What exactly are Berkeley’s rules of the road for cyclists?


Berkeleyside’s second podcast examines the rules of the road — or lack of them — for cyclists in Berkeley. A contentious subject to be sure.

John Rieger, who created today’s podcast, is an award-winning independent producer and former editor of the public radio series Beyond Computers. In his 30-year career in public radio, John, who lives in Berkeley, has documented subjects from science to civil liberties to modern art, and he has appeared as host of Radio Smithsonian and Weekend All Things Considered.

Nancy Rubin, a retired BUSD teacher and long-time Berkeley resident, is one of Berkeleyside’s favorite contributing photographers and shot the images for the slideshow that accompanies the podcast, above.

Catch up with the first podcast by Rieger, with photos by Rubin, on Berkeley being a “bumper stickery” kind of town.

We plan to produce more podcasts and collect them all together on a podcast channel which you can subscribe to. That way, you can download them onto your phone or iPod and listen to them on your travels.

And we are eager to hear your ideas for future podcasts. What subjects would you like John to cover? Which places would be ideal for him to pop up in? Berkeleyans are not usually shy about voicing their opinions. What questions should we be asking? Jot your ideas down in the Comments section below, or email us at tips@berkeleyside.com.

But first, click on the play button above and enjoy today’s four-minute show.

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  • libraterian

    Berkeleytard and Tom Clark, you are exactly right. The emotional aftermath and life disruption resulting from an accident with an “at fault” cyclist, even one cited at the scene, can be horrific. The disparity in mass accesses a sense of guilt that cannot be overcome, no matter what the circumstances. Which is why I too give cyclist a wide birth in bike lanes. And, as a matter of simple human fairness, I also subscribe to the “momentum right of way” (mentioned in the podcast) for riders in the hills. 

    However on flat city streets, bikes are vehicles, motorcycles without the motor. They need to stop at stop signs, signal turns and get off the bike using cross walks. The scofflaws I see project an air of self righteousness, as if to say: “I’m a gallant eco-warrior with critical planet saving business, you are a fossil fool”. When driving I maintain a ready supply of hard look eye contact, horn blowing, finger flipping and F bombs for use on cyclists suffering from this potentially terminal arrogance. Partially out of self defense, but also because the more of us who refuse to let these types slide, the more likely they’ll consider changing their behavior. 

    I’ve always thought it disturbing that bicycles and wheel chairs have the same kind of wheels. 

  • Tracy, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition wants to set up a lot more youth bike safety classes for 2012, so if you or a school official can go to ebbc.org/safety and send them a message with your request I am sure that they could schedule a weekend or evening session that more folks could attend.

  • resident

    And don’t forget all the landscaping in these circles, which is lovely but as it grows (and grows and grows), blocks visibility. Scary!

  • Megan

    Beautiful!  I want to live in that community.

  • Dan Brekke

    Love this. Very well done. And the discussion here has stayed civil, too. Maybe we can all just get along. 

  • Anonymous

    The central island of the Marin traffic circle is too small.  A single lane modern roundabout would have a circulating lane of about 20 ft and all entries would be yield control with splitter islands.  The larger diameter island with a narrower road would slow down auto traffic and make most of the blind curve issue disappear.

  • Anonymous

    I often see wheelchairs in the road without flags, reflectors, or lights … even at night.  They’re lower to the ground than bikes and even harder to see.

    Albert Ghiorso had a good start for his recumbent bike – flags, reflectors, and rear view mirrors … though  no lights I could see.




  • Haselstein

    I’m a new driver (first license at age 60), and I find cyclists’ unpredictability very unnerving. I should not be expected to be psychic. They are supposed to obey the Vehicle Code.

  • Meliflaw

    Yes–great idea! I imagine a podcast aimed specifically at students* and BART commuters who trudge home after dark, texting/chatting away and paying no attention to their surroundings until some thug relieves them of that pricey smart phone. I don’t blame these victims, but they really should learn to stay aware of their surroundings and to demonstrate to would-be thieves that they’re aware.

    *Put the podcast, or a link to it, on the Daily Cal Web site as well.

    (Playing with one’s cell phone while crossing the street is also kind of dumb, but I see it a lot.)

  • Meliflaw

    Reminds me of a guy who won London’s cabbie of the year award (and driving anything in London takes great skill and guts) and said his secret was driving as if every human being in the vicinity was a damned fool.

