Farewell Tom Hicks; Welcome Cedric Ward
Tom Hicks, the long-time head of the Office of Traffic and Safety within the Maryland State Highway Administration, is retiring at the end of June. Cyclists often disagreed with his perspective on managing bicycle traffic, but even so, it was a pleasure to work with him. Like all good engineers, he looked for solutions rather than for opportunities to argue. So even when he was blocking something I was pushing, I had the sense that we were just two people viewing a problem different perspectives but on the same team.
His successor will be Cedric Ward, who has been SHA’s key person for traffic and safety in Montgomery County. My first in-depth conversation with Mr. Ward concerned the Bicycles May Use Full Lane signs, and is summarized in the last section of this post
As we’ve reported several times, the Maryland State Highway Administration is poised to post signs that say “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” on a number of area roads. But instead of posting the official R4-11 (a white rectangle) sign on all of these roads, SHA intends to use a combination of the R4-11 sign and a new yellow diamond warning sign with the same message (see pdf). That sign is called W16-1(3) and will probably be Tom Hicks’ final contribution to bicycle safety in Maryland. I wish they would call it W4-11, but that designation already belongs to a soft shoulder warning sign.
The decision to use both use full lane signs was made by SHA Administrator Melinda Peters,
and appears to have been prompted by an email that I sent her just before Bike-to-Work Day. Last fall, SHA approved the regulatory R4-11 sign by adopting it into the Maryland Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The guidance tracks the language in the federal MUTCD: It explains what the sign means, but does not provide any specifics about where the sign can be placed. Now SHA has more detailed guidance.
Guidance for the “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs
The new guidance for the yellow use full lane sign says that these signs “should” be posted along roads where the narrow lane or other condition causes an extraordinary hazard. It’s noteworthy that we have the term “should” as guidance for this sign. That means that there is a presumption that the sign will be posted if local cyclists can make a reasonably good showing that there is a narrow-lane hazard. The guidance for the white R4-11 sign says “may.” I think that the purpose of “may” is to establish the preferences between the R4-11 and the yellow use full lane warning sign.
How does SHA define the narrow-lane hazard? The guidance for the R4-11 sign provides a lot more detail than either the federal or state MUTCD: “signs may be placed at intervals of about ½ mile through the length of a lane effectively 13 feet or less wide in urban areas. So virtually every highway with standard lanes and no shoulder is eligible for an R4-11 sign. Aside from defining the narrow-lane hazard, the guidance provides several different situations where the R4-11 signs “may” be posted.
The guidance also calls for R4-11 signs to be used along roads with parking if the usable space is less than 13 feet. Given the door zone hazard, I am trying to persuade SHA that this means that the sign may be posted if the right most lane has no more than 23 feet to the pavement edge.
One thing that is still a bit unclear is whether SHA will be willing to post these signs along roads with lanes wider than 13 feet (or 23 feet with parking) with high traffic volumes or a lot of bus or truck traffic. Under the existing guidelines for bicycle facilities, bike lanes have 4 feet of pavement with low traffic volumes, speeds, and truck/bus traffic. But with higher speeds, volumes, or trucks and buses, the bike lanes are a foot or two wider. That approach recognizes that the required operating space increases with traffic; that is, SHA recognizes that those factors increase the lane width necessary for safe side-by-side passage. The same logic would apply as well to the “use full lane” signs.
SHA Administrator Peters asked me to discuss the details of the guidance with Cedric Ward. Here are the key points of our discussion; I’ve also posted a pdf of the complete notes of the entire conversation.
Conversation with Cedric Ward about the new guidance
Jim Titus: Let’s start out by clarifying what we mean by “signs may be placed where the lane is no wider than 13 feet”. Does that mean from the left-lane stripe to the curb, the edge of the pavement, or to the fog line?
Cedric Ward: The guidance means 13 feet to the edge of the pavement to the center of the line.
Jim Titus: At the meeting last fall in Greenbelt about the R4-11 sign, which Michael Jackson also attended, we agreed that signs would be posted for roads up to 14 feet plus gutter.
Cedric Ward: Actually, 14-foot lanes are problematic. If you find any, please let me know.
Jim Titus: Getting back to the first bullet [in the guidance]: What about where roads with wide shoulders cross jurisdictional boundaries. We don’t really need the R4-11 sign there.
Cedric Ward: We would still post the R4-11 signs there if there is not a bike lane, but those shoulders will eventually be marked as bike lanes.
Jim Titus: Then the guidance talks about places where there are a lot of bikes turning left. Why would you need an R4-11 sign there?
Cedric Ward: I follow your point.
Jim Titus: Let’s come back to the third bullet: “At the beginning of a section of roadway where curbside parking or other encroachments narrow the width usable for travel to 13 feet or less.” What does usable width of 13 feet mean?
Cedric Ward: If there are parked cars, and the cars extend 7 feet from the pavement edge, then 13 feet of usable width would mean 13 feet to the left of the parked cars.
Jim Titus: So if the edge of the parked cars might be along a parking line that is 8 feet from the curb, then usable width of 13 feet means that the lane is 21 feet from the curb, or 20 feet from the edge of the pavement. [If] we have 14 feet of pavement to the left of the car, I think that the cyclist still needs to use the full lane.
Cedric Ward: How would you phrase the guidance?
Jim Titus: I would change the "13 feet" to "16 feet".
Cedric Ward: A 16-foot lane could cause other problems, such as drivers passing other cars within the lane.
Jim Titus: We are not talking about how wide we want the lanes. We are talking about the lanes we have, and where to post the signs….Parked cars reduce usable space more for a bike than for a car. A driver may be willing to drive 1 or 2 feet from a parked car, because the worst that could happen is that someone opens their door, and that open door gets knocked off the car. But for the cyclist, the worst that can happen is that the door opens, the cyclist is deflected 20 degrees to the left as she falls, and then she is run over by a car. So usable roadway needs to be measured from the edge of the open door, or 16 feet from the parking stripe.
Cedric Ward: I follow your point.
(Jim Titus is on WABA's Board of Directors and lives in Glenn Dale, Maryland. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official views of WABA.)