‘Share the Road’ means follow the law

Life in the Bike Lane column
By: Tom Frady
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I remember the first time I saw a “Share the Road” sign.   It was near Fort Bragg, a popular area for bike riding. 

Actually, my wife saw it first and took a picture to show me. Since then, the signs have proliferated in California, including Placer County, as part of the larger “Share the Road” Campaign, which includes education and awareness for drivers and riders. 

But wouldn’t you know it?  Turns out the signs may be “ambiguous, imprecise, frequently misinterpreted,” according to a North Carolina State University study.

The study found no difference between drivers who had seen the signs and those who had not, in terms of their understanding of the cyclists’ rights to the traffic lane or that the drivers must wait for an opportunity to pass safely. 

I have always seen the signs as a reminder to drivers that they are on roads frequented by bike riders, so therefore use extra caution. At the same time, I often say “Sharing the road is a two-way street.”

In the above-mentioned study, drivers shown a sign saying “Cyclists May Use Full Lane” seemed to better understand the rider had a right to position himself in the lane for maximum safety.

“Sharrows” are still another way to help drivers and cyclists co-exist. Sharrows are usually found in more urban areas where existing traffic lanes are converted to dual use in an effort to encourage bike commuting and to make it safer.

I have discussed this before. Cyclists can ride wherever they want in a lane, if they are traveling the same speed as traffic – bikes are traffic.  This is most likely to occur in crowded suburban streets, or on a rural downhill where a rider can easily travel at the speed limit.

A rider traveling at a slower speed can still position himself wherever he feels the safest. While this is usually well to the right, there are many times when being closer to the center of the lane is safer. There are more hazards closer to the edge of the road and it could be harder for drivers to see cyclists traveling in the shadows.

Being in the middle of the lane on a rural road is much different than downtown. While it is often the case that a driver has no way to legally pass a group of cyclists (the lane is too narrow to allow a 3-foot buffer or there is a hill or a curve blocking the view), that car is still coming up behind the riders at 45 mph or more. And while the driver is required by law to slow down, you will be lucky if all he does is curse you under his breath. 

And by “under his breath,” I mean yelling said curse out the window. This week, my group of six riders was cursed at by the passenger in a vehicle for being (I assume) “in the way” on Wise Road, near the Ophir Road intersection, even though we were single file and as far to the right as safe. The driver had previously given us several “friendly” honks on his horn.

One rider mentioned to him (at high volume) that he “had to wait,” information I am sure was well-received as we were passed illegally. A second rider suggested he “have a nice day.”

Still, while the knowledgeable cyclist could be in the lane for safety reasons, nothing angers drivers more (except that stop sign thing) than to come upon a group of cyclists seemingly impeding traffic, even though the bikes are, in fact, part of the traffic.

More “Share the Road” signs have appeared in this area. I hope they will be a reminder to drivers and cyclists alike to not only be courteous but to understand and follow the law. 

Sharing the road is a two-way street.  There, I said it again.

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.