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Share the Road?

Occasionally I find road signs that I’m not really fond of. The “Share the Road” sign is one of them, because it’s intentionally vague. The “Share the Road” sign is what traffic engineers refer to as W16-1P:

W16-1P

W16-1P by VeloTraffic, on Flickr

The 2009 MUTCD says the following about when this sign should be used:

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, […], a SHARE THE ROAD (W16-1P) plaque may be used.

What this sign specifically doesn’t mention is what “sharing the road” looks like.

  • Does “sharing the road” mean that bikes and cars should merge into a single lane of traffic?
  • Or does “sharing the road” mean that the road is wide enough to exist side-by-side within a single lane?

This sign is specifically designed to not answer that question for roadway users. This sign is intended to simply alert drivers that they should expect to see cyclists along the roadway.  Given it’s purpose, “Share the Road” seems a little unclear.

In addition, the W16-1P is never used by itself.  It’s always used in conjunction with a diamond warning sign telling the drivers what types of slow moving vehicles they should be expecting.

Where this message is often corrupted is when it is used with another sign that I find problematic. The diamond sign in this photo below doesn’t have an official MUTCD designation because it’s not an officially approved design. There are numerous versions of this same sign used throughout the nation.

Share the Road

Share the Road by andylek1, on Flickr

When a “Share the Road” sign is used in conjunction with a sign that shows a car and a bicycle next to each other, it implies that “sharing the road” means that cars and bikes should exist side-by-side. In many cases, this may not be safe, and that’s generally not what the engineers placing the signs are trying to communicate.

I find this problematic, so I always recommend using more basic designs, like the W11-1.

W11-1

W11-1 by VeloTraffic, on Flickr

How about you, readers? What do you think when you see a “Share the Road” sign? What do you think “Share the Road” means?

2 comments to Share the Road?

  • Jim M.

    I prefer to use them only where cyclists should take the lane, or at least it’s uncomfortable to ride alongside traffic.

    When New York State first authorized the “Shared Roadway” plaque in 1994, the guidance said it was for use “where highway geometry or other conditions require bicycles to travel within the roadway.”

    We interpreted that to mean within the travel lanes, and didn’t use it on roads with shoulders 4 ft or wider.

    Alas, when NY adopted the national MUTCD, this guidance didn’t make it into the state supplement.

  • Elliot Marshall

    As a cyclist I would like the sign to read “Careful: Cyclists on Roadway” or “Caution: Cyclists on Roadway”. I would prefer something similar to these so that it communicates that cyclists can and might take a whole lane, not just share it.

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