Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Share the Road" Signs Taken On By Ohio Bike Lawyer Steve Magas

They've been in the consciousness of a lot of people in the Columbus bike community recently: those "Share the Road" signs on High Street.  Lots of people look at them as sort of a nice reminder that bikes might be around and, please, to be nice motorists and give those poor cyclists a little bit of your room on the road.

Ohio Bike Lawyer Steve Magas, on the other hand, lays the legal smack down on the concept of Share the Road. Magas, you may remember, is the lawyer who got the positive judgment in the Trotwood vs. Selz case that led to the great bike law reforms that we're enjoying now in the State of Ohio. 

Let's take a look at bike law, for starters.  No, let's not. 

Let's go back to vehicle law.  A bicycle is a vehicle.  And as a vehicle, it is subject to the same rights and responsibilities as any vehicle on the road.  Read that again - rights and responsibilities.  And one of those rights is the right of way.  Bikes have the right of way when they're traveling on the road, just like any other vehicle does - they have a right to that section of the road that they're currently taking up. 

And the reason for this?  The law doesn't tell a car or a bike that they have to obey the law, it tells a person - the driver.  So the right of way belongs to a person - not a vehicle.  If there was no right of way for people, then pedestrians couldn't be assumed to have a right of way, right? 

So there's no need to tell anyone to Share the Road.  Cyclists have the same rights to that section of the road that cars do - period.  And the language of Share the Road is so ambiguous to be scary.  For cyclists, it's telling motorists to share the road with them.  But to motorists, it's telling cyclists to move over and quit hogging the road - even though cyclists have the right to it.  

As Columbus continues to invest in "Share the Road" signs and thinks that it's doing all of us cyclists a big favor to improve things, perhaps they need to step back and look at what those signs are really saying. 

People, not speed.

12 comments:

  1. Heya Jamie. I think I get what you're saying but I have to disagree. I believe the point of these signs, albeit imperfectly, is to draw attention to the fact that motorists should be more aware that bicycles are being used on the road too. Unless someone driving a car is an avid cyclist or loves a cyclist I'm going to guess that they don't think much at all about what the laws are surrounding bicycles. For that matter they probably don't think much about bicycles in general. Sure it would be better to have motorists and bicyclist very well versed in the exact laws but that is a whole other problem.

    As a casual reminder that both cars and bicycles belong on the road I think it is better to keep these signs than to provide no reminder at all.

    The thing is that, like the argument that texting bans are making texting while driving more dangerous, people who are going to ignore the laws are going to ignore them regardless of the signs. However, people who just aren't cognizant of the laws sometimes just need a little reminder. Of course if we had enough officers to actually enforce these laws then people would have no choice but to obey them.

    Sorry, that got sort of crazy there at the end. I'm just saying that I think the signs are useful and should continue to be put up as a reminder to less bicycle concious folks.

    Andrew

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  2. I understand the intention of the sign from the Traffic Engineers' point of view, I just don't think that's what's happening because the signs are too ambiguous.

    I'd much rather see a specific "Bikes May Use Full Lane" sign there that truly states the unambiguous meaning of the intention of the traffic engineers.

    Actually, I'd much rather see it all come back to education and enforcement (particularly enforcement - that's the best kind of motorist education!). Because unless you're going to put "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs on every street in town, you run the risk of implying that only areas that have those signs have that rule placed upon them. I'm sure there are people who think, because of the Share The Road signs and Sharrows on High Street, that High is the only place in town where bikes do have rights like they actually have everywhere.

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  3. Andrew wrote:
    "As a casual reminder that both cars and bicycles belong on the road I think it is better to keep these signs than to provide no reminder at all."

    How about expecting all road users to use “due care”? It doesn’t matter if a road users drives a small (bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, horse/buggy) or large (sedan, truck or tractor/trailer) vehicle.

    "Share the Road" means different things to different people, Bicycle May Use Full Lane (BMUFL) is straight forward. I think BMUFL makes folks uncomfortable, the motorist delayed a moment and cyclist might use the road versus wait for a multi-use path or worse sidewalk/sidepath (cycle track).

    Cyclist don’t need the sign, understand the law and use the road.

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  4. It would also be nice if they could come up with a sign where it didn't look like the cyclist was about to get run down.

