Share The Road

What does “Share the Road” mean? What do Share the Road signs convey to road users?

Be Courteous Share the Road

Bike Lawyer Steve Magas attacks the Share the Road concept, explaining that once you have the right of way on a public road, no matter your mode of travel, you have the right of way. There is not legal obligation to share the lane, according to Magas. The rights of anybody behind you on the road are subservient to the one with the right of way.

Steve writes:

Advising a motorist who is coming up on a bicyclist from behind to “Share The Road” with the cyclist ahead is fundamentally and legally WRONG. You either HAVE the right of way or you don’t. The cyclist owns the right of way and does not have to share. In fact the cyclist shouldn’t “share.” Once the cyclist gets into a “sharing” mentality, the cyclist has lost the battle.

This is strong stuff. What do you think?

In my previous commentary on Share the Road signs, I objected to the language and signage, but not necessarily the concept of lane sharing. Bicycling Matters also critiques the message as misleading and ineffective.

In slightly related (but not really) news, Dave Moulton objects to lane hogging and scofflaw cyclists.

What do you think of “Share the Road”?

24 Comments

  • September 28, 2010 - 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Text saying “3 feet clearance required to pass” would be more effective than the vague “share the road”

    Most signs I see have a bicycle image above text reading “share the road” (e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/donjuanna/192912800/) – to me this sign says “bikes need to yield to cars”

  • September 28, 2010 - 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Text saying “3 feet clearance required to pass” would be more effective than the vague “share the road”

    Most signs I see have a bicycle image above text reading “share the road” (e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/donjuanna/192912800/) – to me this sign says “bikes need to yield to cars”

  • September 28, 2010 - 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Maybe “share the road” is like an add on to “right of way.” In the Illinois Compiled Statutes, in the Vehicle Code section, it states that the bicyclist must ride as far to the right of the roadway as practicable, except… “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, motorized pedal cycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right hand curb or edge. For purposes of this subsection, a “substandard width lane” means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”

    That’s open to interpretation and would be the section that tacks on the requirement to “share the road.”

    I like your summary, before your quotation of the linked blog text. But it’s almost an argument in semantics. Are we “sharing” our road because we want better cooperation or are we “sharing the lane” because it’s the law?

    Oh, and then sharing the lane means what? Side-by-side or forward-backward?

  • September 28, 2010 - 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Maybe “share the road” is like an add on to “right of way.” In the Illinois Compiled Statutes, in the Vehicle Code section, it states that the bicyclist must ride as far to the right of the roadway as practicable, except… “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, motorized pedal cycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right hand curb or edge. For purposes of this subsection, a “substandard width lane” means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”

    That’s open to interpretation and would be the section that tacks on the requirement to “share the road.”

    I like your summary, before your quotation of the linked blog text. But it’s almost an argument in semantics. Are we “sharing” our road because we want better cooperation or are we “sharing the lane” because it’s the law?

    Oh, and then sharing the lane means what? Side-by-side or forward-backward?

  • September 28, 2010 - 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Polka – the image you’ve attached are the MUTCD legal W11 (the diamond warning sign with the bike symbol) and W16 (rectangular “Share the Road”) signs. Wayne Pein critiques what he sees as the mixed message of this combined sign at his Bicycling Matters site.

  • September 28, 2010 - 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for reading the Share the Road post! This started as a brief response to a reader’s question and blossomed into a full blown opinion which had, I think, been stirring around un-described for many years.

    Steve Magas
    The Bike Lawyer

  • September 28, 2010 - 7:20 pm | Permalink

    In that case, the big yellow diamonds that say “BLIND AND DEAF” or “SENIOR CITIZENS” are even more pernicious.

  • September 28, 2010 - 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Wayne doesn’t object to the diamond W11 sign (well, not much — he believes they’re overused and calls them “methadone for sign addicts), but believes the Share the Road plaque underneath changes the message from “caution bikes ahead” to “bikes get out of the way.”

