Can you park your car in a bike lane?

A car parked on the new Los Angeles St. bike lane. Taken on a Friday morning.

It’s been a little over a week since the installation of the new bike lanes on Los Angeles Street in downtown L.A.

Riding in from Echo Park, I usually take Los Angeles Street to get to work and back home every weekday, and so far the addition of these bike lanes have made my commute slightly more relaxing as I’m not competing for road space with drivers. However, when approaching Union Station before hitting Temple St., there seems to always be a slew of cars parked and stopped right on the bike lane in front of the Police Department building, red curb or not. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this section of the new bike lane clear, as cars are even parked on the lane overnight.

Within the span of three days, I sat in front of the Police Department building for a few hours each day to study how this obstruction was affecting cyclists who were using the new bike lane. During my observation, most cyclists were able to merge back safely into the normal traffic lane with the exception of one cyclist who was almost doored by the owner of one of the parked vehicles, and two cyclists who were almost hit by approaching traffic.

Concerned with cyclists’ safety and frustrated at the parked cars, I had approached an officer a few days ago, who was just walking out from his car to ask why he had parked on a bike lane, to which he responded, “You can go around it. I can park there if I need to.” Was he right? Later that afternoon, I went home to fact-check his statement. According to California’s Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, it states, “You may park in a bicycle lane if your vehicle does not block a bicyclist and/or there is not a “No Parking” sign posted.”

Was the officer in a sense not “blocking” a cyclist from continuing on the bike lane? What exactly is “blocking” a cyclist? Does that mean cars can park in bike lanes as long as they leave space for cyclists to turn and continue ahead?

What do you think readers?

Categories: Bicycle

28 replies

  1. If bicycles are vehicles that share the roads with cars, the same safety rules apply when there is a car parked in a lane that you’re driving in. Stop; carefully look behind you, go around when safe.

    As much as there are risks in driving a car, motorcycle, or scooter on the streets of LA, bicycles share their risks as well. Common sense bicycle safety is something that a lot of bicyclists need to learn.

  2. Let’s do an experiment! Park your car in the vehicle lane in front of the police station. If an officer trys to ticket you, just say “I’m not blocking traffic, you can go around it. I can park there if I need to.” I wonder what would happen…

  3. I have no problem with police cars parked on red curb outside a police station or when they are on duty, but I have a serious problem seeing them parked on red curb for lunch or coffee. That is a very common scene in Chinatown, for example.

    And I totally agree that cyclists must do their part too. I have lost count how many times I have seen them (no matter solo or as a group) blowing though a 4-way stop intersection. Having to unclip and re-clip the biking shoes is not an excuse.

  4. If he wasn’t a cop he’d get towed for parking in a red zone. While on duty and doing work related tasks, cops can park anywhere they choose, including blocking traffic lanes – I’ve seen them block “fake lanes” (peak period travel lanes) many times, which is always interesting when cars have to merge around. If they are blocking the bike lane to get food, then that shouldn’t be allowed.

    The cargo people should be ticketed, same as if they park in a red zone. Red zones are no stopping zones (except for buses when designated) and as such, loading and unloading from them is not OK, although if the car is attended it really doesn’t matter because they will just drive away when parking enforcement rolls around.

  5. Goes to show Police don’t care where they park. They should follow the laws and posted signs and street markings regardless! Good Post Jung! Maybe they will get a chance to see this and realize they’re only making it harder for cyclists on the road! I’m sure Metro wouldn’t do the same!

  6. @Jason Leung – Have you also lost count of drivers’ minor traffic infractions? Exceeding the speed limit, rolling through stop signs, etc. I think that pretty much everyone on the planet (drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and others) are guilty of relatively-minor traffic infractions.It irks me when folks, including you, fall into a double standard, pointing out bicyclists’ less-than-perfect traffic behavior as if it’s something unusual, as if something different than what drivers do all over the planet ever day. When drivers raise a concern (ie: the 405 is congested so let’s spend another billion to widen it), have you ever brought up the point that drivers “should do their part” and stop their unlawful behavior?

