“Share the Road” is meaningless

I’ve often felt that the “share the road” message has done little to make roads any safer for anyone. So it was heartening to read of a new study from North Carolina State University that looked at whether people actually understand what those signs mean.

May use full lane and Share the road signs
Courtesy of biekde.org

The study was looking at “how well three US traffic control devices communicated the message that bicyclists are permitted in the center of the travel lane and do not have to “get out of the way” to allow motorists to pass without changing lanes.” It turns out that people who ride bikes thought “share the road” meant they could use the full lane, while people who drive cars though it meant bikes should get out of the way for cars. I wasn’t at all surprised by these findings — they corroborated my daily experience riding a bike on narrow roads that don’t have bike lanes.

"Share the Road" sign on Race Point Rd.
“Share the Road” sign on Race Point Rd.

We have a number of these standard “share the road” signs along Race Point Road in the Cape Cod National Seashore. And we have an odd local variant that you’ll see on Bradford St Extension and Shank Painter Road that apparently is intended to remind people who are walking and people on bikes to share the shoulder along the side of the road.

"Share the Road" sign on Shank Painter Rd
“Share the Road” sign on Shank Painter Rd

Signs alone are a pretty weak way to educate the public, especially when they’re vague and imprecise. It seems that combining “Bicycles may use full lane” with painted sharrows on the road surface would do much more to make the point that bikes are allowed in the road, not just squeezed off to the side and into the gutter.

And that’s what the study concluded: “our survey results are indicative and suggest that Departments of Transportation consider replacing “Share the Road” with “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signage, possibly combined with Shared Lane Markings, if the intent is to increase awareness of roadway rights and responsibilities.”

May use full lane sign and sharrow pavement marking
Courtesy of journals.plos.org

There’s no reason to continue to promote “share the road.” It’s pretty clear that message doesn’t work. Let’s put of signs that say what we mean: Bicycles may use full lane.

 


Resources

Signs of Our Times: Sharing the Streets
https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/bike-lane-signs-drivers-cyclists-rules-of-road

New Study Confirms: “Share the Road” is a problem
http://www.bikede.org/2015/08/29/share-the-road-is-a-problem/

“Bicycles May Use Full Lane” Signage Communicates U.S. Roadway Rules and Increases Perception of Safety
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0136973

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