  • Kevin
    September 28, 2010 - 7:46 pm | Permalink

    My interpretation of “Share the Road” is that it means the road belongs to both cyclists and vehicle drivers and that we should quite simply share it. I don’t think it means cyclists should share the same road space at the same time as vehicles… just the road itself. “Share the road” means that we’re all entitled to use the road so we should share it. It’s about respect. Drivers respecting riders and riders respecting drivers. Drivers should not squeeze riders to the right when passing; riders should not ride two and three abreast, blocking faster-moving cars. And so on…

  • September 28, 2010 - 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Magas. If we have the right to be there then why should we share the road? It just as much our road as the motorists. If a “road user” can safely pass then they should do so otherwise wait till it’s safe. Would it be legal for me to pass a Toyota Yaris with my Hummer in the same lane? Size doesn’t matter, safety does.

  • Velocentric
    September 28, 2010 - 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Steve hit the issue dead on.

    I was sideswiped by a driver crazily passing me in a narrow lane only to stop at a red light a few yards ahead. I rolled up to him and told him off. He looked surprised and said he was “sharing the road” like the signs say. To most motorists, “share the road” means it’s okay to use their car to threaten cyclists into “sharing the road”. A much better sign would read “Bicycles ARE Road Vehicles”

  • Brian
    September 28, 2010 - 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I first remember seeing “share the road” signs on limited-access highways, as part of the FMCSA’s Share the Roads Safely campaign. That campaign was aimed at reducing collisions between passenger autos and commercial trucks and buses. Only later did I notice the bicycle ones.

    Perhaps because my first encounter was with the FMCSA’s campaign, I have always interpreted the “Share the Road” message as one warning drivers to behave carefully around bicycles–to share, not hog, the road. I had no idea that anyone could interpret it as an anti-bike message. I’m still puzzled by some of the visceral reactions, including a couple comments on the BicycleCommuters group from cyclists who had had “Share the roads!” screamed at them by angry motorists.

    Is there any actual research on the effectiveness of Share the Road?

  • September 28, 2010 - 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I think Steve Magas stumbled onto a brilliant point. The very idea of “Share the Road” is bogus. What does it even mean?Now, Brian writes that he always thought it was about “warning drivers to behave carefully around bicycles–to share, not hog, the road.” If the purpose of the sign is to warn drivers to not pass cyclists too closely, that’s a very roundabout way of getting there… traffic signs are normally much more direct. I suggest a diamond yellow warning sign with a bike symbol (W11) along with a “CHANGE LANES TO PASS” sign would be much more effective.Even if Share The Road is intended only for motorists, it’s still based on the notion that bicyclists have a lesser right to the road than others. After all, nobody is encouraged to “share the road” with motorcyclists or anyone else besides bicyclists… so why single out bicyclists like this?

  • Jack
    September 29, 2010 - 12:53 am | Permalink

    I’m with Kevin. To make this purely a legal issue means we must spend all our precious resources and time in court to battle over definitions-intent. Patty at StL BikeFed has STR wrong- it does not mean that cyclists must get out of the way and “reinforces the idea that bicycling is dangerous”. To the contrary it means that cyclists have rights and motorists should respect those rights.

  • September 29, 2010 - 1:23 am | Permalink

    A month back I saw a large, orange, construction sign reading “bikes share the road”. I thought this was likely a well meaning sign, but couldn’t be more ambiguous. It reads as a command to cyclists. This sign was posted going into a narrow construction area. The kind of road you need to take the lane on. There are also plenty of cyclists using this road, and no good alternate route once you are there.

    Note, I had no problems taking the lane, and no fuss that I could see from drivers.

  • Repo371
    September 29, 2010 - 1:24 am | Permalink

    This message is just another knee jerk reaction to so-called bicycle advocates and feel good willy-nilly planners/engineers. The “road” is already being “shared”. Have we been dumbed down so far that we need such a reminder?

    I ALWAYS share the road. I will NEVER share my lane unless it’s safe to do so.. There in lies the difference.

  • Pingback: Is it Bad to Share the Road? : Great City

  • Mnorri
    September 29, 2010 - 6:29 am | Permalink

    I always felt that bicyclists believe the sign tells car drivers to leave space for bicyclists, and car drivers believe the sign tells bicyclists to get out of the way.

