On Sunday, Aug 21, 2016, something terrible happened to a Mr. Malcom White of Roseville. He felt this incident ruined part of his Sunday morning. Mr. White was bothered so much that later that day he spent time tracking down the website of the organization whose members had ruined part of his day. He took the time and penned a lengthy email of complaint about the members of this organization. Later that day he also took some time to read a lengthy reply to his original letter and spent time writing the second letter. He made sure to send a copy of his original letter to the local paper. What was the terrible thing that happened that upset Mr. White so much he spent a fair amount of time on a beautiful Sunday in front of the computer angrily typing away? He encountered members of the Shasta Wheelmen club out riding their bicycles on Gas Point Road south of the Veterans Cemetery.
If you don’t know this road in the area in question, it is a narrow two-lane country road. The lanes are about 11 feet wide with no shoulder and in most places no fog line. In the southbound direction, where this terrible conflict took place, the road is mostly downhill with some sections steep enough that faster riders can hit 40 mph with little effort. As most Wheelmen rides do, the group had split up into two groups, a slower group, and a faster group. Mr. White driving down Gas Point Rd encountered both groups of riders. In each encounter, Mr. White was bothered by the fact that the Wheelmen weren’t riding single file along the right edge of the road. Mt White actually had to slow down and wait till he came to a place where he had to cross into the northbound lane to get past each group of riders. Mr. White encountered the fast group of riders near one of the fastest downhills so that group was initially moving close to 40 mph. At 40 mph it isn’t safe to try and crowd the right edge of the road, but when the road flattened out, and the group speed slowed, the riders did get a single file line to make it easier for Mr. White to pass. This wasn’t good enough for Mr.White though since he felt the riders should have gotten single file much sooner and move over to the right so that he could have passed the riders without having to move into the oncoming lane of traffic.
In the reply that Mr.White received from a club member it was pointed out that the Wheelmen member were riding legally per CVC 21202 (a) (3) and that even the state DMV website on their share the road page points out that on narrow lanes bicycle riders shouldn’t ride to far to the right since that can be dangerous. It was also pointed out that bicycle riders, in general, don’t like to delay motor traffic since it tends to spoil the enjoyment of the ride, and that riders will work to get following traffic past as soon as it is safe to do so. Naturally, Mr.White wasn’t pleased with the reply he got feeling the reply showed the same arrogance the riders displayed by not pulling over and letting him pass sooner. Unfortunately, the local paper snapped at the bait offered up by Mr. White’s original letter and must of felt they had the opportunity to stir up some bicycle vs. car friction.
Sadly there is always going to be some faction of motor vehicle drivers who will never accept the idea of bicycles being a legitimate road user. It doesn’t matter what the law says, it doesn’t matter how much a driver may see benefits from increased bicycle usage, some people will never accept bicycles on the road. The question is how to we minimize the number of these bicycle haters? One thing that seems to cause some confusion and anti-bicycle feelings are all those share the road signs. Those signs give the wrong message to many people. Mr. White pointed out in his original letter that share the road goes both ways and that bicycles need to get out of the way of cars. Even a lot of bicycle riders feel that the message of the share the road signs are that we should move out of the way of cars as soon as possible understand even if this might compromise the safety of the bicycle rider(s). I think it would help more people, cyclists and drivers understand better the law if we get rid of the share the road signs as quickly as possible and replace them with the much better under stood sign Bicycles may use the full lane, switch lanes to pass.
So what exactly is wrong with the share the road signs? Let’s look carefully at the sign and what exactly it says, and more importantly what it doesn’t say. The share the road sign starts out with a big image of a bicycle on the top part of the sign. Below the image of the bicycle are the words share the road. Most people take this as a message aimed at bicycle riders since there is no reference to cars on this sign. The only image you see is a bicycle. To the people who read the signs this way, the message seems to be that it is the bicycles who need to share the road thus bicycle riders need to get out of the way of the cars. Now some times you see an image of a car next to a bicycle with the words share the road below. This is a little better since it at least attaches the car driver with the concept of sharing the road. Still, there is a problem even with this version of the sign since it has the bicycle on the right side. Again a driver can get the message that bicycles belong on the right edge of the road instead of the idea that bicycles are allowed to be in the lane on narrow roads. Another issue is the share the road signs are yellow and black which are advisory signs. Studies have been done asking people what the share the road signs mean, and many people can’t figure out what exactly the share the road message is supposed to mean.
Studies have been done with the bicycles may use the full lane signs, and the results are much better. Most people have no problem understanding the may use the full lane message. Another good thing about the may use the full lane signs are they are black on white signs, just like the speed limit signs, thus they have the force of law behind them. The message is clear that in some situations bicycles are legally allowed to be in the middle of the lane. While a number of people may not agree with the law allowing bicycles to use the full lane at least they know it is the law thus they are less likely to complain about bicycles being in the lane. Part of the anti-bicycle attitude is the fact that many drivers feel bicycle riders are breaking the law when we aren’t. The may use the full lane signs will help deliver the message that we aren’t breaking the law if we are not pressed up against the right edge of the road on narrow lanes.
The better people understand the laws about where bicycles should ride the less anger there should be as more people come to understand that we are riding in a legal manner. Of course, as bicycle riders, we should do our part and work to get following traffic past as soon as it is safe to do so. Nothing is gained by needlessly holding up other traffic when it is safe to let it past. Until the may use the full lane signs start making an appearance locally we are going to have to take the opportunity to help spread the message that bicycles are traffic, are legitimate road users and may use the full lane in some situations and that yes motor vehicles may have to occasionally slow down for us until there is a place to pass us safely.