Beating a bridge-biking ticket
Some notes from long-time bridge bikers.
Disclaimer: we ain't lawyers.
We could be wrong.

First of all, you must understand your rights:

  1. You are required to obey signs under the California Vehicle Code (CVC). The most common citation for a bridge biker is CVC 21461(a). You've lucked out if they give you CVC 21461.5, which is only for pedestrians.

      21461. (a) It shall be unlawful for any driver of a vehicle to fail to obey any sign or signal erected or maintained to indicate and carry out the provisions of this code or any local traffic ordinance or resolution adopted pursuant to a local traffic ordinance, or to fail to obey any device erected or maintained pursuant to Section 21352.
  2. Bicyclists and pedestrians are allowed on the freeways unless signs are posted prohibiting them, as seen in 21960(b), below.

    Many Bay Area CHP officers are convinced that biking on freeways is a sure-death activity and that bicyclists are absolutely prohibited from freeways. In fact, over one quarter (over 1,000 miles) of California's freeways are open to bicyclists, and statistically freeways are one of the safest places to ride. Most crashes involving bicyclists occur on city streets, at intersections, and furthermore, most crashes involving bicycles on freeways occur at on- and off-ramps (in only 6% of crashes on freeways involving bicyclists was the bicyclist traveling with traffic on the shoulder. The rest were associated with ramps and the intersections at ramps, this is out of 2,739 crashes statewide over the past ten years, and only three fatalities appeared to involve a motorist hitting a cyclist from behind).

    Fortunately, bridges are usually straight stretches with no ramps, so they are generally considered very safe, especially if there is a large shoulder such as on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. The prominent exception to all this, the one bridge with an onramp in the Bay Area, is of course the Bay Bridge, but the Bay Bridge ramps can be circumvented by exiting, traveling around the island, and then entering again. Also, the Bay Bridge on/off ramps are not extensively used and they enjoy clear sight lines).

      21960. (a) The Department of Transportation and local authorities may, by order, ordinance, or resolution, with respect to freeways or designated portions thereof under their respective jurisdictions, to which all rights of access have been acquired, prohibit or restrict the use of the freeways or any portion thereof by pedestrians, bicycles or other nonmotorized traffic or by any person operating a motor-driven cycle or a motorized bicycle. Any such prohibition or restriction pertaining to either bicycles or motor-driven cycles, or to both, shall be deemed to include motorized bicycles; and no person may operate a motorized bicycle wherever such prohibition or restriction is in force. Notwithstanding any provisions of any order, ordinance, or resolution to the contrary, the driver or passengers of a disabled vehicle stopped on a freeway may walk to the nearest exit, in either direction, on that side of the freeway upon which the vehicle is disabled, from which telephone or motor vehicle repair services are available. (b) Such prohibitory regulation shall be effective when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected upon any freeway and the approaches thereto. (c) No ordinance or resolution of local authorities shall apply to any state highway until the proposed ordinance or resolution has been presented to, and approved in writing by, the Department of Transportation.

  3. There is a special case on "vehicular crossings", in that toll crossings are off-limits to bikes and pedestrians unless permission is SPECIFICALLY GRANTED as per CVC 23330(b):

    23330.  Except where a special permit has been obtained from the
    Department of Transportation under the provisions of Article 6
    (commencing with Section 35780) of Chapter 5 of Division 15, none of
    the following shall be permitted on any vehicular crossing:
       (a) Animals while being led or driven, even though tethered or
       (b) Bicycles or motorized bicycles, unless the department by signs
    indicates that either bicycles or motorized bicycles, or both, are
    permitted upon all or any portion of the vehicular crossing.
       (c) Vehicles having a total width of vehicle or load exceeding 102
       (d) Vehicles carrying items prohibited by regulations promulgated
    by the Department of Transportation.
    23331.  Pedestrians shall not be permitted upon any vehicular
    crossing, unless unobstructed sidewalks of more than three feet in
    width are constructed and maintained and signs indicating that
    pedestrians are permitted are in place.
    (Note that a sidewalk can just be a painted line on the road).

  4. What is a vehicular crossing, you may ask? Well, it is defined as:
      23254.  A "vehicular crossing" is any toll bridge or toll highway
      crossing and the approaches thereto, constructed or acquired by the
      Department of Transportation under the provisions of the California
      Toll Bridge Authority Act.