  • Bruce Love

    re: “who trudge home after dark, texting/chatting away and paying no attention to their surroundings”

    I’m increasingly convinced that these technologies bring out latent social phobias / agoraphobia in a lot of users.   They afford an allegedly socially acceptable way to walk around with blinders and your ears plugged going LA LA LA LA LA real loud.

  • kinglet

    1. Take valuable sh*t inside out of your vehicle. Put one of those blinky thingamajigs in your vehicle to indicate there is an alarm. Don’t drive a Honda. If you’re really hard core, leave your car unlocked with the club on it. Prevents expensive broken windows.
    2. Lock up your other sh*t.
    3. Be aware and carry a visible form of self defense.
    That’s pretty much it.

  • kinglet

    I would love to see a Road Safety Manifesto for *everyone* not just bikers. I mean, not what people think are the laws but actually what the laws say. All the laws. Like many posters, I am so frustrated with cars slamming on their brakes and waving me by when I am on my bike- and bikes screaming through crosswalks and expecting me to stop. I have nearly killed several people that way. Please please please do a thorough overview- everyone would benefit.

  • Dh

    Glad the tone was genial. Nice to see Berkeleyans (-ites?) able to laugh about their unwritten rules instead of giving us a scree. Thanks! Look forward to the next.

  • Anonymous

    What are the rules for bike riders riding at night?  

    Are they required to have lights? reflectors? headlamps? wear helmets?

    64 comments on “rules of the road for cyclists” …. You’d overwhelm the Berkeleyside servers if you did a feature:

    “Biker carbo” … cyclists’ favorite pizza places.


  • FiatSlug

    Marin Circle is well designed and appropriately signed.

    Berkeley motorists should learn to drive a roundabout.  Start by using common sense.  

    (1) Vehicles within the circle itself have the right of way; vehicles approaching the circle from any direction, at a minimum, need to yield to traffic.  Hence, the yield signs for traffic on eastbound Marin and southbound Arlington.  Because other entry points either descend or rise to The Circle, their visibility to others and visibility of others does not approach safety until they come to a stop.  Hence, stop signs at westbound Marin Ave., southbound Indian Rock Ave., eastbound Los Angeles Ave., northbound Del Norte St., and westbound Los Angeles Ave.

    (2) Traffic flows counterclockwise, coming from the left if you’re approaching The Circle.  The problem I’ve encountered more often than not is being behind someone who’s either timid or not paying sufficient attention that they do not take advantage of a large opening in the flow of roundabout traffic to enter.  

    (3) Accelerate gently leaving The Circle.  This is because Berkeley pedestrians often display an acute lack of common sense and common courtesy.  Berkeley pedestrians will step in front of a vehicle as if it’s their Gawd-given right to do so.  Pedestrians at The Circle are no different.

    (4) By and large, cyclists do use common sense by maintaining position towards the outside of The Circle so that exiting is safer for everyone.  Motorists can also use common sense by letting up on the gas pedal when in The Circle and keeping a sharp eye out for cyclists and pedestrians.

  • beyond

    Gawd-given right or law-given right?  Cars must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.  If you aren’t prepared to stop for a pedestrian who is entering a crosswalk, then you are probably either driving too fast or aren’t watching. 

  • FiatSlug

    Indeed, pedestrians do have the legal right of way if they are already in the crosswalk.  But there is a lack of common sense from many pedestrians that merely stepping off should be reason enough for any car to stop, without regard to whether or not it would require standing on the brakes to do so.

    Sometimes it’s simply a matter of common sense and courtesy for pedestrians not to put themselves and/or drivers in dangerous situations.  When I walk, I always exercise common sense and a sense of caution.  I do not step into a crosswalk unless I know a car sees me and has the distance to stop or slow down sufficiently without creating a dangerous situation.  I will often wait 2-3 feet in back of the curb to allow cars to pass when I’m unsure.  Even so, more often than not, cars will slow down or stop because I have exercised caution and common sense.  I return the favor when I’m driving, but I cannot say that all pedestrians exercise the same common sense and caution.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Fiat, can you say that all drivers exercise the same caution and common sense that you do?

    The most dangerous habit of local drivers is this:  One car on a street like MLK or San Pablo stops for a pedestrian to cross.  The pedestrian walks in the crosswalk in front of that car.  Some other car going in the same direction in the other lane blasts right through next to the car that is stopped.

