Bikes May Use Full Lane, but not in New York State

New York State: No Bikes May Use Full Lane signs

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) defines the standards used by road engineers in the United States to install and maintain traffic control devices on all public streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public traffic. “Traffic Control Devices” is engineering jargon for all of the signs, lights, posts, barriers, reflectors, and paint on and around these roads and bikeways. The MUTCD is published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as a way to standardize your driving experience across the nation. It’s the reason Interstate Highway signs, stop signs and even the width and color of lane stripes are uniform from Hawaii to Vermont.

17 states adopt the Federal MUTCD verbatim. The rest either adopt the Federal MUTCD with a state supplement (roughly half of the states, DC and Puerto Rico) or they publish their own state edition of an MUTCD which, by law, must be “in substantial conformance with the National Manual.”

The current edition of the Federal MUTCD added several new signs for bike facilities, including the ever popular “BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE” (BMUFL) sign.

I’m seeing these pop up all over the place in California on roads that are too narrow to safely share with motor vehicles. The guidance given in the Federal standard for this R4-11 sign says:

  • The Bicycles May Use Full Lane (R4-11) sign (see Figure 9B-2) may be used on roadways where no bicycle lanes or adjacent shoulders usable by bicyclists are present and where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side.
  • The Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign may be used in locations where it is important to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.
  • Section 9C.07 describes a Shared Lane Marking that may be used in addition to or instead of the Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.
  • Support: The Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) defines a “substandard width lane” as a “lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the same lane.”

Sounds reasonable, right?

But what about New York State?

I was browsing through New York State’s MUTCD supplement and discovered the state DOT sees fit to give the finger to cyclists by removing authorization for the BMUFL sign. They give this explanation:

The R4-11 sign shall not be used in New York, as its message is not an accurate reflection of Section 1234 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, and could mislead inexperienced bicyclists into occupying inappropriate, and unsafe, positions within a roadway.

“Section 1234 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law” is the state’s discriminatory Far-To-the-Right (FTR) law. Unlike most state FTR laws which say cyclists must ride as close as “practicable,” New York seems to require gutter cycling for cyclists:

Upon all roadways, any bicycle or in-line skate shall be driven either on a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane or, if a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic…

Nice, huh?

The weird thing is the state retains the shared lane marking (aka “sharrow”) and even recommends its use for narrow roads, but without the R4-11 sign that actually explains what it might mean. And here’s another weird thing: New York’s vehicle law Section 1234 includes a too narrow exception along with the other usual exceptions for hazards and obstructions!

… except … when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, but are not limited to … traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle or person on in-line skates and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.

So how in the world is R4-11 inconsistent with state law? Can one of the NYSDOT bike coordinators perhaps give some insight into how this came to be?

Later on, I’ll browse through some other state supplements and editions to see what they say about bike facilities.

6 thoughts on “Bikes May Use Full Lane, but not in New York State”

  1. disappointing. but I am still seeing these signs, which encourage calmer drivers I think, versus “share the road” i.e. if a car is coming they’l honk at you and let you know to GTFO of the way. Today this happened to me. A few days ago this happened to me. A few days before that too.
    Bicycle Friendly Community? when need to work on that status.

  2. At least VTL Sec. 1234 does not apply in New York City (although the NYPD keeps attempting to cite people with it). Maybe we should try sneaking the signs in there.

  3. “share the road” was discussed online in various places where people said that drivers yelled at them to share the road, as in “share the road, by getting out of my way.” It’s a very unclear sign that isn’t effective. There are definitely places that all vehicles should occupy the full lane because for example, a bicycle going 30mph downhill in a 30mph zone doesn’t need to be “as far right as practicable”. Fortunately the law provides more than a few exceptions, so I can always justify riding in the lane (since no lanes are >14ft here), but it’s annoying if we can’t use BMUFL signs to help new cyclists understand that they don’t need to be gutter bunnies.

  4. Ohio includes the BMUFL sign in their version of the MUTCD, but they recommend it be used with BEGIN and END signs. So what, after the END sign the law changes to say I have to share a narrow lane, or ride through debris or potholes or in the door zone?
    “When the Bicycles MAY USE FULL LANE sign is used, the start and end of the section determined to
    warrant the signing should be marked with BEGIN (R3-9cP) and END (R3-9dP) plaques.”
    Our state-wide advocacy group, Ohio BIcycle Federation, is trying to get the BEGIN/END guidance removed.

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