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Wow. What a thoughtful response by Michael Jackson. Pretty impressive.

Meanwhile, I'm always amazed by the "You arrogant people need to get the f*ck out of my way!" construct. The human brain is a complex and amazing thing.

I've always been concerned that "Share the Road" signs lead misinformed drivers to assume that bicycles are only allowed on roads specifically designated as such. Is there any data showing the effects of signs like that?

Dand: Rock Creek Park is a National Park through a forest, and has lots of signs indicating it is a bike route, but motorists still get pissy at cyclists.

Excellent response by MDOT, great commentary by Jim Titus, and a helpful update from Mr Wash. Great job all.

I think a psychological study of motorist attitudes towards "safety" in general would be very instructive. Maybe the paradigm of more cars, more lanes, more signage, more information, all supposedly counter-balance by more safety equipment, is seriously overloading their brains.

Wow, great response.

And thanks for using the word "whence" properly.

Jonathan: the Germans found that removing signage actually allowed traffic to flow better and more organically, at least in town centers.

Seriously, the USA has way too many signs.

Excellent response from MDOT, professional and informative.

I'm surprised he wrote that. I did have the temerity to respond similarly, in the context of opposition to trails when I was doing the Western Baltimore County ped and bike plan. When people raised the issue of crime and bike trails, I pointed out that bike trails have less crime than corresponding residential or commercial districts, and then went on to quote the County Police Chief about the links between car use and crime, and how in response to car-associated crime, people didn't call for banning cars and closing off the street network, and stopping the construction of new roads.

I did respond like that in some emails to citizens. And I did put that extended discussion in the draft I submitted. It was excised from the posted draft.

Still, it got around.

It's nice to see that Michael Jackson stepped up.

Thanks to all for the comments. Shane at WABA thought my commentary should end with a suggested action, so the post on the WABA blog added a few paragraphs which I reproduce below for completeness.

Throughout Maryland, the state and local highway departments have installed more than one thousand signs that say ”[bicycle symbol] Share the Road.” Clearly, many drivers believe that these signs are a directive to cyclists to share the road with automobiles by moving to the extreme right. In fact, the signs are a warning to drivers that bicyclists are sharing the road.

But the main problem is that most drivers do not know what it means to share a narrow road. A key principal of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is that road signs should have a clear meaning, but it seems that to many, “Share the Road” signs do not have a clear meaning. Given this lack of clarity most “Share the Road” signs on roads without shoulders should be replaced with the new (R4-11) signs that say “Bicycles may use full lane.” No ambiguity there.

Of course, that's an oversimplification; but replacing signs is really cheap and easy compared with sharrows, restriping, and public education.

Another response to the original letter complaining about cyclists on Jones Mill Road was this one by MoBike (keep in mind that the letter writer apologized and said he stands enlightened now on the issue)...

Dear Dr. XXXXX,

[Polite intro stuff snipped}
Before I get into any general talk of laws and sharing the road, I'll point out that Beach Drive and its extensions are a virtual bike Mecca and have been so for decades. Beach is a relatively slow road and it is, after all, in a park. While most of Jones Mill Road is near the park but not in it, the road is an extension of the southern section of Beach and links it to the northern section. So for practical purposes it is Beach Drive, and it's part of the same route used by so many cyclists every day, for everything from commuting to exercise. Not only that, Jones Mill Road is designated as an on-road bikeway by the Montgomery County master plan. If ever was ever a road where bikes should be expected, this is it. Another observation is that the narrow part of Jones Mill Road is less than a mile long. A lot of cyclists would be surprised to hear that such a short road with a a 25 mph speed limit would be a problem. A driver going the speed limit of 25 mph compared to a cyclist going 12 mph amounts to about two minutes difference over 0.8 miles, if the driver encounters the cyclist at the beginning. That's not even accounting for the places where passing is possible.

Nevertheless, cyclists are not blind to the width issue on Jones Mill. A few years ago MoBike (my organization) requested that the county look into a widening and adding bike lanes to Jones Mill, and the county responded by putting it into DOT's queue of project studies, to be started hopefully next year. See the last page of http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/omb/FY11/appr/cip_pdf/509337.pdf . This by no means ensures that the project will happen, since funds are limited and studies don't always justify a project.