    Common sense indicate that, if a car is stopped at a crosswalk, it is probably because a pedestrian is crossing there.  But I have seen lots of drivers who have no common sense and keep going without even slowing down.  It is so common that, when I am in this situation, I always stop after I get by the car that has stopped, and I take a good look to make sure that there is not an idiot in the other lane.

    Likewise, common sense indicates that drivers should look both ways before turning right at a red light or stop sign, to see if a pedestrian is crossing in either direction.  But virtually all drivers look only to their left, to see if a car is coming that will prevent them from turning right.  In fact, I have caught myself doing it when I drive.  I think that almost all pedestrians realize this and will not cross unless they know the driver has seen them.

    So, common sense is not in such abundant supply as we might hope.  When we walk, bicycle, or drive, we should never assume that the other people on the road are going to act sensibly.

  • beyond

    If you have to “stand on the brakes” to stop for a pedestrian entering a crosswalk either the intersection is poorly designed/something is blocking your line of sight (in which case you should be cautious anyway)/the pedestrian suddenly appears (for instance, a runner or skateboarder), or you have done something wrong, like failed to scan ahead for people approach the crosswalk or are driving too fast.  Since the line of sight at Marin are entirely unimpeded — it being a big open circle — I can’t imagine that rude pedestrians are the problem. 

    Arlington Ave is an example of a street where drivers need to be more cautious at the numerous crosswalks due to restricted sightlines.  The topography often makes it difficult to see pedestrians.  But that doesn’t legitimate driving as fast as the speed limit allows everytime you approach one (especially if you drive it routinely and know where the problem crosswalks are).

  • resident

    Exactly. Cyclists are one of the main reasons I don’t drive anymore. I’m terrified I’d accidentally hit one. Or get hit by another driving doing something dumb. So I try to rely on AC Transit, but mostly I walk. I’m the mom pushing the stroller with the red bicycle lights on it, in the hopes that cars and cyclists will see us and not run us down when we are crossing the street (at a crosswalk, when we have the right of way and once driver eye contact has been made).

  • Chester

    I’ve seen mote cars run stop signs in Berkeley than bikes. Actually there is hardly ever a legitimate stop at a stop sign from anyone. If the law were enforced for cars at stop signs, the city budget could be fixed.

  • Lindsey

    I bike through the Marin Circle all the time heading up the Arlington. I have invented my own signalling style. In addition to right and left I point in the direction I am going with the arm most visible to the car most likely to need to know where I am going. I point forward or diagonally as appropriate. It is very effective.

    I especially point forward when I am the first at a lighted intersection waiting for the green light. I need the first car in line of the oncoming traffic who is signalling left that I am going forward and they need to give me the right of way. I find it is very helpful to all, including the driver behind me who might want to go right and cut me off.

  • Lindsey

    As primarily a cyclist, the expectations of psychic abilities go both ways. Most drivers at stop signs seem to expect that I should have the right of way even if they clearly got to the stop sign miles ahead of me. 9 times out of 10 when I stop and try to give them their legal right of way they will not take it. I try to wave them on and I will completely stop with both feet on the ground begging them to go and they will not go. Just a few weeks ago I had a driver yell angrily “I am trying to be nice to you!” as he finally took his legal right of way after a good 60 seconds of me waving him on. And Prius drivers give me the right of way all the time by stopping traffic on Sacramento during rush hour to let me cross, which is totally not the law. At a stop sign show down with a Prius I believe would have to get off by bike and lay down and play dead before they will take their right of way. Doing this every block at stop signs is just too exhausting and ineffective for all.

    So I give up, the very polite drivers of Berkeley will not let me follow the law (believe me, I do try stopping at stop signs every couple months to see if my experience will be different, but no) so yes I run stop signs. But not in a jerky super fast way and if it seems that a driver really is going to take their right of way I yield to them. I always give pedestrians the right of way and look for barreling cyclists who aren’t looking at all. I always call out to cyclists, joggers, etc that I am passing them. I support legislation for a yield to cyclists at stops. I support being polite to everyone, and for now, I support breaking the laws because of the above experiences. But if I get a ticket I won’t argue, I know I am breaking the law. I am sorry for drivers that get angry at me, but I really do the best I can and I don’t yell at drivers ever unless they are about to hit me.