  7. @Jason Leung – “I have lost count how many times I have seen them (no matter solo or as a group) blowing though a 4-way stop intersection.” Are you pissed off because you care deeply about following the law and others are not, or because you’re stuck in a car watching others take reasonable risks with a smile on their face? As Joe Linton points out, drivers, pedestrians, and other people – yes cyclists – regularly and with great frequency break traffic laws every day. Isn’t the real question, “what are the consequences?” To which I point to a recent comment on a similar thread re: cyclist vs. motorist infractions “Until I read about a cyclist t-boning an SUV and killing a family of four, I call bullsh@t on this debate.”

  8. I’m sure if people parked their bicycles on normal traffic lanes, drivers would be furious! Why are cars even allowed to park on bike lanes anyways? Does that not devalue and defeat the puropose of having a bike lane in the first place?! If you’re going to spend tax-payer money on bike lanes, place laws into effect so they can get used!

  9. Daniel,

    The rationale seems to be this. When car drivers drive, they pay:

    1. Drivers license – remember it is a privilege, not a right to drive. A license to drive is essentially a tax.
    2. Gas – composed of local, state, and federal taxes which goes into fixing the streets and highway system
    3. Vehicle registration and smog checks – additional taxes on car drivers
    4. Sales tax on car maintenance and repairs. A new tire, sales tax. New brakes, sales tax. Oil change, sales tax.

    Car drivers put into the street system more than bicyclists. Therefore, they have the highest priority in the roads.

  10. Shouldn’t the bright red curbs make the fact that it’s also a bicycle lane a moot point?

    And the police should be allowed to block the lane if they’re on police business, but not for donut calls.

    • Hello Erik,

      I don’t have access to a Flickr account at the moment. You’re welcome to upload these photos on your personal account if you’d like.

      Thanks,
      Jung

  11. Aside from the fact that parking at a red curb (which, per CA MUTCD, is supposed to accompany a bike lane in all circumstances where a separate curbside parking zone is not provided) is illegal, and that adherence to traffic laws is mandatory regardless of whether one user pays more into the system than another, let’s address Steven P’s points one by one:

    1. Drivers license – remember it is a privilege, not a right to drive. A license to drive is essentially a tax.

    I don’t follow your logic here. The fact that in California, we require a license to operate motor vehicles on public ways but do not require one to operate a bicycle (or to walk, for that matter) would seem to imply, if anything, an *inferior*, not superior, right to travel for motor vehicles vs. bikes. In reality, both modes of travel are subject to the same rules regarding right-of-way (check out California Vehicle Code Section 21200), independent of whether the operator is required to obtain a license or not.

    2. Gas – composed of local, state, and federal taxes which goes into fixing the streets and highway system

    Fuel taxes go mostly toward the construction and maintenance of a massively expensive highway infrastructure that bicyclists generally aren’t allowed to use. A portion of state fuel taxes get returned to local municipalities for road maintenance, but it tends to be a small percentage of each city’s overall transportation budget, which is funded overwhelmingly by revenues from property, sales and other taxes that are a) paid by drivers and non-drivers alike and b) paid at the same rate regardless of how much or how little you drive.

    Bicyclists also cause orders of magnitude less wear and tear on city streets, thus imposing much lower maintenance costs. In the end, the maintenance of most municipal streets ends up being subsidized by those who drive the least.

    3. Vehicle registration and smog checks – additional taxes on car drivers

    Motor vehicles have to be registered because they are a) expensive pieces of property and b) easily capable of inflicting massive damage on other expensive pieces of property (not to mention what happens when a human being gets struck by one). It’s important to be able to identify each individual vehicle and its owner so that responsibility can be assigned and restitution made in the event of a collision. Bicycles can be expensive, and pose some risks to life, limb and property, but not nearly to the same extent that is true of motor vehicles. Choosing to operate a more expensive vehicle (and paying the costs associated with it) does not confer a superior right to travel.

    Smog checks are necessary to control a harmful external cost imposed on the rest of society by motor vehicle operators (i.e., air pollution and its associated health effects). We don’t require smog checks for bikes because bikes don’t emit smog-forming chemicals. Choosing to operate a more polluting vehicle does not confer a superior right to travel.