We've also asked the county to put bike route signs along Beach Drive, Jones Mill Road and Jones Bridge Road to help cyclists get around and to let drivers know that bikes use the road. Another possible sign might be "Share the road", but unfortunately these can be misinterpreted (see below). We are instead considering another standard sign, "Bikes may use full lane". A knowledgeable driver is less likely to be an angry driver, and cyclists may in fact ride legally use the middle of the lane if the lane is too narrow to pass within the same lane. That's because it's often the safest thing to do. But after reading your letter, I'm thinking it would be helpful to post signs directing cyclists to the trail as well, in case they don't know it exists or want to avoid Jones Mill Road. That might limit the number of slower riders using Jones Mill Rd. I would definitely support such signs (as well as fixing the trail signage which was terrible last time I checked).

As for roads with paths in general, cyclists who choose to ride on the road rather than the path do so because it makes a difference. It's not an arbitrary decision. Road routes and shared use paths are different in terms of speed, efficiency, distance, intersections, surface quality, and the nature of interactions with other users. Bicycling is slow enough already compared to driving without forcing the cyclist to give up the efficiency of riding in the road. Bicyclists are marginalized enough as it is. Path cyclists often have to sacrifice momentum by slowing down and speeding up (or by not being able to speed up on descents). They often must cross driveways and side streets where drivers aren't looking for them (especially when approaching from the driver's right). They may have to make awkward street crossings or take detours to get on and off the path. They must deal with obstacles such as fallen branches, mud puddles and silt. Shared use paths are used by wandering pedestrians, children, dogs on leashes (or not), oblivious stopped people, weaving cyclists, inline skaters and basically all manner of people whose habits are not so compatible with cycling at 12 mph, and whose experience is made all the more tense by cyclists overtaking them. For every driver delayed by a few seconds if I ride in the road, there are trail users who'd rather not have me on the path, and honestly I'm much more sympathetic to the trail users.

So a cyclist should be able to decide where to ride based on his own needs, just as a driver can decide whether to take Connecticut Ave. or Kensington Parkway or Jones Mill Rd. based on his needs. Our bike laws are set up to recognize this choice as the cyclist's to make. It's completely inappropriate to bully cyclists into giving up their legal rights and ride in inferior conditions. To be honest, I think Jones Mill Road would benefit a lot more from car commuters sticking to Connecticut Ave. than it would from cyclists sticking to the path. Some would say drivers should do just that, to minimize impacts on bicyclists and people living along Jones Mill (however I will not tell drivers where to go). Jones Mill is a quaint, tame and local road that's a major bikeway (partly because it is quaint, tame and local) where you'd hope drivers would be tolerant. It's a pity that the some drivers see it as their right to not be delayed. It's also completely unfair for drivers to blame cyclists for safety problems. Let's blame safety problems on bad behavior, not legal use.

But more importantly, roads are not meant to serve only cars and trucks. All streets in Maryland should be "complete streets" and support non-driving modes fully and effectively. The complete streets concept is an underlying principle of several state and county policies, road standards (especially recently), laws and sector plans. It is becoming part of our culture, as we see more pedestrian crosswalks (and drivers stopping at them), better standards, lower speed limits, traffic calming, wider buses for the disabled, bike racks on buses, and wider lanes or bike lanes to help bicyclists. We want to do everything we can to encourage walking, cycling and transit in the county. There's a reason for this. Serving non-auto modes reduces pollution and fossil fuel use, encourages smarter growth, makes communities more livable and walkable, reduces congestion, and promotes health and exercise. Complete streets doesn't just mean designing streets correctly. It also means teaching drivers to recognize the rights and needs of non-drivers.

You misunderstand the concept of sharing the road. "Share the road" signs are in no way asking cyclists to leave the road, speed up, or behave in some fashion beyond just riding legally. The signs are establishing that bikes are allowed and telling drivers to interact with cyclists as the legal road users that they are. Sharing means single file if there's no room to pass. It may mean side by side if there's enough width or a shoulder or bike lane. Sharing is too often misconstrued as a directive to cyclists to give up their right-of-way to benefit drivers. The signs don't ask anyone to give up anything, just to operate in the same space according to the rules of the road.

