclists, and sometimes write tickets, for something that’s perfectly legal.

  10. Well, you could say “OK, write me up I’ll take this to court. That a bad law” in a nice way. And do what they order afterward – you just want the ticket. He’ll write something and you can embarrass the PD with your day in court. Be sure to include the press, even if they drop the imaginary charge.

    Some places actually have local laws which conflict with state law, so it’s worth challenging in court to get them struck down. The local one I’m waiting to get a ticket for is locking your bike to a parking meter in LA. Never heard of anyone getting that ticket. Can’t seem to get the city council to take this important matter up. So, it’s the courts when it come up.

    If anyone wants to do something to fix this – education for local law enforcement on bicycling laws and practices is almost entirely missing in California. Talk to the police chief, or liaison, about better education for them – that they can pass on. Talk about getting that funded. The league of American Bicyclists does have a great education program, even if legal defense isn’t one of the good points.

  11. Getting tickets like this dismissed is fairly simple in California with a trial by written declaration, as long as you have your ducks in a row.  There’s nothing to keep misinformed PDs from doing this again, however.

    You’re correct that the solution is more education.  In cities where bike advocates are active, we see some of that (e.g. in San Diego after several cyclists were ticketed for failing to ride as far right as practicable, when CVC 21202 didn’t apply.  In Pacifica, the cyclists were just passing through, though a few people did send letters to the Chief of Police there.

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