Sheriff captain clarifies sharrow rules

Sheriff captain clarifies sharrow rules
A cyclist riding through Solana Beach uses the recently installed sharrow lane on southbound Coast Highway 101. Capt. Robert Haley said the law requires riders to stay to as far right as possible unless it is unsafe. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

COAST CITIES — A strange new symbol that looks like a bike under a roof is being added with more frequency to local streets. 

The symbol denotes sharrows, or lanes that can be shared by cyclists and motorists.

They were installed along Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas in 2012 and more recently on the same roadway in Solana Beach.

Sheriff Capt. Robert Haley said sharrows are a great concept but there has been some confusion on the proper way to use them.

According to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is used by the U.S. Department of Transportation and law enforcement, sharrows alert motorists that a bike rider may use the lane. They also help cyclists on roads with on-street parallel parking.

Comments Haley made about the lanes during a community gathering in Solana Beach last month drew the ire of a handful of bicyclists.

“Some people think it’s a giant bike lane,” he said, adding that, according to the law, cyclists are always supposed to ride as far to the right as possible anytime they are on a roadway, even in a sharrow or bike lane.

He said the major complaints his station has received have been when cyclists ride in groups rather than a single file, as they are legally obligated to do.

Bill Davidson accused Haley in an online comment of being “fundamentally ignorant about the law and bicycle safety. Serge Issakov said the captain got “so much wrong … it’s just incredible.”

Haley praised local city officials for their forward thinking when it comes to bicycle safety, but he said it wasn’t their intent to allow cyclists to ride any way other than in a single file. He said that’s the biggest issue he has with the lanes.

The motor vehicle code states, “Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” except under a few conditions, including when it’s “reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe.”

Those unsafe conditions include a car door opening into the path of the cyclist, a likely occurrence on a roadway with parallel parking.

In that case, “they may have to ride in the middle of the sharrow for as long as it’s unsafe,” Haley said. “We’re not going to write anyone up for riding in the middle of a sharrow.

“If a person is riding to the left of someone else, he isn’t as far to the right as possible,” he added.

Haley said he verified the law with Traffic Commissioner Larry Jones, who confirmed that cyclists must ride in a single line while on a street.

Haley acknowledged cycling is a social event. “We’re not targeting them,” he said. “But to keep people safe, we will give tickets in high-pedestrian areas where there have been complaints.”

However, Haley said he isn’t aware of any citations being given to cyclists by deputies from his Encinitas station, even for running stop signs and red lights, complaints that have been on the rise.

Responding to comments that law enforcement officers should be out catching burglars rather than focusing on bicyclists, Haley said the majority of calls into his station are traffic related, so much so that each city has a deputy assigned to traffic, although that officer would be redirected if there is a burglary.

“Our goal is to protect life and property — life first — and keep people from getting injured or killed,” he said. “When that happens it’s traumatic for everyone involved as well as the whole community.”

Haley said cyclists who don’t like the laws can work to get legislation enacted to change them.



Filed Under: Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story


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  1. Serge Issakov says:

    Haley says, “…except under a few conditions, including when it’s ‘reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe.’”. True enough, except 21202(a)(3) specifies another condition that makes it unsafe to continue along the right, and that is when bicycling in “a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” This condition has been in the law since 1975, but it never specified exactly how narrow a lane has to be to be “too narrow…” Well, that’s the point of sharrows and Bikes May Use Full Lane signs. The CA Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices states: “The Bicycles May Use Full Lane (R4-11) sign may be used on roadways where no bicycle lanes or adjacent shoulders usable by bicyclists are present and where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side”, and “… a Shared Lane Marking… may be used in addition to or instead of the Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.” For support, it explicitly refers to CVC 21202(a)(3) as defining a “substandard width lane” as a “lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the same lane.”” The whole point of sharrows and Bikes May Use Full Lane signs is to take the guessing game out of lane width assessment requirement by 21202(a)(3). With these markings and signs everyone simply knows it’s 21202(a)(3) situation and there is no requirement for bicyclists to try to share such a narrow lane, because doing so invites unsafely close passes and is inherently dangerous. To verify, just Google California MUTCD and search for 21202 in Part 9 of the 2012 edition. Here’s a link to the PDF:

    • Judy says:

      Captain Haley by no means should go to Traffic Commissioner Larry Jones to clarify the law. Larry Jones is not a Judge. He has been shown over and over again to show bias and ignorance of the Law. The bicycling community has been advised to require a Judge and reject a Commissioner if they are every ticketed in a bike matter. Lawyers have requested to be moved to other court rooms in bike cases when Larry Jones was the Commissioner assigned. It is very sad how uneducated the the “Traffic Commissioner” is in bicycling law. Maybe Captain Haley should try clarifying the law with a Judge or better yet, the District Attorney. The DA has overthrown judgements by Traffic Commissioners in bike matters.

  2. Bill Davidson says:

    CVC 21202(a)(3) exempts bicyclists from the requirement to ride far right:

    “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”

    Those of us who passed junior high school English know that a properly written parenthetical can be removed from a sentence and the sentence retains is essential meaning. This law boils down to:

    “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656.”

    Some people can’t see the forest for the trees. What this paragraph is saying is that ANY condition which makes it unsafe to ride far right is an exception the keep right requirement. We are not limited to the examples given in the parenthetical. That’s why it’s in a parenthetical. That’s also why the parenthetical contains the words “including but not limited to”.