    I usually am right when I guess it means my ride on that road is about to get more exciting.

    There’s the classic theory that societies only make rules for things that are problems, and only post signs for the common problems. So perhaps these signs tell us that we – as a group – didn’t learn to share very well when we grew up.

  • September 29, 2010 - 11:36 am | Permalink

    This is something that’s made some real headlines here in the Columbus bike community. A local man was riding on a fairly busy two-lane road and was cited by the county sheriff for not riding as far to the right as possible. Obviously, that’s not the law here. That rider, Brent Nimmo, has taken on the “Share the Road” concept pretty heavily, looking instead to replace those signs (we have a series of them on our main north-south surface street in C-bus) with “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs – which is totally unambiguous and clear.

    And I agree with everything that Steve says in the article. If we’re vehicles (and according to Ohio Traffic Code, we are), then we not only get the responsibilities of vehicles but also the rights. And one of those is the right of way. It’s a pretty simple concept.

  • September 29, 2010 - 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I encountered a state trooper this summer who said, “Bicyclists have to SHARE THE ROAD!” after he’d ordered them to ride single file and move to the right. Obviously, his concept of sharing was more on the order of get-the-hell-out-of-my-way! I did not succeed in re-educating him….the dick.

  • Brentnimmo
    September 30, 2010 - 1:26 am | Permalink

    It is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of life and death. You cannot safely share a 133″ lane with an Old Dominion Semi, a school bus, or a COTA bus. I’ve been squeezed off the road too many times by passing vehicles Ending up in a ditch because a motorist frightened by oncoming traffic sideswipes you is unacceptable! If I could safely share, I would. But you cannot share what is not there.

  • Brentnimmo
    September 30, 2010 - 1:26 am | Permalink

    It is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of life and death. You cannot safely share a 133″ lane with an Old Dominion Semi, a school bus, or a COTA bus. I’ve been squeezed off the road too many times by passing vehicles Ending up in a ditch because a motorist frightened by oncoming traffic sideswipes you is unacceptable! If I could safely share, I would. But you cannot share what is not there.

  • October 3, 2010 - 6:38 am | Permalink

    If you grew up in a big family the way I did, “sharing” isn’t always such a positive concept :D. It’s the thing people tell you that you most DO NOT want to do in that moment.

    Think about the sign that says “Yield to Pedestrians.” Very clear.

    Given this thread — which I think is right on the mark as far as signage that doesn’t provide clear instruction to anyone — I’m wondering what others think of the term “sharrow” for the road mark that I guess signals to drivers “there may be bikes here” (which should just be a big “DUH” on any street, shouldn’t it?). Its name is rooted in the notion of sharing; is its place in road management, too?

    In our city those are being added as linking devices between two segments of bike lane when there isn’t enough room to continue the lane — say, because the street width is pinched down and they haven’t acquired additional right of way — or they’re used instead of a lane on a designated bike route.

    Sharrows really need to mean “take the lane” but a less experienced cyclist who liked the comfort of the bike lane may not be clear on how to execute that move with confidence and clearance.

    @BarbChamberlain

  • October 3, 2010 - 6:38 am | Permalink

    If you grew up in a big family the way I did, “sharing” isn’t always such a positive concept :D. It’s the thing people tell you that you most DO NOT want to do in that moment.

    Think about the sign that says “Yield to Pedestrians.” Very clear.

    Given this thread — which I think is right on the mark as far as signage that doesn’t provide clear instruction to anyone — I’m wondering what others think of the term “sharrow” for the road mark that I guess signals to drivers “there may be bikes here” (which should just be a big “DUH” on any street, shouldn’t it?). Its name is rooted in the notion of sharing; is its place in road management, too?

    In our city those are being added as linking devices between two segments of bike lane when there isn’t enough room to continue the lane — say, because the street width is pinched down and they haven’t acquired additional right of way — or they’re used instead of a lane on a designated bike route.

    Sharrows really need to mean “take the lane” but a less experienced cyclist who liked the comfort of the bike lane may not be clear on how to execute that move with confidence and clearance.

    @BarbChamberlain

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