"Share the Road" Signs Too Vague?

Photo by Brent Nimmo
The case of Brent Nimmo and his ticket for violation of Ohio Revised Code 4511.55 Section A, which was overturned earlier this month, brings to mind a point that many people have made about Columbus's new signage on High Street.

As you all know by now, we have "Share The Road" signs on High Street with bikes on the signs so that people know that they need to be aware of bikes on the road.

But there are many problems with that verbiage.  Critics of the phrase "Share the Road," including myself, say that the signs are too vague.  A much better phrase for the signs would be something like the picture on this post displays;  "Bikes May Use Full Lane."

There's no mistaking what that means at all, where "Share the Road" simply doesn't say anything concrete.  And to people who don't understand bicyclist rights on the road or are unaware of them completely, they may think it's telling cyclists that they have to ride too far to the right so that cars can pass them without getting into the next lane.  Believe it or not, there are people who think that's exactly what those signs mean.

"Share the Road" is a nice sentiment.  But it's not a firm statement of bicyclist rights like "Bikes May Use Full Lane."

People, not speed.


  1. I have had people yell "share the road" at me from their car, so I'm pretty sure they don't know what it means.

  2. I've had this problem with motorists before too. He thought share the road meant "travel side-by-side in the same lane," when in reality it means "please wait patiently for a chance to pass the bicyclist."

    The new MUTCD (see Section 9B.06) allows the use of "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs. I like the idea. It may even be good to put a plaque underneath that says "city-wide" every mile or so.

  3. My sentiments exactly. I think that the "Bikes May Use Full Lane" sign could even be taken one step further with a small-text "ORC Sec 4511.55 C" across the bottom. That way, motorists know that the sign is there to enforce an actual state law, and not just as the result of a coup by urban cyclists to take over the streets.

  4. John and Mark are both dead on - both these suggestions should be adopted and the new verbiage should replace the existing "Share the Road" signs.

  5. Some of the 'Share the Road' signs where I am in Vancouver in Canada have improved a bit... they still just say 'Share the Road', but now they have a picture showing the bike directly in front of the car instead of next to it.

  6. I think it should be "Yield to Bicycles" (although that's not quite the law) or simply "Pass Safely"

  7. “Share the Road” signs are yellow, warning signs for alerting road users of bikes on the road. Beyond that basic function there is lack of clarity about what “Share the Road” means. A paper with background on the sign’s origin and weakness, “Critique of Share the Road”

    Consider this Cycle Dallas comment on phrase “Share the Road”: “It means whatever the reader thinks it means. The same could probably be said for "Drive defensively". None of those phrases describe what to do. These are all figures of speech, not literal instructions.”

    “Share the Road” as a label pin, bumper sticker or vanity license plate works on a rhetorical slogan level.

    BICYCLES MAY USE FULL LANE is a regulatory sign that instructs road user of their respective duties: A cyclist you may use the full lane (narrow traffic lane or other situation) and a motor vehicle driver must accommodate.

    Finally on a related subject, why are “Share the Road” signs used with Shared Lane Marking (Sharrows)? The MUTCD Section 9B.06 describes a Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign that may be used in addition to or instead of the Shared Lane Marking to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.

    ps: Congrats to Brent!

  8. OK, we all agree that "Bikes May Use Full Lane" needs to be added.
    Now, how do we get it done?

  9. @Anonymous: "... Now, how do we get it done?"

    Here are two steps: 1) from <a href="http://www.examiner.com/x-24466-Columbus-Alternative-Transportation-Examiner~y2010m6d9-Local-bike-commuter-fights-beats-unlawful-ticket>Jamie's Examiner article,</a> Brent Nimmo - is now working to convince the city to install "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs on Alum Creek Drive to remind both law enforcement and motorists of the right of cyclists to operate safely. If you'd like to join him in his effort, contact the City of Columbus at 614-645-3111. You may also make the request online, at the City's 311 Service Request website. Please reference request # 1006035530.

