“Share the Road” Signs Don’t Work

Image: ##http://www.bikede.org/2015/08/29/share-the-road-is-a-problem/##Bike Delaware##
Image: Bike Delaware

Delaware got rid of its “Share the Road” signs about two years ago. Though the signs were designed to affirm cyclists’ rights to the road, they were widely misinterpreted — by both motorists and cyclists — as an exhortation to cyclists to stop “hogging” the road, or as a recommendation that drivers and cyclists share a lane (leading to tight squeezes and close passes).

Bike Delaware concluded that “Share The Road” is just “‘feel good’ signage that placates an interest group but has no safety benefit.” And the state dumped the confusing message in favor of a less ambiguous one asserting that bicycles “may use full lane.”

A new survey confirms that Delaware had the right idea — and other states should follow suit. In all 50 states, cyclists have a right to the road — including the center of the lane, if that’s the safest place for them to be.

Researchers George Hess and M. Nils Peterson of North Carolina State University conducted an online survey of nearly 2,000 people to find out what various road signage means to them. On the screen, respondents were shown pictures of various traffic scenarios and street designs, and asked to interpret different signs and markings in those contexts.

When confronted with a “Share the Road” sign, a “Bicyclists May Use Full Lane” sign, or a sharrow painted on the roadway surface, did respondents think the cyclist should cede position to let the driver pass in the same lane? Should the driver wait for an opportunity to pass in the adjacent lane? Did they think it’s legal for the cyclist to take the lane? Did they think it’s safe?

Turns out “Share the Road” had no effect whatsoever in leading people to respect cyclists’ right to occupy a full lane of traffic. A sharrow helped a little. In the survey, by far the clearest indication that cyclists have an equal right to the road was a sign stating unequivocally that cyclists “may use full lane.”

On a four-lane road, both sharrows and “May Use Full Lane” signs doubled the share of people who concluded that cyclists are allowed in the center of the lane. But on a two-lane road, neither sharrows nor “Share the Road” signs effectively communicated that motorists should wait for a gap in traffic to pass in the adjacent lane; the “May Use Full Lane” sign did.

Respondents were recruited via Twitter, and Hess and Peterson acknowledge that the pool may not be a representative sample. Participants appear to bike more and drive less than the typical American, with 80 percent saying they bike more than 16 kilometers (10 miles) per week, and 57 percent saying they don’t drive solo to work. However, given the skew toward people who bike, the results suggest that if anything, Americans are more confused by “Share the Road” signage than the survey indicates.

28 thoughts on “Share the Road” Signs Don’t Work

  1. Interesting analysis–of course one downside to “MAY USE FULL LANE” is that it may be interpreted that this is a special condition of only this particular road, when in general, that’s often the case anyway. Of course, “REMINDER: AS IS OFTEN THE CASE ANYWAY, BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE BUT ESPECIALLY REMEMBER THAT HERE” doesn’t fit so well onto a sign.

    Let’s also remember, too, that on high-speed/high-traffic roads these signs are like putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The mere fact that these signs are necessary are indicative of a bigger infrastructural problem.

  2. Good points. The sign is helpful, but perhaps more helpful would be putting at least one question about this on the driver licensing tests of as many states as possible. Featuring car/bike interaction questions more prominently on driver exams could in turn lead to a greater focus on the issue by driver education schools, which maybe–just maybe–could lead to a greater awareness amongst the driving public.

  3. The fact that these signs are necessary is not an infrastructure problem, but rather a driver’s education problem. Operating a motor vehicle is the deadliest machine the average person will use. The fact that an operator’s license can be obtained with a dumbed-down three-answer multiple choice test and six hours of training is ridiculous. Then, once you have the license, you get automatic renewals for 15 years.

    If you want to make the roads safer for cyclists, make the driver’s license test weighted that you must know bicycle laws and skills to pass.

  4. I would go one step further. Require that all* prospective drivers obtain some amount of road bicycling training and experience before being eligible to apply for a motor vehicle operator’s license.

    * (You can make exceptions for people with disabilities with corresponding classroom instruction that covers bicycling)

  5. Exactly. People point to all the Dutch infrastructure; but fail to point out the education that both cyclists and motorists receive and the difficulty of the written exam.