Arrogant is a strong word. Riders who ignore red lights or ride too fast on shared use paths are arrogant. Riders without lights or who ride two abreast are breaking the law (though arguably riding abreast is no different than one cyclist legally using the whole lane). However, riders who choose a route that meets their own needs and use it lawfully are just doing what drivers do. I try to be courteous and considerate at every opportunity, moving out of the way of drivers turning right on red, moving over when possible to let cars pass even if it delays me, slowing to a walking pace to pass pedestrians, etc. But what you're asking is for cyclists to subjugate their own needs and efficiencies to vehicles that quite frankly have all the advantages and fewer virtues. The rider's decision to not drive a large polluting vehicle that burns oil and kills pedestrians has to count for something. My own way to deal with pokey cyclists on Beach Drive or Jones Mill Road (when I'm driving), or slow trail users on the Capital Crescent Trail (when I'm riding), is to relax, give in to patience, put myself in mental cruise control, and pass when it's safe to do so (which is usually soon). That's how everyone should act. We need to drive (and bike) gently.

Respectfully yours,
Jack Cochrane
Chair, Montgomery Bicycle Advocates (MoBike)

P.S. [continuation of my response] Here are a few other comments that typical road bicyclists have written in response to similar recent letters…

- "Beach/Jones Mill is essentially a park/neighborhood route that is used as a thoroughfare. It is not designed as a thoroughfare or an artery. So many of our parks are overrun with motorists commuting and expecting to race thru the park like it is a highway."

- Cycling on that trail can be more dangerous due to debris, potholes, other users, etc., and imposes danger on others

- "When I choose to maintain the posted speed limit on Beach and Jones Mill, cars still pass me, well above the posted speed limit "

- The road itself is not dangerous; bad behavior is dangerous (speeding, passing too close, not waiting to pass, biking without lights, etc.)

- Cyclists are part of rush hour too (make purposeful trips at that time)

- Hugging the edge of the road is more dangerous than riding in the middle where drivers can see you… "I can reduce my safety margin, moving a little more to the right, only to then be continually buzzed by that 10 or 20 other drivers there are for the one appropriately cautious driver."

- "It's a park, people!"

Jones Mill Road has a constant stream of cyclists throughout the year. I have been told by a regular "pack" rider that when riding in a group you keep up or get left behind, even if it means running a stop sign, light, etc...just don't get left behind! Okay, so go somewhere less congested!!!!! I don't mind sharing the road with cyclists... if they can share it with motorists. What really angers me is the absence of following ALL Maryland bicycle laws and regulations!! Cyclists who skip the traffic signs, signals and other traffic devises need to be on the trails....or given a traffic ticket for violation of the law! I want to see Montgomery county police pay attention to ALL patrons of our roads!!!!

All cycling laws? You mean they're riding on the wrong side, speeding, wearing head phones, carrying large boxes with both hands off the handlebars and mowing down motorists left and right?

Oh, you mean they regularly break a subset of laws that doesn't entirely overlap with the set you regularly break. But then, you should probably stick to driveways.

I would like to see ALL the MD rules of the road inforced on cars. Then we can inforce ALL the MD rules of the road on cyclists and while were are at it, ALL rules should be inforced on peds, to to be fair :)

I do believe I said ALL patrons of our roads!

T.S. All you listed were complants about cyclists, none about drivers or peds. At the same time you only stated giving a traffic tickets to cyclists, not drivers or peds.

The statement I want to see Montgomery county police pay attention to ALL patrons of our roads!!!! can easly be read as meaning you want the police to pay attention to your demands to inforce laws on the cyclists and only the cyclists as no where did you complain about the constant disregard for the laws by drivers and peds or ask for the laws also to be strictly inforce on drivers and peds. You only mentioned strictly inforcing the laws on cyclists.

sorry about messing up the italics :)

Jack: nice letter.

Mr. Titus' statement: "Until 2007 the Virginia code authorized localities to require cyclists to ride on sidepaths" is incorrect. The Virginia General Assembly repealed that provision in 2004. Furthermore, to my knowledge, Virginia has never had a statewide madatory sidepath law.

I used to bike through a 15 mph downtown in NC. I was honked at frequently, though I was often going over the speed limit (but I can't go 25 on my trusty p.o.s. - I going "so slowly" was the point of their honking).

Two points:

Point the first. It's not just that "skilled cyclists" can exceed safe speeds on the multi-use paths. It's that unskilled ones can, too. And they scare the heck out of me.

Point the second. Rock Creek is actually not a National Park. It's a National Capital Park. You may roll your eyes now.

My only complaint about the cyclists is that many of them ignore the stoplights and stopsigns on the northern end of Beach Dr.

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