What’s wrong with sharing? What’s wrong with courtesy?

image: www.bikede.org
image: www.bikede.org

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.

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.

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.

2 thoughts on “What’s wrong with sharing? What’s wrong with courtesy?”

  1. Circa Jan 2015 communication regarding SR 88 (street view) …ADOT has installed very few W16-1 SHARE THE ROAD plaques under a W11-1 Bicycle warning sign in other Districts, most recently along SR 179; however, part of our reluctance to install this sign assembly is based on reports that it, “does not convey a clear message, as different users have different understandings of what sharing of the road means”(http://www.ncutcdbtc.org/sponsors/fall05/bike01-bmufl.pdf). You may have heard: “Delaware Department of Transportation announced that, effective immediately, Delaware would stop using the MUTCD-approved ‘Share The Road’ plaque (W16-1P). More, the department would also start removing all ‘Share The Road’ signs currently installed in Delaware” with backing of that State’s bicycle advocacy org (see http://www.bikede.org/2014/04/07/why-share-the-road-is-gone/; for another earlier advocate’s report, see http://www.humantransport.org/bicycledriving/library/Share_Road.pdf). I think education of all road users is the key with, perhaps, use of Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign http://wwwa.azdot.gov/traffic/moas/pdf/r/r04-011.pdf and/or Shared Lane Markings (http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009/part9/part9c.htm#section9C07).

  2. Wonderful video of a traffic stop. The exchange was very civil. A little bit long, but the part about BMUFL signs was very interesting, direct link to 3:30 —
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDeVw2hsbng&t=3m30s
    Bicyclist: …and what the sign (along this road where he was pulled over) says is ‘Bicyclists may use full lane’
    Officer: the whole lane? (sounding rather incredulous)
    [some description of the MUTCD and CAMUTCD follows], then, interjecting
    Officer: I’ve been an officer for ten years, and I know bicycles can’t ride down the middle of the road
    [officers and other often hyperbolically refer to cyclists riding in the middle of a narrow lane as the ‘middle of the road’]

    CA law is identical to AZ (and nearly all other states except a few that have no ‘as far right as practicable’ provision) in this regard — Bicyclists riding in a lane which is too narrow to share may (legally), and should (for safety), ride near the middle of that lane. Bicycles May Use Full Lane — just like the sign says, and whether or not there’s a sign there.
    In Arizona this is 28-815A exception #4.

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