    4. Sales tax on car maintenance and repairs. A new tire, sales tax. New brakes, sales tax. Oil change, sales tax.

    There are sales taxes on bike maintenance and repairs too. I pay sales tax on a new tube, on on a new bottle of chain lube, on the bill for the tune-up I get at the local bike shop, etc. It costs less than maintaining a car because my bike is simpler to maintain. Choosing to operate a more expensive-to-maintain vehicle does not confer a superior right to travel.

  12. @Stephen P – A lot of drivers have the false impression that they’re entirely paying their own way, but actually road building/maintenance (also less direct car costs: parking, pollution, injury, illness, militarism, etc.) are only partially covered by direct road user fees (gas tax, etc. that you list.) and are subsidized by general tax revenues paid by everyone, including folks who don’t drive at all. This can be seen as good news for you – you’ll never have to pay the actual cost for your driving! U.S. drivers are subsidized (at much higher levels than rail transportation or biking or walking) – hence you’re actually being incentivized to drive. There’s a lot of research on this – here’s one source: http://la.streetsblog.org/2008/07/09/study-highways-dont-pay-for-themselves/

  13. I just realized I used the term “restitution” incorrectly in responding to point #3. “Compensation” is more appropriate. Gains-based recovery vs. loss-based recovery, if anyone cares about legal terms.

  14. Can’t do much about the cops (they are gonna break every traffic law there is cause they can get away with it), but the private citizens should be towed. Maybe the no parking signs are lagging? Winnetka isn’t properly signed yet.

  15. Obstruction of Bikeways or Bicycle Paths or Trails

    21211.   (a) No person may stop, stand, sit, or loiter upon any class I bikeway, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code, or any other public or private bicycle path or trail, if the stopping, standing, sitting, or loitering impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist.

    (b) No person may place or park any bicycle, vehicle, or any other object upon any bikeway or bicycle path or trail, as specified in subdivision (a), which impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist unless the placement or parking is necessary for safe operation or is otherwise in compliance with the law.

    (c) This section does not apply to drivers or owners of utility or public utility vehicles, as provided in Section 22512.

    (d) This section does not apply to owners or drivers of vehicles who make brief stops while engaged in the delivery of newspapers to customers along the person’s route.

    (e) This section does not apply to the driver or owner of a rubbish or garbage truck while actually engaged in the collection of rubbish or garbage within a business or residence district if the front turn signal lamps at each side of the vehicle are being flashed simultaneously and the rear turn signal lamps at each side of the vehicle are being flashed simultaneously.

    (f) This section does not apply to the driver or owner of a tow vehicle while actually engaged in the towing of a vehicle if the front turn signal lamps at each side of the vehicle are being flashed simultaneously and the rear turn signal lamps at each side of the vehicle are being flashed simultaneously.

    Amended Ch. 517, Stats. 1993. Effective January 1, 1994.
    Amended Sec. 21, Ch. 1007, Stats. 1999. Effective January 1, 2000.
    Amended Sec. 7, Ch. 127, Stats. 2001. Effective July 30, 2001.

  16. California Vehicle Code as written is a little weak as it relates to blocking bikeways; however,when a bikeway with classification of class II such as depicted in the photographs in the article are paired with “No Parking” (R26 (CA) signs as prescribed by the 2012 CA Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices Chapter 9 then the bikeways facility is easier to defend from such violations or transgressors of any type.

    Demand safe and complete bikeways in your communities

    Cheers,
    And Keep on churning

  17. OK to park in a bike lane if it doesn’t impede a bicyclist? “You may ride on a fish’s tail, but don’t go near the water.”

    • @Just a person,

      I’ve already e-mailed LAPD regarding this matter to their Media Relations section a few days ago. Hopefully, with a response, I can do a follow-up story.

      Thanks,
      Jung

  18. This is a good argument for the adding some barriers or a curb to the buffer area that is supposed to separate the cars from bikes (or in this case, to separate the cars from bikes when the cars find it not too inconvenient).

  19. Of course it’s not OK for anyone to park IN the bike lane. This is impeding traffic, something that anyone else could be cited for. It’s as if they parked across the sidewalk, blocking pedestrians from using it as it’s intended. I suppose if they were on the sidewalk the response would be pedestrians could walk around.

    This is not acceptable, but it sounds like its a legal gray area.