An expanding effort to improve awareness and understanding while promoting safer roadway coexistence among cyclists and motorists now has a visible presence in north Mecklenburg.
Continuing the regional pattern that began with sign placements in Mooresville in early October, signs with a clearer message about cyclists’ rights are now along roadways in north Mecklenburg, including N.C. 115 and Beaty Street in Davidson, and other roads that are popular routes for the region’s many biking enthusiasts.
The state-endorsed project involves replacing traditional “Share The Road” signs on popular cycling routes with messages reminding motorists the law states cyclists “May Use Full Lane.”
The local push for the signage change evolved from a unified effort among cyclists from throughout the Lake Norman region, with the SAFE committee – a collection of representatives from cycling groups, bicycle-related businesses, local governments and law enforcement agencies – as a driving force.
The focused effort to update the message on cycling signs, which received N.C. Department of Transportation authorization in September, came after a January car-bicycle collision on N.C. 115 just north of Davidson that resulted in the death of Mooresville’s Earl Gillon, who was an avid, longtime cyclist and well known throughout the Lake Norman region’s cycling community.
The signage change is part of a growing national campaign designed to promote a better understanding of the “rules of the road” leading to a safer environment for cyclists and motorists. It is intended to clarify what many cyclists believe is a misconception among motorists, and sometimes fellow cyclists, regarding the “Share The Road” wording on traditional signs.
The reasoning behind the wording change was the subject of a report shared by Mark Luszcz, chief traffic engineer of the Delaware Department of Transportation, and James Wilson, executive director of Bike Delaware, when that state’s sign-updating effort began last year.
“Despite its ubiquity and apparent iconic status, it turned out that ‘Share The Road’ is actually an example of common ground between traffic engineers and cycling advocates,” the co-written report states. “We both hated it and for the same reason: its unresolvable ambiguity.”
“For cyclists in Delaware (and elsewhere), ‘Share The Road’ had long been interpreted as a sign primarily directed at motorists,” the report states. “Cyclists thought it meant something like ‘Motorists: be cool.’
“But for many motorists, ‘Share The Road’ is often interpreted as a sign primarily directed at cyclists and meant something more like ‘Bicyclists, don’t slow me down.’ But we finally realized (after years of pointless yelling back and forth between cyclists and motorists, but yelling ‘share the road’ at each other), that ‘Share The Road’ not only doesn’t help, it actually contributes to conflict and confusion.”
The report cites cases where road width and conditions require cyclists to “take the lane” as the primary source of conflict as well as situations where that action by a cyclist can prevent accidents.
“Riding at the right hand edge of a travel lane is an invitation for cars behind to pass. That’s fine,” the report states. “But where a double yellow line also exists, it is very easy for a motorist to interpret the combination of the cyclist at the right hand edge of the lane and the double yellow line separating her lane from the lane of oncoming traffic as an invitation to pass in the travel lane.
“But on roads where the travel lanes are only 10 or 11 feet, this is a potentially catastrophic misunderstanding. The only way for a motorist to safely pass a cyclist when the travel lane is that narrow is to – at least partially – exit her travel lane into the lane of oncoming traffic.”
The report concludes that this situation is an example of where bicycle “May Use Full Lane” – along with shared lane pavement markings – could help avoid incidents.
“The sign delivers a clear traffic control message that makes an ambiguous and confusing traffic situation clearer – for both motorists and cyclists,” the report states. “It’s a big, big improvement over that other sign.”
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