  • Anniefitzyoga

    Thanks for the piece. I have only been in Berkeley for three months and my only mode of transport is my bike. I’ve loved the bike friendliness of Berkeley….the bike boulevards are great. But I have a question about the round abouts: typically round abouts do not have stop signs, right? So why are there stop signs and not yield signs and my biggest mystery is why on the California bike boulevard does the cross traffic not stop or even yield at Allston Way? It’s a rather dangerous spot and extremely so for cyclists. Cheers

  • The answer is that a warrant is required in order to remove a stop sign, so it is fairly simple to design and construct a traffic circle but difficult to remove the stop signs. The worst offenders in my opinion are the King St bike boulevard, with four traffic circles and four stop signs, and the California St bike route, with 10 traffic circles and 8 stop signs. On California St most of the intersections without stop signs are also the ones without traffic circles as well. How does that make sense, in terms of traffic calming? Very obnoxious, and no wonder some cyclists just opt to ride on busier arterial streets.

  • Steve Geller

    Good to hear all the comments from cyclists. I don’t think anyone, driver, bike rider or pedestrian should push around other users of the shared roads. I’m a pedestrian / bus rider and occasional car driver. I see many buses blocked by slow-moving bikes as the bus approaches a stop. Most bike riders insist on keeping their momentum and do not stop for stop signs and even some traffic lights.  They seldom yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk; bike riders are worse than car drivers for this. As a senior citizen, my biggest gripe about bikes is that they ride on the sidewalks, silently coming up behind a pedestrian.  At least the skateboards make lots of noise.

  • Helmets are not required.

    At night, a cyclist is required to have lights fore and aft that are visible 300′

  • Anonymous

    Someone just sent me a link of a nice accessory for pedestrians.



  • Charles_Siegel

    Bike boulevard design has three phases: 1) signage 2) safer intersections and 3) traffic calming on the bike boulevards. 

    More than ten years after implementation began, they have only done phase one, adding signs saying they are bike boulevards.  (Traffic circles are just on the bike boulevards by coincidence.  They were not put there as part of the bike boulevard plan.)

    Last I heard (a couple of years ago), city staff had applied for a grant to develop a toolbox of methods that can be used to make intersections safer.  As far as I know, they never received that grant. 

    There are obvious places where intersections could be made safer just by adding or shifting stop signs, which does not require developing a comprehensive toolbox of methods to make intersections safer.  The Ninth St. bike boulevard became safer and much more convenient many years ago when a four-way stop was added at the intersection of Dwight and Ninth.  A similar four-way stop is obviously needed at the intersection of California and Dwight.  We also need to improve California and Allston, etc, etc.

    I think we would be better off if staff spent its time working on these obvious improvements, rather than writing grant proposals.

  • Choyingpalmo

    I’m both a pedestrian (89% of the time) and a driver, not so much a cyclist. I cannot tell you how many times, walking to and from work down Shattuck, I’ve nearly gotten plowed into by adults–young and old–bicycling down the sidewalks. Entitled, arrogant scoff-laws. And the number of Berkeley drivers who just don’t give a hoot about pedestrian right-of-way IN PEDESTRIAN LANES? Unbelievable. And, believe me, I make sure I know a driver is going to slow down before I throw myself in his or her way. Generally, they’re clued out OR ON THEIR PHONES… So I was vindicated one day crossing Shattuck: I stepped onto the ped lane, started to cross after a police car stopped for me, stopped in my tracks because the car in the lane next to the cop kept going, and gleefully observed the stinker being pulled over by the cop. HA! I said. You’ll never do THAT again…

  • on-leash

    How about a series of interviews with cyclists who choose to ride on the sidewalk, endangering me and my leashed dogs? Or cyclists who blow through Ohlone Greenway at 15mph, ignoring the “Slow” signs?

  • Kate May

    Thanks for the helpful podcast about biking. Please do more. Riding a bike in berkeley can be as dangerous or more so than walking. Kate May

  • MarcusHart

    Oh my, can I upvote this about a hundred more times? Little kids and dogs are not good at standing still when a fast moving bike is hurtling at them, nor good at anticipating where the bike is planning to go.

  • MarcusHart

    This is a very vivid and true description of what it’s like to be a cyclist in Berkeley (and most cities). Well done!