  6. One of the principles of road safety for the Dutch is separation by mass, speed and direction whenever possible. That means you do not mix bicycle riders with pedestrians, nor do you mix bicycle riders with large fast moving motor vehicles.

  7. Better infrastructure and education/awareness definitely go hand in hand. In general, we need to and can address both.

  8. You cannot engineer ignorance out of people. Back in 1992, when California adopted mandatory motorcycle helmet laws, the AMA commented, “Without proper rider education you have idiots on the road, with helmet laws without education you simply have an idiot wearing a helmet.”

    Operating a motor vehicle on the road is a privilege. Unfortunately the State of California and many motorists treat it is a right. In Holland, the privilege has to be earned with proper education.

    Even under CVC 21202, a cyclist in a lane that is less than 14 feet wide has the right to travel in the center of the lane. “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” is the law. Unfortunately, motorists need to be reminded with signage.

    Also, in Holland there is now a pilot program that allows cyclists who can travel at 30+ kph (18 mph) to allow them on the roads with motorized traffic.

  9. You cannot engineer ignorance out of people.

    Definitely true. However, better education and infrastructure are not mutually exclusive things.

    In addition, better infrastructure encourages better decisions and discourages the worst/most dangerous ones in the first place.

    Also, in Holland there is now a pilot program that allows cyclists who can travel at 30+ kph (18 mph) to allow them on the roads with motorized traffic.

    It should be pointed out, however, that this was a brief 2-week trial last year in a couple stretches in one community. In the end the results were not conclusively positive enough for them to continue with the trial.


    In general, Dutch infrastructure is so high-quality it accommodates people biking at various levels.

  10. Even with much more stringent education and enforcement laws the Netherlands does not mix bicycle riders and high speed motor vehicles on city streets. That would violate their safety principle of separation by mass, speed and direction.

    The Netherlands has mixed bicycle riders and moving motor vehicles on streets that have 30 kph speed limits for decades. This is not a pilot program.

  11. In urban areas it looks like “Hard” cyclists did prefer the “Lane”. However, being only 5% of cyclists and not having any significant change in path speeds is the reason the pilot did not continue.

    Pardon the Google Translation:

    The results

    Outside urban areas

    On rural roads we can be brief. There are no significant differences were found. The average speed had been similar and there are no cyclists used the lane. On the road a speed limit of 60 km. In practice it has been observed that there often is being driven harder. Other possible causes include: the wide exposed concrete bicycle path and the limited intensity on the bike path.

    In urban areas

    In urban areas are well identified significant differences.
    The percentage of bike users during the trial drove faster than 30 kilometers decreased from 4.29% to 1.15%. The percentage of cyclists used the lane increased from 1.27% to 6.04%. Here one might conclude that the agency meets a need among cyclists. The average speed did not change significantly.Which just fell from 18.68 to 18.54. The intended purpose (more calm on the bike path for cyclists vulnerable) is not met.

    Possible reasons why there are significant differences have emerged:

    Tile Fietspad

    Higher intensity

    Speed ??on the road does not exceed 50 km per hour.

    During the test, there was less days headwind (4) than in the measured nulweek (7). This makes the results more significant.


    The Cyclists has decided to quit continued to give this test. Therefore, the results were not positive enough. You can conclude that it might be attractive in some cases hard cyclists to choose the lane.

  12. They can go hand in hand as long as there is freedom of choice. The City of Redondo Beach does it correctly. There is an optional sidepath AND sharrows with BMFL signs on the adjacent road.

  13. Davis also opted for the All of the Above approach in its protected intersection design recently. People can choose either the protected lanes or on-road option, or even do the hybrid option and bike on-road mid-block but join the protected intersection if they so choose. This is especially advantageous when turning right on a red as biking vehicularly you’d be required to stop before so doing whereas on a protected intersection you just continue speeding along:



    In practice, my experience there a few weeks ago is that throughout the afternoon very few people on bikes chose the on-road option as the protected paths are quite generous in width. In addition, it is literally cooler on the paths…in baseline 100F/38 C temps in Davis summer heat this does really matter.

    But the option is there for people who prefer the on-road option.

  14. Yes, the Fietsersbond (Dutch Cyclists’ Union) concluded the results were not significant or positive enough to warrant continuing the pilot.

