Maryland's State Highway Administration (SHA) is informally soliciting public comment on its draft guidance for the R4-11 ("Bicycles May Use Full Lane) sign, which will be published in the Maryland Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). SHA plans to adopt both the R4-11 sign and a similar white sign with an orange stripe accross the top with the word "Notice". The guidance is minimal and basically tracks the federal MUTCD's guidance for R4-11. I provided some line-by-line edits to shorten it and make it track the federal guidance even more closely, but I do not recommend that most activists do anything at this stage.
Guidance for bicycle signs never has the detailed specification that one might hope to see (such as criteria for when one does and does not use the sign). And it would be particularly difficult here, because the R4-11 sign is classified as a "regulatory" (white rectangle) sign even though in Maryland, it is substantively a warning sign. In New Jersey, where the statute does not directly provide the right to take a narrow lane, an R4-11 gives cyclists a specific right they would not otherwise have. In Maryland, the sign merely states what would have been true without the sign. So the sign is mainly needed on roads where both (a) taking the lane is the safest procedure and (b) the drivers do not know the law or otherwise realize that this is the case. How do you write guidance for that?
At a meeting yesterday at SHA headquarters, the SHA staff continued to indicate enthusiasm for the R4-11 sign, with several different officials naming specific places where they think an R4-11 sign is needed. They are also talking about mid-lane sharrows, which would have been unthinkable three months ago.
We spent some time on the question of where someone rides, which is key to deciding where R4-11 signs are needed. I pushed using the sign on lanes less than 15 feet wide. They were inclined to rely on the AASHTO 14-foot standard. I tried to persuade them that the 14-foot standard assumes a 2-foot passing buffer, not the 3-foot buffer of Maryland law, but to little avail. But then they clarified that they meant 14-foot to the edge of the gutter, which sounded enough like 15 feet to me that I stopped pushing. They also indicated that they would not necessarily rule out an R4-11 sign along roads with shoulders when the shoulder is not bikeable, though they made no promises. They also were agreeable to using the R4-11 sign along roads with parking, where the door zone makes taking the lane necessary yet problematic to drivers who don't see why you are riding in the middle of a 16-foot open space.
All these details are important but they will not go into the guidance. So unless the MUTCD is one of your hobbies I do not recommend commenting on the draft guidance. If you are inclined to do something, start thinking about the road that most needs the R4-11 sign and ask whichever agency manages that road to post these signs.
One other thing I learned yesterday. The creator of the yellow warning sign version of the R4-11 sign was not Tom Hicks or Bob Herstein of SHA, but rather cyclist Denise Cohen who has been representing Potomac Peddlers at meetings with SHA. Although SHA is not planning to adopt that version of the sign, it has proven to be very popular among both traffic engineers and Montgomery-County activists. I would not be surprised to see the yellow signs on some Mongtomery County roads.
(Jim Titus is a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. The opinions expressed herein do not represent the official views of WABA.)