Bicyclist advocates have been pointing out for years that the “Share the Road” message is problematical for bicyclists — that nobody really understands what it’s supposed to mean — the meaning is, at best, unclear and therefore readily mis-interpreted.
- www.thewashcycle.com‘s explanation in 2011
- ohiobikelawyer.com weighed in in 2010
- bikede.org eventually got DelDOT to simply stop using the signs altogether in 2013.
As of August 2015, there’s been a perceptual study published that gives statistically validated heft to the argument: in short, the study compared people’s perceptions of four treatments on two roadway configurations, the four were:
- no sign
- Share the Road
- Bicycles may use full lane (BMUFL)
- Shared Lane Marking (a.k.a. “Sharrow”)
Results were clear: BMUFL “wins”. The only thing positive that can be said for StR is that it was no worse than no treatment at all.
The full study is free and online here, I would encourage everyone to read it, it is clear and concise in explaining the situation, and is only a few pages long:
“Bicycles May Use Full Lane” Signage Communicates U.S. Roadway Rules and Increases Perception of Safety George Hess, M. Nils Peterson
If you are too lazy to read the study here is the study’s conclusion, my emphasis added:
Of the three bicycle-related traffic control devices we tested, “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage delivered the message about the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists and motorists with respect to travel lane occupancy most consistently: bicyclists are permitted in the travel lane and need not move to allow motorists to pass them within the lane. Although Shared Lane Markings did increase comprehension in some cases, they did not deliver the message as consistently as “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage. We speculate that a combination of “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage and Shared Lane Markings might be particularly comprehensible. “Share the Road” signage failed to provide any additional comprehension in this regard when compared to the unsigned roadways in any of our tests. “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” showed particularly strong increases in comprehension for novice bicyclists and private motor vehicle commuters, critical target audiences for these traffic control devices and for efforts to promote bicycling in the US.
Now if we could just get cities, counties and the state to not use lanes that seem to be wide, but aren’t (anything wider than about 10′ but narrower than about 15′); or worse yet: fake bike lanes. It should be noted that the study specifically avoided these cases by presenting an illustration showing clearly narrow lanes, and no shoulder or bike lane.
Here’s the MUTCD technical description of BMUFL and Shared Lane Markings.
The FHWA (the folks that bring us the MUTCD) has a nice explanation of why the share the road plaque shouldn’t be used, the same reasoning extends to non-standard share the road, from the part 9 MUTCD faq:
Q: Should “share the road” signing be used to inform drivers of the likely presence of bicyclists and to inform them to pass bicyclists safely?
A: The SHARE THE ROAD (W16-1P) plaque was introduced into the MUTCD in the context of slow-moving farm equipment with no associated mention of bicyclists. Since that time it has become prevalent in conjunction with the Bicycle (W11-1) warning sign with the intent of warning drivers of the presence of bicyclists and warning drivers to pass safely. Research has shown that the “share the road” message when applied to bicyclists does not adequately communicate the responsibilities of either user group on the roadway. Road users are unclear whether “share the road” means that drivers should give space when passing or that bicyclists should pull to the side to allow drivers to pass. Where bicyclists are expected or preferred to use the full lane, that message is more clearly communicated with the Bicycles May Use Full Lane (R4-11) sign, supplemented by shared-lane markings as appropriate. When using the Bicycle (W11-1) warning sign, many jurisdictions have phased out the use of “share the road” in favor of an IN LANE or ON ROADWAY word message plaque, more clearly indicating the condition ahead instead of giving an unclear instruction. It is still compliant with the MUTCD if a jurisdiction chooses to post a SHARE THE ROAD (W16-1P) plaque under a Bicycle (W11-1) warning sign, but it would not be the best practice.
What’s wrong with courtesy?
Well, like sharing, nothing… except it is often mis-represented and mis-interpreted. Courtesy, or the c-word as I now like to call it, is a dead end for bicyclist-safety and use of the term should be abandoned entirely with regard to urban bicycling. The subject is appropriate when discussing “control and release” which is typical of rural roads. The impeding 5-or-more statute (28-704C) is in a sense forced courtesy on typical rural road, and rarely if ever applies on urban roads.
There was an op-ed type column (out of Maine, i think) My voice: City’s policy changes make bike riding safer written by LCI Michael Christensen. It did a great job of spotlighting the manner of collisions that befall most bicyclists in his town :
Riders are not dying because they are trying to share space (with same-direction traffic). They are dying because they are being wrongly advised that sidewalk riding is safer. Riders who ride in the roadway courteously and according to traffic laws are far more visible, predictable and communicative. Therefore, they are far less likely to be injured or killed by anybody’s drunkenness or unwillingness to actually look where they’re going.
I would complain about the “courteously and”, that it should have just been left out of the sentence. And I would even argue that it is motorists demanding, or bicyclists feeling the need to supply, courtesy by riding at the edge that makes bicyclists less visible, less predictable, and less communicative — i.e. less safe.