    Haley may think that he knows when conditions do or do not make it unsafe to ride far right but because he refuses to take a safety class from the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition or any other League of American Bicyclists certified safety education provider, he does not. He cannot. He hasn’t done the research that they have. He doesn’t have the experience that they have.

    Haley and his department, along with the CHP also consistently ignore the exception given in 21202(a)(4):

    “When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.”

    This has been in the law since 1983. By controlling the lane well before reaching a place where a right turn is authorized, bicyclists discourage drivers from just barely passing and then turning right in front of them (often called the “right hook” by bicyclists). The few spots in the sharrows which are wide enough for a bike and a car all have driveways or intersections in them. They are high risk spots for right hooks.

    There is no place along those sharrows where it is safe to ride far right. Haley may disagree but his lack of training and lack of experience make him unqualified to make that judgment.

    Some may notice that CVC 21202(a)(3) says that bicyclists are still subject to CVC 21656. CVC 21656 does not apply on this road because it is a four lane road and motorists can change lanes to pass. In order for CVC 216565 to apply, you need a situation where motorists cannot legally or safely move over to pass. Note also that CVC 21656 says nothing about riding far right. It requires turning out to let traffic pass when 5 or more vehicles are backed up behind you and unable to move over to pass.

    Haley is irrational when he tries to say that bicyclists must ride single file. California has no such rule. His attempt to distort CVC 21202(a) into requiring single file is laughably insane. When any exception applies then bicyclists are not required to ride far right. That’s what the law means when it says “except under any of the following conditions”. If any exception applies then bicyclists are not required to ride far right which means that they can ride side by side. Haley and Jones’ interpretation indicates that they have trouble understanding words in English.

  3. Bill Davidson says:

    We really need to examine motivations here. My motivation for using the full lane is safety. That’s my ONLY reason. That’s why I actually bothered to study bicycle safety from real bicycle safety experts.

    Anyone who actually cares about bicycle safety will study the subject. Haley claims that his concern is safety. He is not telling the truth. Anyone who does not study bicycle safety does not care about the subject.

    Haley just wants to stop getting complaints from ignorant motorists who don’t know the rules of the road and can’t bear the trivial inconvenience of changing lanes to pass a bicyclist safely.

  4. Ken Grubb says:

    He commands the Encinitas Station of the San Diego County Sheriff. If you want to talk …

  5. Bill Davidson says:

    I know of at least 3 instructors certified by the League of American Bicyclists who have tried that. They got nowhere.

    The San Diego County Sheriffs have made it clear that they do not respect the opinions of actual bicycle safety experts about the subject of bicycle safety. They care more about people who don’t want to move over to pass a bicyclist safely than they do about our safety. Training means nothing to them. Experience means nothing to them. Logic means nothing to them. Facts mean nothing to them.

  6. Scott says:

    Have these people who are so bent on enforcing their single-file interpretation of the law ever tried to pass a group of cyclists riding single file?

    The group is much less of a delay to faster road users when they ride double- or even triple-wide due to their much shorter length.

  7. John E says:

    There are several issues: 1) If the sign clearly says, “Bicycles May Use Full Lane,” why can a cyclist be cited merely for so doing? 2) The law says cyclists shall ride as far right as PRACTICABLE (not “possible,” which would mean against the parked cars or in the gutter pan, in most cases) and provides numerous exceptions, such as “where a right turn is authorized.” On a commercial street with frequent driveway cuts, entire blocks often fall under that exception. 3) It is neither safe nor predictable for “gutter bunny” cyclists to hug the curb, then hop to the left to pass parked cars or to circumnavigate other road hazards, before hopping back against the curb. The other drawbacks of curb hugging are a greatly increased risk of not been seen by overtaking motorists and loss of any emergency maneuvering room in the event of a right hook or a right drift by an overtaking motorist.

    • Scott says:

      A lot of cops just don’t get it.

      The very first time I was pulled over on my bike — for allegedly not riding as far right as practicable — I pointed out the very narrow lane and the intermittent lane of parallel-parked cars.

      The officer told me I was required to ride immediately next to the parked cars and weave in and out when there were gaps between them. Sadly, he was serious :-/

  8. Joe Hanson says:

    “Bias refuses basic human equity to its target.Bias is impervious to logic and reason.Bias is blind to its absurdity no matter how brilliantly it is defined. As much headway as we’re making with law enforcement, stubborn anti-cycling bias can be encountered among the ranks of the most enlightened department.”

  9. Mike Hosley says:

    I was a victim of a driver that had just parked and then opened her door, and my bike was destroyed and I flew over the open car door and landed on the street. I feel fortunate to have lived through it.

    No one can determine when a car door will open, therefore it is unsafe to ride within a few feet of parked cars- I don’t blame cyclists for riding closer to the center of the lane in some places along Coast Highway.

  10. Bill Davidson says:

    BikingInLA has a nice response to Haley’s delusions:

    This is the best part:

    “But back to our sheriff’s captain from San Diego County.

    Haley said cyclists who don’t like the laws can work to get legislation enacted to change them.

    Or he, and other police officers, could just try enforcing the laws as they are actually written, rather than misinterpreting and misapplying them to prohibit behaviors they were never meant to address.”

    That’s the point here. Haley is distorting the law. He is disregarding the law as it was written by the California state legislature and inserting his own delusions about the law and pretending that that is the actual law.

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