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Commonsense safety tips for Bike to Work Day

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A cyclist crosses the intersection of Oak and Stanyan streets in San Francisco. (Michael Ares/2015 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Today is Bike to Work Day in the San Francisco Bay Area. My law firm annually co-sponsors Bike to Work Day. Through our partners — the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Bike East Bay and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition — we are distributing more than 20,000 free, reflective pant-leg straps for bicyclists. We are also giving out bike tire patch and repair kits at our San Francisco (1438 Market St.) and Oakland (1498 Alice St.) offices today. Stop by for a free kit.

We are proud to be recognized by the Bay Area bike coalitions as local, bicycle-friendly attorneys. We also sponsor the California Bicycle Coalition, which advocates for the rights of cyclists in Sacramento.

Last year on Bike to Work Day, I wrote on the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists on our roadways. This year, my column is directed at motorists. Here are some commonsense guidelines and laws to keep our roads safe for bicyclists:

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When passing in your vehicle, give bicyclists a minimum of three feet: Wait until it is safe to pass a bicyclist. When you do, California Vehicle Code requires that you provide a three-foot buffer between your vehicle and the bicyclist. If this is not possible due to traffic or roadway conditions, the law requires that you slow to a reasonable and prudent speed and pass only when doing so will not endanger the safety of the bicyclist.

Watch for the door zone: After parallel parking, check your rear-view mirror and turn around and look for any bicyclists in your blind spot or approaching before opening the door. Ask that any passengers exit from the right side of the car, or at least wait until you check to make sure it is safe to open the doors. A driver and passenger can be held liable if a biker gets hurt this way.

Bike lanes are for bicycles, not cars: Many bike lanes are painted with a solid white line; some are green with a solid white boundary. California Vehicle Code prohibits motor vehicles from driving in a bike lane except to park where permitted, to enter or leave the roadway or to prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet of an intersection.

Mind the green box: In San Francisco, you may encounter green boxes painted in the roadway — also known as bike boxes — at intersections. These are reserved for bikes to wait for the light to change. Cars may not occupy that space while waiting for a signal change and must allow bikes to proceed safely through the intersection.

Use your signal: Always use turn signals before turning, changing lanes, or pulling out from the curb. Without your signal, the bicyclist may not know to slow down until it is too late to avoid a collision.

Look out for bicyclists when turning right: Drivers approaching and making a right turn must do so as close as practicable to the right curb edge. However, be aware that a bicyclist may be to your right or immediately behind you and planning to go straight through the intersection. We often see the tragic circumstances of a motorist cutting off or, worse, driving over a bicyclist who is following the law and riding on the right edge of the road when riding slower than the normal flow of traffic. If there is not enough room for the bicyclist to ride on the right side of the road, or it is unsafe to do so, the bicyclist is allowed in the traffic lane. If necessary, a bicyclist may occupy the whole lane just as a car would.

Bikes and pedestrians are everywhere. It’s our collective responsibility to keep them safe when driving. See them, or you potentially will 1) hurt someone; 2) damage your car; 3) get a ticket; 4) increase your insurance premiums and/or 5) wind up across the table from me in a deposition or, worse for you, at trial.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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