Is it weird that I have a favorite sign? Whatever. That’s it below. Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen (on a sign)? Last I knew, the New York Department of Transportation (the “NYDOT”) hadn’t approved the signs for use in the state. They were waiting for the feds to approve the sign (which the feds did on December 16, 2009 (search for good old R4-11 and check out the second instance)). Time passes and the signs must have received the green light from the NYDOT as a few of my favorite signs were posted along Delaware Avenue in my fair city. This isn’t a picture of the signs on Delaware. It is simply an example and comes from here.
I learned the signs were posted on Delaware in an email announcing their impending removal. The NYDOT doesn’t think the signs accurately reflect the law. The email contained the following, which is taken from a proposed Supplement to the NYDOT Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (see here and search for R4-11; third instance of the term is what you want).
Section 9B.06 Bicycles May Use Full Lane Sign (R4-11)
DELETE entire section; 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. On roadways where space is limited and interactions between motorists and bicyclists have proven problematic, it is preferable to either provide positive guidance to bicyclists in the form of Shared Lane Markings (see Section 9C.07) and/or warning to motorists in the form of the SHARE THE ROAD (W16-1P) plaque (see Section 2B.19).
Here is the law referred to above, with emphasis added (the “Lane Position Law”).
§ 1234. Riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle or in-line skate lanes and bicycle or in-line skate paths. (a) 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 except when preparing for a left turn or 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, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, in-line skates, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or 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. (b) Persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a shoulder, bicycle or in-line skate lane, or bicycle or in-line skates path, intended for the use of bicycles or in-line skates may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available, except that when passing a vehicle, bicycle or person on in-line skates, or pedestrian, standing or proceeding along such shoulder, lane or path, persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates shall ride, skate, or glide single file. Persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall ride, skate, or glide single file when being overtaken by a vehicle. (c) Any person operating a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates who is entering the roadway from a private road, driveway, alley or over a curb shall come to a full stop before entering the roadway.
It is clear to me that the signs do a very good job of accurately relating a very important aspect of the law–that bicyclists don’t have to stick to the right hand side of the road when doing so will put them at peril. So what gives?
Makes sense to me to place the signs anywhere and everywhere, as the rule applies on every inch of every street, but Delaware is a particularly good place to locate some of the signs as it is without question too narrow to be shared by a car and a bicycle side by side in a single lane and there are parked cars along the curb for most of its span. Maybe the signs there should be BICYCLE SHOULD USE FULL LANE, because pedaling on the right there will only encourage cars to try to pass without changing lanes and you are at constant risk of getting doored. Even so, removing the signs from Delaware might not be the end of the harmonious sharing world, as the sharrows on Delaware are in the middle of the lane. Pretty clear message to all road users where bicycles are allowed to be.
My concern extends well beyond Delaware Avenue. We would benefit by placement of more of the BICYCLES MAY USE FULL LANE signs on streets all over the state. No other sign does a better job educating motorists about an important element of the Lane Position Law which allows bicyclists to take all of any lane when necessary for the safety of the road user.
I acknowledge the possibility that the sign as currently formulated could encourage a few cyclists to take the lane beyond necessity, but pedal even once on a city street and take a lane and you will know the risk (of a pedaler remaining for too long in the middle of a lane) is infinitesimal and transitory. The person who wrote the text explaining why the signs are no longer to be used has probably never pedaled a block in a city amongst heavy traffic. Pedalers know taking a lane can be scary (we are vulnerable and cars are huge). Those of us who have the courage to take a lane move right as soon as possible if not only to be courteous but to protect our hides! The risk (of needless and excessive lane hogging by pedalers) is so remote that it should not be considered when forming policy.
Instead of getting rid of the otherwise helpful signs, let law enforcement officers pull over cyclists who are not following the Lane Position Law. Better that than letting uneducated or fearful cyclists cower in the gutter, placing themselves at risk when streets narrow, potholes appear or glass threatens. Or the sign could be amended to read BICYCLES MAY USE FULL LANE AS NEEDED. Wordy, but it introduces the concept that the right to move left is contingent/temporary. Signs never recite the whole of any law. They can’t. I thought the BICYCLES MAY USE FULL LANE sign was pretty nifty as it was. Emphasis on WAS in New York State.
The NYDOT suggests above that other signs do a better job of protecting cyclists. I disagree. SHARE THE ROAD doesn’t cut it as no one knows what sharing really means. Readers of my rants on sharrows will know my thoughts on this subject. Sharrows only work when properly placed and even then too many road users think they are the functional equivalent of bicycle lanes (which leads to all kinds of bad results).
So exactly what is the mission of the NYDOT? In this case it looks for all the world like safety (of cyclists) is being trumped by speed (of motorists). Another example of an all too prevalent mindset that shoves pedalers into the gutter. That, thankfully, is not the law regardless of whether the signs stay or go. Always remember that even where lanes are wide enough for side by side sharing, bicyclists can still move from the right to avoid hazards and to turn left. Section 1234. How easy is that to remember? If you were to cite it, it might seem like you made it up, but you didn’t. Say it with me. 1234! It’s there and I love it.
So how are road users supposed to understand the law when NYDOT does not, and then takes off the menu the best sign we had at our disposal? Taking these signs off streets in New York is a huge mistake. One step forward, one back.
Consider expressing your feelings to NYDOT. There are folks employed there that are supposed to help with bicycle and pedestrian issues. Their contact information is here. The NYDOT action to end use of the sign isn’t yet final. The sign was approved in January, 2011 as part of the adoption of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and is currently slated to be disapproved as part of a Supplement to the Manual which is expected to take effect in mid-March, 2011. You can read it about it on the NYDOT site and get two email addresses to which you can send comments here.