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  5. Thanks for sharing the "Share the Road" essay and for the kind words. I understand the concern of folks of having SOMETHING out there for people to see that says BIKE on it. I think Share The Road is the wrong message. Maybe I would see it differently if cities used it on the most DIFFICULT riding roads - the narrow, fast, winding roads where there is a real danger of a motorist not seeing a cyclist. Rather, though, these signs seem to be placed on the most popular cycling roads - as though the city is saying, "See...we like bikes...on this road..." It sends a message to motorists that this popular road is where bikes should be. The problem, is that we're allowed on virtually ALL roads... let's put some BMUFL signs or other signage on the crazy roads, the dangerous roads, and see what happens...cities won't because they don't want to recognize our right to use the roads, or recommend those roads for our use. How many roads, open to the public, have you seen where a city says "Oh, that road is too dangerous for Volvos...?" They will say that for bikes, but not cars... that's basically an admission of guilt - that the city hasn't properly prepared the road for use by all lawful, legitimate vehicle operators...

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  6. My post on Examiner today says just about the same thing but from a different standpoint, Steve. Check it out, I'd be interested to get your POV as usual!

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  7. "SHARE THE ROAD" = "Pretty please? I'd like it if you didn't ride my ass or run me over instead of just passing me...I mean, I'm just asking, OK?"

    Some jerk in car yelled at my boyfriend the other day "that's what sidewalks are for!" as he passed inches from him...in the bike lane...

    Thing is, if you don't ride a bike, it's unlikely you'll have any idea what the road rules actually are or what rights people have where. I don't recall seeing on the news any announcements to the public about what the bike lane means. Until I started riding in Columbus, I never noticed how many bikes were on the road while I was driving.

    Those signs really need to be firm, not pleading. You know, like those construction speed limit signs that say if you injure or kill someone while speeding, your ass is grass? How about letting motorists know that if you tailgate/hit/injure/kill a cyclists who's rightfully in the bike lane, you're toast?

    On the other hand, I've seen plenty of cyclists cause near accidents because while they cheerfully embrace their right to be on the road, they don't feel the need to follow the same rules the cars do...which only helps breed resentment from motorists.

    It would be nice if everyone would behave, but they don't. So while we shouldn't need to ask to share the road, those signs are necessary to at least keep us in the minds of motorists.

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  8. Wouldn't it be better if there was a lane just for the cyclists? Sure, everyone has a right on the road, but imagine if you have a bike right in front of you while you're in a hurry driving a car. Anyway, a bike lane's gonna be good.

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  9. Carl - I don't think so. I've stated this in a lot of other places on this site, but to sum up, if there's a bike lane, then people expect you to be in the bike lane, even if that bike lane doesn't serve your needs (if you need to turn left, for example). For people who are just riding to ride, that's one thing, but for people who use bikes for transportation they're too inconsistent.

    Does it force traffic behind you to slow down? Yep. Slower traffic is safer. It's been proven all over the world.

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  10. Hhhhmmmmm. I suppose we could all back the signage if we interpreted it as "Get the H off the sidewalk!"

    When I was a kids my parents taught me the rules of the road the cyclists had to obey. (Yah, Jamie, I know you'll say they're the same but cyclists use hand signals and, even if a driver is using hand signals because his turn signal's broken, a cop will give him a Fix It ticket.) These rules of the road were reinforced in early elementary school (1st grade, maybe?) with a unit on bicycle safety.

    I think it would help if bicycle safety/road rules were included in drivers education materials and on testing. I remember having to learn how to cross railroad tracks safely on a motorcycle. I'm sure I'm not the only one who hasn't ridden a motorcycle across train track but I can't imagine anyone driving for decades without ever sharing the road with cyclists.

    I do like the idea of putting the signs on the most dangerous roads for cyclist/driver interactions instead of the most popular cycling routes. Too much signage is a distraction but strategically placed ones can improve outcomes.

    I disagree with you about slower traffic being safer. It's certainly safer to be hit by a slower lighter car than a faster heavier one. There are few crashes when vehicles are going closer to the same speed. That makes sections of road rated too slow with their wider range of vehicle speeds greater crash hazards than roads with appropriate speed limits where the cars are traveling much closer to the same speed. I definitely think the "attentive driving" road design is safer for cars and car-bike mixes than the "mindless driving" road design long favored by American engineers.

    ~Cheryl

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  11. Cheryl - they're MOSTLY the same, as you point out. And yes, when I was a kid, we had a police officer come into our classes and teach us bike safety, including signalling. It made sense then and it makes sense now.

    I also agree entirely that bike/road safety needs to be taught in drivers' ed. And there need to be bike-related questions on drivers' licensing examinations (I believe this has actually made it to planning stage in the Ohio BMV, thanks to Tricia Kovacs and the Ohio Bike Federation).

    I totally understand the reasons for having signs on both popular AND dangerous areas of road. I just don't agree with the reasons.

    And as far as slower traffic being safer, I don't think we'd see traffic designers creating road calming measures if slower traffic was more dangerous. Slower traffic is more capable of making sudden stops/maneuvers to miss accidents or hazards. And that's safer for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

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