  5. That means that all the major "toll bridges" such as such as the Bay Bridge, San Mateo bridge, and Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, are vehicular crossings...if they are in fact toll bridges. But they are also freeways, so although you must be told you are permitted to travel on a vehicular crossing, you also must see a sign stating that you are prohibited. All this after you see a sign stating you are on a vehicular crossing, of course.

  6. It is of great interest that the CHP (nicknamed the "Clog the Highway Petrol" by one member of the Bike the Bridge! Coalition) has a responsibility to keep the traffic moving efficiently, and as we all should know, there is no more efficient land-transport vehicle than the bicycle.
      23251.  (a) The Department of the California Highway Patrol shall
      provide for proper and adequate policing of all toll highways and all
      vehicular crossings to ensure the enforcement thereon of this code
      and of any other law relating to the use and operation of vehicles
      upon toll highways, highways or vehicular crossings, and of the rules
      and regulations of the Department of Transportation in respect
      thereto, and to cooperate with the Department of Transportation to
      the end that vehicular crossings be operated at all times in a manner
      as to carry traffic efficiently.  The authority of the Department of
      the California Highway Patrol is exclusive except as to the
      authority conferred by law upon the Department of Transportation in
      respect to vehicular crossings.
          [(B) and (C) omitted here.]

    Despite this responsibility, we have seen that in many instances when the CHP has detained a well-meaning and non-interfering bicyclist on one of our bridges, they have blocked motor traffic in addition to the crime of blocking bicycle traffic. During the famous Bay Bridge ride on September 10th, 1997 during the infamous BART strike, KTVU Channel 2 actually stated, "Traffic was moving fine until the CHP and CalTrans showed up..."

  7. It is important to note that the Department (CalTrans) must post a sign stating that you are on a vehicular crossing:
      23300.  The Department of Transportation shall erect appropriate
      signs at each entrance to a vehicular crossing to notify traffic that
      it is entering upon a vehicular crossing.
    If there is no sign, then you may argue that there is no reasonable way for you to know you are on a vehicular crossing. Think of having to call the Department of Transportation each time you change from one road to another, to see what their files say about whether your mode is prohibited. How about every time you go a mile? Such expectations are surely unreasonable.

So, the ideal situation for a bridge biker is to find a bridge with no signs prohibiting bicycles, and no signs stating that the bridge is a vehicular crossing (including signs stating that there is a toll, when you are approaching a bridge).

Note that the presence of a toll plaza probably constitutes a sign or notice in some way. But notice also that the prohibitions of nonmotorized travelers are made for "portions" of the vehicular crossing. It is important to be aware that technically, a vehicular crossing includes all "approaches thereto" (23254, above), and those are:

    23255.  An "approach" is that portion of a state highway leading to
    or from a toll bridge or toll highway crossing which lies between one
    end of the bridge or crossing and the nearest intersection of a
    highway with the state highway.  A ramp or other structure designed
    exclusively for use in connection with a toll bridge or toll highway
    crossing shall not be deemed an intersecting highway but is a part of
    the approach.

But if we are entering the freeway, we are (one would assume) using an intersection, and thus if there are no signs stating that we are entering a toll bridge/vehicular crossing/toll highway, then we can assume that the "vehicular crossing" is not in effect, and even if there is a toll plaza right behind us and a bridge directly ahead of us, we can assume that the bridge is not a toll bridge, but rather, that the stretch of road behind us is a toll highway. And this makes sense.

Just as cyclists on Highway 24 heading towards Walnut Creek will be told to repeatedly get on and off the freeway, such that portions of the freeway are designated accessible (wherever no other reasonable route exists)--and this is undoubtedly to keep cyclists from intersecting with the more dangerous on-ramps (as described above)--a bicyclist who can legally find ahz way around a vehicular crossing may assume that the portion with the sign (e.g., a toll plaza) is off-limits, but that the unsigned portion beyond the plaza is fair game.

After all, we do have the constitutional right to travel, don't we?

More importantly, if there are no signs, there is no notice.

To do your own legal research, check this web site (the most up-to-date form we have):

Also check out the Bike Rights Package.

Ride on!

Back to the Bicycle Civil Liberties Union.

Back to the Bike the Bridge! Coalition.