Posts about Road Signs
The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) has started installing new signs informing users that "Bicycles May Use Full Lane." But most roads are managed by local governments, and none of them yet plan to use the sign as extensively.
Photo by Richard Masoner, www.
The decision to place "use full lane" signs on state highways took a sustained campaign by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) and an intervention by the state's Secretary of Transportation, followed by a year-long debate among senior SHA managers, which had to be settled by SHA Administrator Melinda Peters.
Why was there so much angst over a sign that merely states the law?
According to state employees, the sign came to symbolize a struggle between two schools of thought among traffic engineers: the traditional view that cyclists should ride as far right as practicable, and if that's not safe, stay off the road; and the modern view that cyclists are welcome on all roads, even if that requires riding in the center of the lane.
Within SHA, skeptics became supporters
While gradual, SHA's transformation has been remarkable. In April 2011, its Office of Traffic and Safety announced that SHA would not post any "use full lane" signs (PDF).
Tom Hicks, who was director of the office, explained in June 2011: "We assume that the bicycle requires a 4-foot operating width all the way to the right, while the automobile requires a 10-foot operating width. Drivers may have to move left into the next lane to pass. Potential conflict is increased if the cyclist moves farther to the left."
With some encouragement from MDOT Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley, a few months later, Mr. Hicks became a strong supporter of Maryland's yellow "use full lane" warning sign. "We think that this sign will be very useful on some highways," he told me. "I knew there was a solution in there somewhere." Last week, SHA posted the white rectangular version of the sign on MD-193, MD-212, MD-450, MD-500, and MD-704, which suggests that Cedric Ward, his successor, may prefer that version of the sign, which is officially known as "R4‑11".
Once the guidance on these signs is refined and fully implemented, there will be no ambiguity on state highways about where a bicyclist is assumed to ride.
Local governments have different stances
Cities have been most eager to use the signs. Laurel has the white rectangular signs and sharrows as part of a bike route parallel to US-1, and the city engineer endorsed placement of the yellow warning sign along US-1. The City of Baltimore uses the R4-11 signs on bicycle boulevards. Across the state line, the District of Columbia and Arlington (which operates its own roads) have used the R4-11 sign for more than a year.
Montgomery County has not posted any "use full lane" signs yet, but it intends to follow the approach described in the recent SHA guidance for the sign (PDF), according to Fred Lees, the county's chief of traffic engineering studies. Anne Arundel plans to limit the signs to a few cases where citizens report hazards caused by drivers not expecting to see cyclists using the full lane. "We already have 70,000 signs on county roads. Signs that merely tell people the law should not be needed," says James Schroll, the chief traffic engineer for Anne Arundel County. "There are better ways to inform residents that the law allows cyclists to take the lane."
Prince George's County still has the ambivalence about bicycling that SHA had in the past. Haitham Hijazi, Director of the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T) says that the County will use the R4-11 signs along some roads that have at least two lanes in each direction.
But the county has rejected requests to post those signs on two-lane roads. In a meeting with WABA, DPW&T explained its reasoning:
DPW&T believes that signs and pavement markings increase its liability because doing so would imply endorsement of riding those roads. Today, cyclists ride those roads at their own risk. The County has never stated that all of its roads are part of the cycling transportation network. Installing signs and pavement markings would in effect endorse biking on those roads, making the county liable.In rejecting a request for a sign on Church Road, where drivers regularly honk at cyclists using full lane, DPW&T traffic engineer Cipriana Thompson said that "this is a use-full-lane situation," but disputed the research that R4-11 signs increase safety. Others at DPW&T suggest that cyclists who use the full lane do so for political reasons, rather than their own safety:
DPW&T cares about public safety and is concerned when members of the community take safety lightly or knowingly commit acts of high-risk behavior as a mechanism to achieve a public action.Advocates and officials seek common ground
WABA and other advocates disagree with the view that cyclists should not ride on 2‑lane roads that are too narrow to share. But rather than debate the point, they plan to work with Hijazi on specific roads that he is willing to improve. Councilman Eric Olson (D‑College Park) supports a pragmatic approach: "I look forward to working with DPW&T and the bicycle community on the new signs."
The American Automobile Association (AAA) is also supportive. John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic, who lives in Prince George's County, has seen first-hand the need for better signage. "When I drive to church on Sunday morning, I see a lot of bicyclists on Lottsford Vista Road," he observes.
"That road has been widened in some places, but parts are still narrow, and cyclists move into the lane there. We already have deer warning signs, so surely we should have signs to warn about vulnerable people in the roadway."
