“Share the Road” signs are supposed to promote harmony among car drivers and bicycle riders, but a new N.C. State University study suggests that our streets might be safer if we switched to signs that say: “Bicycles May Use Full Lane.”
Bicycles are lumped together with automobiles for most purposes under North Carolina traffic laws. Bike riders often travel near the right side of the traffic lane, but they don’t have to. The law allows bikes to use the center of the lane.
Researchers wanted to see whether drivers and cyclists understood the law. People who took their survey were shown streets with no signs – or with “Share the Road” signs, with shared-lane “sharrow” markings on the pavement, or with “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs.
After they saw those signs, they were asked questions about whether it would be legal, and whether it would be safe, for cyclists to ride in the center of the lane.
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The “full lane” sign sent the strongest message – especially for beginner cyclists and for commuters who drive their cars to work. After seeing this sign, survey respondents agreed that cyclists are allowed in the center of the lane and do not have to move right to let motorists pass, and that motorists should wait for a break in traffic to pass.
“It’s just a clearer explanation of how motorists and bicyclists should interact,” said George R. Hess, a professor of natural resources at NCSU. “In North Carolina, this has been the law for a long time.”
“Share the Road” did not make much of an impact.
“In our study, we found that the way people said they would behave was the same with or without the ‘Share the Road’ sign,” Hess said. “It wasn’t adding anything.”
Delaware stopped posting “Share the Road” signs a few years ago. The city of Wilmington recently began experimenting with “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs.
Sharrows also helped some survey respondents get the message, but they were less effective than the “full lane” sign. Hess and Associate Professor Nils Peterson, who ride their bikes to work, published their study in the journal PLOS ONE, online at bit.ly/1g7rxeC.
Raleigh and other cities have been painting sharrows on their streets in recent years to help cyclists decide whether it’s better to ride in the center of the lane – especially on narrow streets, where there isn’t enough room for cars to pass bikes safely.
Eric Lamb, Raleigh’s transportation planning manager, said he’ll be interested to read the study.
“Regarding cyclists and taking the full lane, anything that better communicates this to cyclists and drivers is a good thing,” Lamb said.
Pass with Care
From the North Carolina Driver’s Handbook: A bicyclist staying to the right in their lane is accommodating following drivers by making it easier to see when it is safe to pass, and easier to execute the pass. Drivers wishing to pass a bicyclist may do so only when there is abundant clearance and no oncoming traffic is in the opposing lane. When passing a bicyclist, always remember the bicyclist is entitled to use of the full lane.
N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles