Cyclists claim signs said it was okay to ride there

Two senior citizens in Orange County, California, are due to appear in court next month after being cited by a motorcycle policeman for riding on the pavement shortly after the same officer had told them that he wouldn’t ride a bike on the adjacent road and despite the presence of signs saying “bike riding is permitted on this sidewalk.”

Leslie and Duane Smith were returning to their home in Newport Beach Bayshores Community after enjoying a ride with their friends Matt and Sharon Pierce along California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and were cycling along the footpath past a parade of restaurants when they encountered the police officer who was stopped by the side of the road.

With drivers on the road queuing up to get into the restaurant parking lots, the Pierces remarked to the officer about how crazy everything seemed, according to the Orange County Register. The officer replied that he wouldn’t ride on the road, saying it was dangerous and prone to accidents, and the Pierces continued on their way, believing that he was telling them to be careful.

It therefore came as a surprise when not long afterwards, the same officer came up behind them on his motorbike, with lights flashing and siren blaring, and pulled them over for riding their bikes on the sidewalk.

In an email sent to the Orange County Register, Mr Smith asked, “Did he really need to use his sirens and lights for stopping 4 emerging senior citizens leisurely riding their bikes?”

“We were treated like common criminals and issued traffic tickets, going so far as to fingerprint me as I had inadvertently left home without my drivers license,” he continued. “The police officer claimed that, according to CA Code 12.56.030 (A) NBMC, it is against the law to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk in CA, despite the ever present signs posted on the sidewalk along PCH that state ‘Bike Route – Bike Riding Permitted on This Sidewalk.’”

Mr Smith added that the officer “further humiliated us by insisting we sit on the curb while he issued the traffic tickets, even calling for back-up, all while numerous other bikes, including families with small children, rode by on the same sidewalk.”

He added: “Needless to say, passerby’s looked on in horror at the treatment 4 senior bicyclist were receiving for simply riding their bicycles! Once we had received our citations, we proceeded down PCH, past Ardells and The Balboa Bay Club (in the street, mind you….) and re-entered the safety of our private community.”

Following the incidents, the Smiths received citations while the Pierces did not, and subsequent dealings with the police – by phone, email and in person – have resulted in the Newport Beach Police Department insisting that while there are signs saying that cycling is permitted on the sidewalk, that does not apply to the stretch where the Smiths were stopped.

The cyclists countered by saying that since there was no sign saying they needed to get off the sidewalk at the end of the permitted zone, they could not have known that they were supposed to get off it.

Police Lieutenant Bill Hartford told the OC Register that he believed the incident arose from a misunderstanding and that in the initial exchange, the officer concerned had directed the cyclist to a suitable bike path, and then cited the Smiths when he saw them continuing to ride on the sidewalk.

“The officer did cite them appropriately, and they need to go through the process,” explained Hartfoprd. “They’ll have their day in court — that’s the purpose of it. It’s up to the judge to look at the circumstances and make a decision.”

He added: “Our job is to ensure the safety of the motorists and the cyclists,” he said. PCH can be a challenging place to operate a car or a bike, and there have been fatalities.”

The case will now go to court on September 3, but as Mr Smith points out, “
“We are almost afraid to get in our car and drive somewhere as we don’t know which laws we are breaking!!”


Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.