The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) yesterday posted nine rectangular signs stating "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" along MD-953 in Glenn Dale, a narrow 2-lane road that crosses the Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis Trail. SHA plans to post similar signs on 18 state highways in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
The signs will "warn motorists that bicycles may be operating anywhere within a traffic lane," according to SHA Administrator Melinda Peters, marking a step forward for driver education and cyclist safety in Maryland.
Within the Capital Beltway, SHA operates most of the direct bike routes into the District of Columbia from Prince George's and Montgomery counties, as well as key cross-county routes such as University Boulevard and East-West Highway. Decades ago, SHA converted most shoulders on these roads into general travel lanes, forcing cyclists and drivers to share the road.
The meaning of "share the road" has evolved. For decades, the law required cyclists to keep as far to the right as practicable. This made sense when most cyclists were children proceeding slowly. But at higher speeds, riding too far to the right is hazardous. Drivers and pedestrians are not looking for fast vehicles close to the curb, and cyclists can't see them emerging from driveways, cross streets, or parked cars.
When lanes are too narrow for a car to pass a bike safely, too many drivers try to pass bikes within the lane anyway. So on those roads, it is safer for a cyclist to ride near the center of the lane, according to Maryland's Driver Manual.
Section 21-1205(a)(6) of the Maryland Transportation Code says that a cyclist may ride in the center of a narrow lane. But many drivers learned to drive (and bike) back when cyclists were supposed to simply keep to the right. And on any given road, drivers and cyclists may have different perceptions about whether the lane is too narrow to share. So "drivers and cyclists often must guess what the other is going to do," says Shane Farthing, Executive Director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association.
Signs will educate, warn drivers
The Federal Highway Administration's official handbook of highway signs, The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), included a new sign in its most recent update to ensure that drivers and cyclists have the same expectations. This sign, called the R4-11, says "Bicycles May Use Full Lane." Because it has the shape of a white rectangle, R4-11 is technically a "regulatory sign," giving it the force of law. Wherever it's posted, cyclists may ride in the center of the lane, even in states that have not legalized this practice, such as New Jersey.
In Maryland, which allows cyclists to take the lane, the shape and color of the sign does not change the driving rules. But there are certain requirements for the placement of all regulatory signs, according to Tom Hicks, who recently retired as SHA's Director of Traffic and Safety. Those requirements can be administratively burdensome, so SHA will also use a yellow diamond "warning" sign with the same words.
"The signs will increase safety by providing drivers with a warning about where bikes may be," says Dustin Kuzan, SHA's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. A study in Austin, Texas found that placement of similar signs has little impact on where cyclists ride. But drivers moved to the left as they passed bikes enough to increase the median passing clearance by 3 feet.
John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic agrees: "These signs are a really good idea. Bicyclists have the right to use the full lane on narrow roads. As drivers, we are operating the heavier vehicle which can seriously injure a cyclist. So it is up to drivers to avoid a collision. But drivers need information about where the bicyclist might be riding, and these signs will help."
"The signs may also decrease hostility between drivers and cyclists by informing all road users that cyclists have the right to be in the center of the lane," Kuzan adds.
SHA plans to post the signs on state roads through Montgomery and Prince George's Counties this summer. Additional details on SHA's plans and policies are available on Washcycle.
Prince George's County
|US-1||Baltimore Ave., Rhode Island Ave.||US-29||Colesville Rd.|
|US-1 Alt||Baltimore Ave., Bladensburg Rd.||MD-384||Colesville Rd.|
|MD-193||Greenbelt Rd., Unversity Blvd.||MD-193||University Blvd.|
|MD-212||Riggs Rd.||MD-97||Georgia Ave.|
|MD-500||Queens Chapel Rd.||MD-390||16th St.|
|MD-953||Glenn Dale Rd.||MD-650||New Hampshire Ave.|
|MD-450||Annapolis Rd., Bladensburg Rd.||MD-320||Piney Branch|
|MD-704||Martin Luther King, Jr. Hwy.||MD-355||Wisconsin Ave.|
|MD-202||Landover Rd.||MD-190||River Rd.|
|MD-414||Oxon Hill/St. Barnabas|
The new signs aren't for every road
The "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" signs are a step toward implementing the general bicycle policy established by the previous SHA administrator, Neil Pederson, shortly before he retired last summer. Under that policy, every state highway where bicycles are not prohibited should have one of five bicycle configurations:
- Wide shoulder
- Bike lane
- Wide lane (and possibly sharrows) for side-by-side lane sharing
- Narrow lane with "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" signs (and possibly sharrows)
The new signs will not be used on all roads with narrow lanes. Some rural highways have little or no shoulder, but SHA is unlikely to post the "Use Full Lane" signs in areas where there are few if any cyclists.