    2) Strongly suggest BMFUL over STR signs thur out the City of Columbus at Transportation and Pedestrian Commission, here is 2010 meeting schedule and contact info.

    July 13
    August 10
    September 14
    October 12
    November 9
    December 14

    Meetings begin at 5:00 p.m. at 109 North Front Street, Ground Floor, Room 100. Please visit our
    website for current information. The link is:

    3) Ask the City of Columbus at Transportation and Pedestrian Commission to discuss the law enforcement training. Someone seems uninformed ...

  10. While I agree that "Share the Road" is an ineffective message, I think that "Bikes May Use Full Lane" might be equally problematic. To me the message "Bikes May Use Full Lane" is an invitation for bicyclists to use the full lane for any and even no reason. On most of the roads that I ride, it is appropriate for cyclists to ride at the rightmost position on the road surface as practicable (with some occasions to take the full lane to avoid potholes and other obstacles).

    I have some concern that an end result of the message "Bikes May Use Full Lane" may be even more resentment and hostility towards cyclists.

  11. The thing that is missing from "bicycle may use full lane" labeling is the narrow lane aspect. As a rule, cyclists ought not to use a full lane. The other complication is that a slow moving vehicle ought not to block a faster one for the sake of it. That's just rude! I agree that shared road signs can be on the vague side, but however inconvenient it may be, the road must be shared. As previously stated, the law is NOT "yield to bikes." If bicycle commuting is to be a long lived, properly developed movement, perspective and education will be required on BOTH sides.

    If gov't. is serious about expanding bicycle commuting, they should incorporate this education at the licensing level, and in driver safety courses. A few full page ads highlighting basic issues might work too. It would get people talking. Perhaps cyclist columnists could get people talking as well. Schools can be another way to get cyclists when they're young and impressionable. There is much to be done, but none of it necessarily easy.

  12. But to the latest Anonymous poster and Israel, I would ask what's the narrowest lane width that can safely accommodate a bike and a car? Here's the thinking I generally go with in these cases:

    1. A cyclist should not ride closer than three feet from the curb. That (barely) allows enough room to swerve to the right if you need to while riding) and keeps you out of the way of sewer grates and the amount of trash that accumulates in gutters.

    2. A cyclist should try to keep a similar three-foot buffer available from the the path of travel for cars as well. This goes along with the logic above regarding swerving. And it also agrees with the concept of three-foot passing laws.

    3. If there's a parking lane to the right as you're riding, you should be even FURTHER to the left - up to 6 feet. Here's a video that describes my justification here: Avoiding the Door Zone

    So we're looking here at a six- to nine-foot buffer around us needed to operate safely at a bare minimum. (three on each side, unless there's a parking lane and the three on the traffic side and six on the curb side).

    The average car width is six feet (From WikiAnswers). So, given the above logic, for us to safely share a lane with an average car, it needs to be twelve feet wide if there's no parking lane, or fifteen feet wide if there is street parking.

    How many streets in Columbus are twelve feet wide (or fifteen with a parking lane)? Not many, I'm thinking.

    While I agree that the signs with BMUFL verbiage may increase the number of people taking the full lane who may not have to, isn't that better than people who don't take the full lane when they should? And isn't it better to constantly reinforce with drivers that cyclists have that right?

    I don't agree with any mindset that puts one vehicle operator's speed over the safety of another vehicle operator. We, as a country, just tolerate around 40,000 traffic deaths per year and most of those come because people don't put safety of everyone around them first.

    I totally agree with Israel's second paragraph - there needs to be better education starting at the school-age and drivers' ed level to get folks started properly.

  13. Hi Jamie,

    But riding to the right does not necessitate that a motorized vehicle and a bicycle be in the same lane. It does however make the passing of a bicycle easier (and safer). A cyclist taking the full lane will not prevent car drivers from passing (with the possible exception of the most congested roads).

