Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Does W16-1P do us any good?

W16-1P example
W16-1P is the classic "Share the Road" sign. Sometimes yellow. Sometimes otherwise. Its function is described in the MUTCD: " In situations where there is a need to warn drivers to watch for other slower forms of transportation traveling along the highway, such as bicycles, golf carts, horse-drawn vehicles, or farm machinery, a SHARE THE ROAD (W16-1P) plaque (see Figure 2C-12) may be used."

The problems I see with W16-1P are several fold. One, it is an advisory sign. Advisory signs carry no firm requirements as to how to follow them. While it may be wise to slow down for a hairpin curve, and if you eat it on the curve while speeding you could be cited for imprudent speed, the yellow speed advisory sign on the curve is...advisory. You can, if you are of the mind, continue at the posted speed limit albeit you are responsible for any damage that comes out of an ill-advised headlong rush around the curve. So what does it mean to advise motorists to share the road? Besides, what situations exist where there is NOT a continual "... need (for) drivers to watch for other slower forms of transportation...". So if there is not a "share the road" sign nearby, are motorists absolved from having a reasonable expectation to see a cyclist on the road? Can they be less observant?

Indeed, what does it mean in practice to share the road? What's your share? Does it mean you can only share it if you and the motorist both agree? Do you and the guy in the Super Duty agree on what's your share and what's his? What does this advise about how to pass a cyclist? How to pass a motorist when a cyclist is oncoming traffic? Where on the road you should ride? What are the criteria?

 Share the Road doesn't say anything about your rights to the road as a cyclist. Sharing does not clearly define ownership. In fact, it is your legal right to be on that road. You own that right. No kindness by a magnanimous motorist is necessary for you to be there, and no grumpy motorist can rescind your right.

If instead, we posted W16-1P in white with black letters, it would be a regulatory sign, like those 35 mph signs on Diamond Drive (because the MUTCD convention is warning signs are yellow while regulatory signs are in white with black lettering). Share the Road because a cyclist has the legal right to be there and that's the law. At least then you could cite regulation.
My idea of a revised W16-1P
Its not an option. Its the law.

That's why black on white signs like R4-11 (Bicyclists May Use Full Lane or BMUFL) carry some teeth--they have the force of law and regulation behind them. The five foot rule when passing (LAC 38-545) sign, if you can still find one, has force of law. An AFRAP sign ("As Far Right As Is Practicable") onerous as it can be, would at least have regulation written to explain it.

W16-1P may have a technical basis in the advisory lexicon of the MUTCD, but in practice, I think it is a nice, feelgood political sign whose meaning has been muddled. The technical basis, if backed up by well understood rules, is good as far as it goes, but without all that other detailed stuff, one might just as well post the Golden Rule. They both say what we ought to do, but have no teeth behind them (at least in this life) and I'm not sure we agree on what exactly S-T-R means as far as implementation. Perhaps we should dispense with it and stick to signs that tell us something that actually has the force to regulate behavior (like BMUFL) or that at least don't ask us to do something that is so ill defined. W11-1 is simply a picture of a bicycle. Just to remind people we are there.

W11-1, R4-11, and W16-1P, respectively. Illustration from Streetsblog.

Thanks and acknowledgements to Streetsblog and Angie Schmitt for the interesting discussion, which came out of Delaware's decision to drop the W16-1P.

Link to MUTCD sign descriptions.

Your thoughts?


Ian Brett Cooper said...

This is why I'm always lobbying my county government to install 'Bikes may use full lane' signs. There was an article last year, I think, by (IIRC) Bob Mionske, where he argued that the concept of 'share the road' was nonsense.

Khal said...

I vaguely recall Mionske writing something, Ian. Can't find it. If anyone does, please leave a link here and I'll add it to the piece.

Steve A said...

BMUFL may be regulatory, but as such it is no more useful than a sign that says "Slower Traffic Stay Right." The regulation exists whether or not there is a sign, and all road users ought to be expected to know it.

BTW, I've been collecting example photos of interesting signs.

Steve A said...

Useful regulatory signs, IMO, are rules that differ from the default. Speed limit signs, for example, or "No Right Turn on Red," for another.

Michael Graff said...

Most people seem to think "share the road" means "share the lane". It's all downhill from there.