Yesterday the Maryland State Highway Administration posted nine white rectangular "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" signs along a two-mile stretch of Glenn Dale Road (MD-953). Although Baltimore, Laurel, and the University of Maryland have used these signs, these are the first signs on a state highway. Because SHA issued detailed guidance on these signs in May, we were expecting these signs to be posted by the end of June, but the derecho set things back.
Greatergreaterwashington will soon have a couple of articles putting these signs in context, but since the Washcycle has been covering these signs extensively for more than a year, here I will focus on what's new.
The big surprise was that SHA posted the white rectangular R4-11 sign, instead of its yellow diamond equivalent, W16-1(3). An email to me from SHA Administrator Melinda Peters said that SHA had put up the wrong sign, W16-1(2), "Bicycles May Be In Roadway", and said that the signs would be replaced with either R4-11 or W16-1(3). But everything else pointed toward the yellow diamond sign being posted:
- For the last 6 months, many SHA officials had been making plans to use the yellow W16-1(2) sign, because SHA preferred the yellow diamond sign over the white regulatory sign.
- The R4-11 signage plan that SHA sent the District of Columbia (DDOT) last Spring has yellow diamond signs on most roads, except near the DC line and intersections with interstate highways.
- Outgoing traffic director Tom Hicks clearly prefered the yellow sign, and was planning to approve "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" last fall until he got some erroneous legal advice that the same wording can not appear on both types of signs. So he advocated the "Bicycles May Be In Roadway" sign for a time, until the Administrator decided in favor of the "Use Full Lane" wording. (In the mean time a lawyer who had actually researched the issue determined that the same wording can appear on bith a regulatory or warning sign.)
- A least one state employee who strongly opposed even including the yellow sign in the guidance, had predicted that SHA would almost never use the white sign if the yellow sign was approved.
My hunch is that the new Office of Traffic and Safety director Cedric Ward has a greater preference for the R4-11 sign than his predecessor, Tom Hicks. When I spoke with him last month, he had mentioned a preference for R4-11 in circumstances where I was sure that Tom would have wanted the yellow diamond sign.
What's next? The Greatergreaterwashington article includes a table of Washington-are roads where the signs are expected. That table was provided to advocates by SHA's bike-ped coordinator Dustin Kuzan, based on the signage plan that SHA's Office of Traffic and Safety sent to the District of Columbia (DDOT) last spring. Because that plan assumed that SHA would use the "Bicycles May Be in Roadway" sign, initial suspicions were that the clearer wording of the sign might induce SHA to use the sign on fewer roads. But the table sent out by Dustin Kuzan suggests that SHA did not scale back its plans, just because the wording of the sign has changed.
Nevertheless, no dates are attached to the plan, so we don't know when the rest of these highways will see the signs. Bob Herstein told me last spring that money had been budgeted for all of those highways. Because the density of signs in the new guidance is greater than originally assumed, however, cost alone would increase the time it takes to carry out the plan. That's not necessarily bad. The opportunity to learn could be lost if all the signs are posted at once.
SHA should put some traffic cameras on the highways where the signs are expected, to get a good baseline of driver and cyclist behavior, and then leave the cameras operating when the signs come up. The available research is on 4-lane roads and one might reasonably expect that the effect of the signs on 2-lane roads may be different. Even if SHA does not have the funds to process and analyze the raw data, others may be able to get funding for a study.
A slow roll out may also help to get community buy-in. The Glenn Dale Citizens Association requested the signs for Glenn Dale Road, but elsewhere no one has explained the signs to residents. Yet Prince Georges County transportation planners regularly meet with all sorts of citizens groups. It might be a good idea for the planners to explain the expected signs at these meetings, before they actually go up.
(Jim Titus lives on Glenn Dale Road, and is also on WABA's board of directors and Maryland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MBPAC). The opinions expresses here do not necessarily reflect the official views of either WABA or MBPAC.)