    The goal had been to reduce speeds on the bike paths for the benefit of more vulnerable bike users. However, the speeds on the separated path largely didn’t decline during the trial.

    Another thing that should be pointed out which has no analog to the US is that by default many wide separated paths in the NL (including this particular stretch) also allow some small mopeds. So the trial wasn’t just for people on bicycles exceeding 30 km/h but also for moped riders to opt for the on-road option if they wanted to exceed 30 km/h.

    This all plays into a larger and ongoing moped debate in the Netherlands which we don’t deal with in the US as US paths do not ever allow such vehicles in the first place as far as I’m aware.

  15. Yes. As well they place fast and efficient folks with disabilities (riding bicycles, handcycles, or mobility scooters) in the bikeways where their speed and mass are more equal to bicycle riders than people walking or driving cars.

  16. As an interim step these signs may be a good option. Perhaps there should be another below that tells drivers if they don’t like bicycle riders slowing them down to 11 mph then they should tell their elected folk, engineers, and planners to build good infrastructure for the bicycle riders that entices them to use the infrastructure instead of taking or blocking the lane.

  17. The problem for us at this moment, though, at least from a politician’s or engineer’s POV, is there are not enough cyclists to build this in Los Angeles, so we need to accept what we have. By wanting to separate us out encourages a separate and not equal position.

  18. While working on a class project on Safe Routes to School, I had a very hard time dealing with the fact that we spend enormous amounts of money trying to minimize the risk to kids (which in turn protects any ped/bike). But really, all we need to do is simply take that money and pour it towards the real problem- drivers. It’s quite simple but instead society wants to deal with it in piecemeal, we need to protect this group from that group. It’s quite a circular mentality that goes no where. I have a camera and I have a guy who blatantly rode 40 miles plus mph within 1 foot of me and there are markers to help show how close he is from a frontal view (in case the video makes it look like a harmless pass). I am going to take him to court and I assume I’ll loose. But I’ll appeal. And I will just continue doing this until someone notices. If you live in Los Angeles (City) – sue them. Make the judges look up from their pedestal and see the pattern. Politicians won’t.

  19. There are bike lanes on approximately 12.5% of the arterial/collector streets in the city of Los Angeles. About 7% of the arterial/collector streets received bike lanes in the last four years.

    The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition bicycle counts conducted in the city of Los Angeles in 2013 (The city of LA does not yet do bicycle counts) showed about a 86% increase in the number of bicycle riders on streets that received bike lanes compared to those that did not. Yet the amount of motor vehicle involved collisions with bicycle riders only increased by 1% in 2013 and decreased by 6% in 2014. In other words it became safer to ride a bicycle on the streets after the bike lanes were installed.

    Mixing bicycle riders in with the much greater mass and speed of motor vehicles is not equal. Separating bicycle riders from this inherent danger by installing bike lanes creates more bicycle riders and a lower rate of collisions with motor vehicles.

  20. You cannot eliminate human error by education and enforcement. That is why the Dutch continue to install protected bikeways along corridors that have motor vehicle speeds above 18 mph.

  21. I cycle in heels and professional attire. Over my outer layer of clothing I wear a vest that shows a picture of a bicycle and the words MAY USE FULL LANE. Does Virginia teach young people how to cross a street or how to bicycle safely to school? I teach dividing the lane into thirds…

  22. Thanks for the good article on the subject!

    If you’ve heard as many times as I have that “Share the Road goes both ways” (generally told to a cyclist by a non-cyclist), you soon realize how important it is to remove that confusing signage. People simply read it as “Share the Lane” and that’s not what it says nor means. Before installing new signage (BMUFL), we must first remove the “share” signs. A diamond with a bicycle on it gives the intended message: There are likely to be cyclists here – watch for them. Once we get that easy step done, then we can think about how much sense it makes to add BMUFL signage. I agree that there’s always going to be a bit of that “I see the sign here, and understand, but the sign isn’t over there, so the bikes should be out of my way” issue. But I think it all starts with removing the mis-interpreted “share” signs.

  23. People traveling by pedaling bicycles on our Public Right of Ways are using one of the legal/valid Slow Moving Vehicles. They should wear a nylon S.M.V. triangle on their back side and use amber/yellow flashing rear lights. NO pollution and takes less space to park it.

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