Additionally, some highways have wide shoulders that could technically become bike lanes, but poor pavement or right-side hazards like driveways and vegetation make them unsafe for cycling. Neither cyclists nor SHA want additional substandard bike lanes.
SHA is reluctant to post "Use Full Lane" signs where there is a real shoulder. "SHA is still discussing the use of the R4-11 in these situations," says Kuzan. "The challenge is determining which shoulders are so unsuitable that a cyclist should not even straddle the fog line," which might leave enough room for a car to pass within lane.
Signs by themselves will make only a small difference during rush hour. On any weekday morning, the state highways leading into Washington are full of cars traveling 40-50 mph. These speeds are intimidating to cyclists, whether the cars are passing with one foot or four feet of clearance.
SHA plans to widen parts of US-1 near College Park to add bike lanes, according to Gregory Slater, SHA's planning director Along MD-450 and MD-704, Prince Georges County has asked SHA to implement a "road diet" and reduce the number of general travel lanes to create space for bike lanes and better sidewalks. SHA officials are discouraged from using the term "road diet", but Mr. Slater says that SHA is looking at "redistributing roadway capacity." "Things have to slow down a bit," he says.
Realistically, bike lanes along most state highways inside the Beltway are still decades away. The "Use Full Lane" signs are something we can afford now. They are likely to make these highways safer during off-peak times, and they may help to educate drivers about how to share the road.
Will that education carry over to local roads? Or will drivers assume that bicycles may not use full lane if these signs are not posted? We don't know yet.
Look up driving directions from Pentagon City to the eastern part of Clarendon, and your map site will probably suggest taking Washington Boulevard to Clarendon Boulevard. And that's a fine route, except for one thing.
What's missing from these pictures?
That's right: No street signs. There's a giant green sign hanging from the traffic signal at Highland Street, which is a good way to get to eastbound Clarendon if you know to use it, but none for the slip lane to Clarendon from northbound Washington, and none from southbound Washington either.
Using these directions, a friend recently drove back and forth across this intersection, trying to find Clarendon Boulevard. Of course, it's hard to miss if you know what it looks like, but there's no sign.
And yes, I realize that the light pole in the right-hand picture is for Wilson and Clarendon. The street sign could appropriately list both. Drivers trying to turn onto westbound Wilson could benefit from signs too.
issued a report saying what we knew: the county's practice of building lots of cheap or free parking undermines their attempts to encourage non-auto commuting. Councilmember Nancy Floreen wants to hear your thoughts.
77 spaces for 48 condos in Bethesda? Apparently not taking the OLO report to heart, the Planning Board approved the Holladay at Edgemoor project, just three blocks from the Bethesda Metro, with 1.6 parking spaces for each unit. Apartment-dwellers right in downtown Bethesda really need more than one car per household? The Planning Board must not have been paying attention during their recent sustainability workshops.
Is it still the '60s in Baltimore? The Baltimore Sun reports on opposition to the Lexington Square development, nicknamed "superblock". The name is apt, since the project would close a block of Marion Street to create a 28 stories of apartments and hotel rooms over retail and 1,000 underground parking spaces. Of course, this not actually being the '60s, the developers also plan street-facing retail with smaller stores on the street and larger stores above. But closing a street? DC is restoring the street grid in large projects like the old convention center site or (possibly) Hine Junior High. Via Planetizen.
Drink, speed, and kill someone, just get a ticket: Prince George's County prosecutors have decided they can't go after the county police officer who struck and killed a UMD student in his cruiser after drinking. County officials want to change the law to add a lower and easier-to-prove offense below vehicular manslaughter.
And: Connetiquette Ave discovers that Metro is renaming some southbound weekday rush hour 42 buses as a new route, the 43, but has decided not to tell anyone yet what they're actually planning; homebuyers want walkable locations more than exurban sprawl, reports the AIA (tip: Louise).
Go round twice if you're happy: A few new signs recently popped up around Dubai. Via How We Drive.
Not only is it confusing, there's something else wrong with it. (Hint: Look at the upper right.) That aside, this isn't the worst of DC's reversible-lane signs; I'd pick the entry ramp signs to Rock Creek Parkway, which have a giant DO NOT ENTER and then, in small type, something like "6:30-9:30 am weekdays". It always makes me stop for a split second (usually in the middle of the intersection as I'm turning across traffic to get on at P Street), and if I have a passenger, they invariably yell, "wait, it says do not enter!"
I also immediately recognized the city where the sign on the left below appears, as I've driven through intersections like that (probably that very one) many times. The meaning of the right-hand picture, though, had me stumped.
I shared Jalopnik's initial reaction: "look up to see how many planes are landing or taking off before attempting a left." It's always a good idea. (Here's the real, but still not entirely sensible, answer.)
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