    Another thing I fear may happen with a switch to a "bicyclists may use full lane" sign is that there will be pressure on municipalities to prohibit bicycles on more roads. Just as is happening in some jurisdictions as the result of the three foot law.



  14. Michael - I disagree. Motorists will try as hard as they can to stay in the same lane with you when they pass, unless they clearly see that they can't. And that's what they'll see if they try to pass you when you're riding in the full lane as is your right by Columbus and Ohio law.

    So if you stick to the center of the lane, and force cars to cross that lane line, they'll do so - and they'll pass you with a safer distance than if they try to squeeze by you in the same lane if you're to the far right.

    The point is not to KEEP drivers from passing, it's to make them change lanes to pass you safely. The bottom section of this web page from Bicycling Life has some great additions to this point.

    Also, to address your second point, Ohio law has a provision that states that no municipality may make any law that prohibits cyclists from streets or forces them to ride on sidewalks.


    "(8) Regulating the operation of bicycles ; provided that no such regulation shall be fundamentally inconsistent with the uniform rules of the road prescribed by this chapter and that no such regulation shall prohibit the use of bicycles on any public street or highway except as provided in section 4511.051 [4511.05.1] of the Revised Code;"

    4511.051 prohibits bikes on "freeways" . According to 4511.011
    "The director of transportation, the board of county commissioners of a county, and the legislative authority of a municipality may, for highways under their jurisdiction, designate an existing highway in whole or in part as or included in a “freeway,” “expressway,” or “thruway.”"

  15. i agree that some clarification on the sign would be helpful to motorists and bicyclists.

  16. Good Evening Jamie,

    This is not my experience. For example, on my ride home from work this afternoon, with the exception of the stretch of road with lanes more than 18 feet wide, not one vehicle passed me without crossing the lane line. In fact, even though I was riding to the right (significantly less than three feet from the edge of the pavement) about 1/3 (an estimate) of the vehicles that passed me went completely into the lane for opposing traffic.

    In addition, it is my experience (or at least perception - I have not conducted a formal survey) that the further towards the center of the lane I ride in, the closer vehicles pass me.

    I can easily accept that my experience is not representative (especially that I do not live in Columbus, or Ohio - I apologize if my part of this conversation is invalid as a result).

    I was not aware that in Ohio (or any other jurisdiction for that matter) there exists legislation prohibiting the prohibiting of bicycles on any road. That is a law I really like. I wish we had such a law here in Ontario.



  17. Michael - I'm glad you've had a good experience with being able to stay to the right and be passed safely. My experience is quite the opposite and I know that most of the classes I've been in and observed have been absolutely startled to find out (by trying it) that taking the full lane actually works and is safer.

    Yes - in Ohio, we're very fortunate to have that law in place. It keeps a lot of bad law off the books. Other states' (and provinces'!) advocacy groups could get a lot out of pushing for such a law, I think!

  18. Anonymous said...
    “Regarding I think that "Bikes May Use Full Lane" might be equally problematic”

    Disagree, BMUFL is clear direction versus a vague sentiment.

    “[BMUFL is an] invitation for bicyclists to use the full lane for any and even no reason”

    Signs should be installed only where “traffic lane” is not shareable by motor vehicle and bicycle, Ohio law is not specific. Let’s borrow from three small states shareable widths: Florida, Texas use 14 ft, California, 13 ft and AASHTO 14 ft.  BMUFL does not absolve a cyclist following the traffic law, it simply clarifies that riding as far right as practicable means only if it is "safely possible".  You’ve obviously realized that riding thru potholes, gravel, glass or other debris is not REQUIRED and use the full lane when it is safe and practicable.

    "Bikes May Use Full Lane" may be even more resentment and hostility towards cyclists."

If the resentment or hostility to cyclist is illegal, report it the police. I don’t see how it could make any difference, except make a cyclist safer. I think most motorist resentment toward cyclist is frustration at cyclist not following the rules of the road.

