San Francisco is one of the most progressive cities in America when it comes to creating infrastructure that supports cyclists. We are lucky to have many options for safe cycling throughout the city, but do you know all the rules of the road that make these options function? San Francisco bike lane laws are easy to understand and important to follow.
Riding in the bike lane around San Francisco means following some fairly basic rules to keep yourself and the people around you safe.
How many of these San Francisco bike lane laws do you know and follow already?
5 Simple San Francisco Bike Lane Laws to Follow
1. Pedestrians always get the right of way
Bike lanes help keep cyclists safe from cars and trucks by keeping them out of the way of these fast-moving vehicles, and in turn, cyclists must help to keep the roads safe for pedestrians by providing safe clearance for people walking on foot.
Think of the road like a food chain. Pedestrians are among the most vulnerable, bicycles are less vulnerable but still quite exposed, and then cars, trucks, buses, and semis are at the top, because their great size and speed makes them extremely dangerous. It is the responsibility of everyone on the road to look out for the people who are more vulnerable than they.
As a cyclist, you should always yield to a pedestrian, particularly if they are following the rules of the road. For example, if a pedestrian is legally crossing in the crosswalk in front of you, slow down or stop to allow them to pass.
Also, as a good rule of thumb, try to remember that even though you might not feel intimidating on your bike, you are still capable of scaring a pedestrian if you come too close or zoom right past them. Be considerate and err on the side of giving people too much space.
2. You are allowed to leave the bike lane
Just because there is a bike lane doesn’t mean that you have to ride in it.
Of course, it is often the safest and easiest option to ride in the bike lane when one is provided. However, there are also lots of reasons why a cyclist might need to leave the bike lane — and you are allowed to do so as you see fit.
For example, if there is a dangerous pothole or other unsafe road condition in the bike lane, you may want to temporarily veer to the left out of the bike lane to avoid it. You may also need to do this if a vehicle has illegally parked in the bike lane, as is common in San Francisco.
To do so, just make sure to look over your left shoulder and make sure there is adequate space for you to merge into the car traffic. To merge back into the bike lane, look over your right shoulder to ensure you won’t crash into any oncoming cyclists, and then head into the bike lane.
If you need to leave the bike lane in order to with with car traffic (for example, if you need to make a left turn in the turn lane), again, you are allowed to do this. You don’t have to wait and cross at a crosswalk like a pedestrian. Simply look over your shoulder to ensure you can merge safely, use hand signals, and then merge as needed.
3. You must obey all traffic lights and signs
Even though the bike lane is a special zone for cyclists only, you are still bound by the traditional rules of the road. This keeps everyone safe, because everyone is following the same rules. Crashes often happen when something unexpected occurs, so being predictable and following the agreed-upon rules keeps you safer.
That means that you must stop at every stop sign and red light, just like drivers have to. Unless there is a sign indicating that cyclists are exempt from following a particular light or sign, you should assume that you are expected to follow the same rules as everyone else.
4. Don’t invade the crosswalk or sidewalk
As we mentioned earlier, pedestrians deserve safe space on the road as much as cyclists, given that they are some of the most vulnerable people sharing the roads every day.
That means that just like we want cars to stay out of bike lanes, bikes should stay clear of pedestrian walkways. In most cities, or parts of cities, sidewalks are strictly off limits for bike riders over a certain age (although you can walk your bike of the sidewalk, if necessary), and any cyclist stopped at an intersection should leave the crosswalk clear.
Even though you don’t take up as much space as a car, a bike can still make it difficult for a pedestrian to get across the road safely and quickly, especially in a crowded environment like downtown at rush hour. Do your part to help everyone by keeping pedestrian spaces clear.
5. Keep one ear clear of distractions
Many cyclists find it hard to resist the entertainment and connectivity that our phones now provide. But while it might feel nice to take a phone call or listen to music while you’re on your bike, it’s important that you be present and aware of your surroundings to stay safe on your bike.
That’s why cyclists are legally required to keep at least one ear clear while riding in San Francisco. This law means that even if you choose to listen to something or make a call using your headphones, you must leave one ear free of headphones to ensure you can hear your fellow cyclists and drivers around you.
Always follow San Francisco bike lane laws to stay safe
Whenever you’re riding your bike in San Francisco, we hope you’ll stay safe by following the law. If you do get into a crash, your case will be much stronger if you were following the rules of the road — and even if you don’t need to win a legal case, it helps keep everyone safe and happy when we all do our part to maintain order on the roads.
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