Curtis Cook wrote to ask about the laws concerning bicycle riding through parking lots.

Stores for the most part, have their bike racks near their entryways, which means crossing the parking lot to get to them.  get a lot of flak from drivers and people walking to and from their cars. I ride slowly, watch all my surroundings and try not to be squirrely. What more should I be doing or be made aware of?

The answer comes from Gary Helfrich, executive director, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition:

Most parking lots are private property, so access is controlled by the property owner. That said, if the parking lot serves a commercial use, it’s likely the city or county required the property owner to provide bicycle and pedestrian access as a condition of approval when the property was developed.

Here are my tips for surviving the parking lot:

The most important tip is to avoid cutting through parking lots whenever possible. While riding through parking lots is legal, this does not mean that it’s safe. Of course, you might have to ride through a huge parking lot just to shop at a particular store.

If you absolutely have to ride through a parking lot, here are some tips for survival:

(1) Always ride with traffic and follow lane markings and signal your turns and moves. Do not ride in prohibited areas (sidewalks, areas designated for pedestrians only).

(2) Ride slowly and defensively. A parking lot is one of the few places that a person riding a bicycle could travel faster than automobiles. Resist the temptation and don’t do it. Assume that cars may not stop and may cut you off it there’s an open space.

(3) Remember that most parking lots are intrinsically unsafe cars and design never takes the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists into account. Anyone who has walked from their car to a store in the Mendocino Avenue Safeway Shopping Center knows this all too well.

(4) Assume that no one is looking. People are preoccupied with finding a space or getting home when they are in a parking lot, so situational awareness is low. Collisions between cars are generally fender benders, but when flesh and bone are involved, it’s more likely to be a trip to the emergency room.

(5) Try to stay on the main thoroughfares at the parking lot perimeter and avoid riding down the rows of parked cars.

(6) Watch out for doors and tailgates. Lots of SUV’s and minivans have rear doors that can be opened remotely by the vehicle key. These can be a nasty surprise if they open while you’re riding too close.

(7) It goes without saying that everyone should stop at all stop signs, but this is especially important for bicycles in parking lots.

(8) While anyone riding a bike after dark is required to have lights and should wear bright reflective clothing, this is even more critical when riding through a parking lot. Don’t even think of cutting through a parking lot at night if you don’t have bright lights on your bike.

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