    Israel said...
    “another complication is that a slow moving vehicle ought not to block a faster one for the sake of it. That's just rude!”

    Ohio Revised Code 4511.31 Allows a vehicle operators to cross a double yellow line when the slower vehicle is traveling less that half the speed limit. The faster vehicle may pass the slower vehicle if not exceeding the speed limit, sufficient distance and not interfere with other vehicles.

    4511.31 should help reduce tension between cyclists and faster drivers.  OK, faster vehicles can pass in "no passing" zones IF passing is safe.

    Israel said...
    “If bicycle commuting is to be a long lived, properly developed movement, perspective and education will be required on BOTH sides.”


Agree, safe operation of bicycles is little understood by motorist and most cyclist. A knowledgeable cyclist easily cope with any motorist than an unskilled or foolish cyclist.  3 foot laws are like “Share The Road” a fine sentiment but unenforceable or not enforced, so why bother?

 More below ...

    Anonymous said...
    “Another thing I fear may happen with a switch to a "bicyclists may use full lane" sign is that there will be pressure on municipalities to prohibit bicycles on more roads. Just as is happening in some jurisdictions as the result of the three foot law.”

    Another reason to cautiously consider three foot laws outside Ohio.

    Anonymous [Michael?] said...
    “In addition, it is my experience (or at least perception - I have not conducted a formal survey) that the further towards the center of the lane I ride in, the closer vehicles pass me” 

    Eh, whatever works. Here is trifecta on Law Enforcement Bias, Lane Position and the 3ft Law. Check out the chart showing how lane position influences the behavior of overtaking drivers and results in increasing passing clearance with leftward lane position.

    Great discussion. Peace!

  19. Israel said...
    “another complication is that a slow moving vehicle ought not to block a faster one for the sake of it. That's just rude!”

    Any vehicle operating on the road balances three factors: safety, convenience and speed. Nothing compels a cyclist under the traffic law to trade safety for any other road users momentary delay. A slow moving vehicle is not BLOCKING traffic, they are part of traffic. Not being rude or controlling a traffic lane when necessary is when real trouble starts. Here is what "Polite Lane Position" or let's not delay anyone else will buy you. Rantwick calls it the Line of Sourness, it does leave a bitter feeling. Motorists seen crossing the lane lane as a "glass wall" and will not cross it until persuaded by momentary delay.

  20. I have ridden a bike in the past. I can't say I really care to any more. When I stopped in a line of traffic, I just stopped behind whichever vehicle was ahead of me. I STOPPED at RED LIGHTS, STOP SIGNS and for SCHOOL BUSES. Most cyclists feel they have a 'pass' on all traffic control devices and laws. They RUDELY pull out of side streets without stopping. (Heaven help if they should have to put a foot on the ground - SACRILEGE!) They ride the WRONG WAY on one way streets. They STOP AND STAND in an intersection, and yell if you pass. If you stop, like a car, PULL TO THE SIDE. If you want to go the wrong way down a one way street, do it LEGALLY by becoming an instant pedestrian. ALL of the rudenesses mentioned are continually observed in the Clintonville Milton Ave. - W. North Broadway area. Share the road, bikes and cars. It's not a good idea, it is the law. I mostly object to the doublethink that "Bikes are to be treated as cars", but if the cyclist does something dangerous, rude, or stupid and gets run down, why,of course, the DRIVER is at fault automatically, (Usually because of the automatic Assured Clear Distance law) even when the cyclist was wrong. Train, License, and TICKET cyclists who disobey laws, and reinstate teaching what Ohio used to call the "Rude Rule" (Basically "if it's rude it's wrong". It was taught in driver ed, what ever happened to that?) Simple consideration for each other would go a lot further than nonsense like sharrows and signs, how ever they happen to be worded. also one more quick thought, why on EARTH do you WANT to ride on High or Broad St, when safe, slow Residential streets parallel these, and the residential traffic is slower and safer?


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