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Editorial: Signs of traffic culture on paths vs. roads

Posted by on August 31st, 2011 at 11:13 am

Sign on I-205 path-1
A common sign on multi-use
paths. Why don’t we use these
on other transportation facilities
that are narrow and have users
that need to use caution around
one another?
(Photos © J. Maus)

The other day I was riding out to Southeast Portland along the I-205 multi-use path and I came across a sign I’d seen many times before.

“Bicyclists” it read, in large, all-caps font across the top, “This is a multi-use path. Reduce speed. Watch for pedestrians.” (The exact same sign is also on the Eastbank Esplanade just south of the Hawthorne Bridge overpass.)

I’ve shared thoughts about sharing paths with people on foot several times on this site in the past; but recent discussions about the safety and lack of space for bicycles and cars on rural roads put this sign into a new light.

Sign on the Eastbank Esplanade
near the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland.
(File photos © J. Maus)

It occurred to me how differently cities and counties sign multi-use paths compared to rural roads. Aren’t rural roads — like NW West Union where a man was hit and killed while bicycling earlier this month — essentially multi-use roads? In some ways, they’re similar to multi-use paths, just with different types of vehicles operating on them.

Share the Road - North Plains
Sign on NW West Union Road.

Similar to the I-205 path, a road like West Union, has narrow spaces where people need to move themselves around each other carefully while operating travel modes with high differentials of speed and levels of relative vulnerability. If users of the road or path make even a small error, a collision could result. If they don’t operate with courtesy for others, nerves can be frayed and road rage is likely.

Yet, out on those high-speed, narrow rural roads, if there’s any signage at all about the presence of anything besides other motor vehicles it tends to be the classic “Share The Road” sign. “Share the Road” (often accompanied by the bicycle symbol) feels like a kind and gentle way to remind people in multi-ton steel vehicles of their responsibility to operate safely around bicycles. In fact, you could interpret the sign as being directed at people on bikes to make sure they ride single file and as far to the right “as practicable” (to quote Oregon law).

On roads like West Union, “sharing” the road shouldn’t be seen as a special courtesy, it should be seen as a moral, social and legal imperative that is required and expected of all users.

That being the case, why not use the same, more direct and forceful (in my opinion) signs from multi-use paths on rural roads? To illustrate my point, see my doctored version of the sign below (please excuse my Photoshop skills)…

Of course, as many of you know, I would prefer to not use the labels “Motorists” and “Bicyclists” but I keep them in the mock-up sign just to make a clearer comparison to the existing signage. If it were up to me, the sign might read, “Road Users: This is a multi-use road. Reduce speed and watch for slower moving users.”

The words used on signs, press releases, or other communications, says a lot about how cities and other jurisdictions think about traffic — which in turn influences how they plan for traffic and ultimately how the public thinks about traffic.

As someone who is a part of traffic, what do you think?

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Comments
  • Scott Mizée August 31, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Interesting proposal, Jonathan.

    My two cents: I think the burden should be placed on the bicyclist also. Just as defensive driving was one of the first lessons in Driver’s Ed, so to should defensive riding be the first lesson for those riding bicycles on “multi-use roads.” I don’t think it is appropriate for people on bikes to reduce their speed unless the conditions warrant such. –and people walking or on bicycles at the side of the road are definitely warranted conditions.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 31, 2011 at 11:22 am

      I hear you.

      I think language from road jurisdictions should be completely user-neutral whenever/wherever possible (see my suggested signage text in the story). We can argue about who should shoulder what amount of burden all day… But in the end, we are all traffic/road users and anything that divides and/or gives more perceived power/authority/right-of-way to one over the other is not generally a good idea IMO (obviously, like everything, there are exceptions).

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    • Scott Mizée August 31, 2011 at 11:48 am

      correction: “I don’t think it is appropriate for people in cars on bikes to reduce their speed unless the conditions warrant such.”

      but, my typo brings up the point that anyone no matter what mode of transportation, should slow down when conditions warrant. Signs and traffic calming methods only reinforce and in sometimes force people to do what they should already be doing.

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  • Champs August 31, 2011 at 11:29 am

    I rather like the signs in Boulder. It’s not about your mode, whether it’s car, bicycle, foot, skates, or those HORRIBLE rollerskis. Everyone has a responsibility to keep things moving smoothly (and I’m looking at you, long-leash-meandering-dog walkers). Courtesy IS contagious.

    http://imgur.com/XG6NW

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    • Scott Mizée August 31, 2011 at 11:43 am

      Courtesy is Contagious I like it!

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  • Greg August 31, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I do occasionally see signs that say “Bicycles on roadway” in places where motorists need reminded to exercise caution.

    One interesting difference between roads and MUPs is that on a road, bicycles share with cars but are still responsible to follow rules and common safety sense. On MUPs it seems that we don’t have the same expectations for pedestrians. They can wander aimlessly, walk down the middle or three abreast across the whole thing, cross suddenly without looking, and so forth.

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    • Chris I August 31, 2011 at 11:56 am

      Perhaps a seconds sign, reading:

      PEDESTRIANS
      This is a multi-use path.
      Stay to the right, do not occupy more than half of the trail width, and look both ways before you cross.

      Something to that effect.

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      • kerry August 31, 2011 at 12:07 pm

        “Linear travel highly recommended!”

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        • esther c August 31, 2011 at 12:28 pm

          and how about “no mouth breathing.”

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        • q`Tzal August 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm

          If peds can’t blunder about like drunken butterflies on a MUP where can they?

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      • q`Tzal August 31, 2011 at 12:28 pm

        “Pay attention and share with other users. This is a public MULTI Use Path for ALL non-motorized users.”

        “Headphones with loud music only seem to make the world go away, don’t run blindly in to it.”

        “If MUP is otherwise empty cycists may be going fast; jumping in front of them does not make you right.”

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      • PorterStout August 31, 2011 at 12:41 pm

        A useful addition would be one of those stick figure diagrams like they have at some RR crossings, showing the front wheel caught in the tracks and the rider going over the handlebars. In this case they could substitute a flattened pedestrian for the tracks.

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  • Dan Kaufman August 31, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I’d love to see signage like that.

    Very often those rural and even urban right-of-ways were paths that were used by foot travelers and people on horseback (eg. Milwuakie Blvd).

    Side note: Had mountain bikes existed they could have used those paths.

    Our right-of-ways been taken over by motorized vehicles to exclusion/danger of all other users. Car drivers should A) fund a redesign of the roads to safely accommodate all users OR B) forced to slow down to 20mph maximum on “multi-use” roads.

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  • BURR August 31, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Personally, I like the “Bicyclists Allowed Use of Full Lane Change Lanes to Pass” signs now in use in San Francisco and LA.

    http://z.about.com/d/bicycling/1/0/T/C/-/-/bauflfinal.jpg

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    • Spiffy August 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm

      I like that it’s actually educational…

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    • Scott August 31, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      Signs like that would be awesome on SW Barbur Blvd. where the bike lane just ends.

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    • esther c August 31, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      they need those on cornell and skyline, Germantown too.

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      • Duncan August 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm

        It is my understanding that cyclists can take the lane if:
        They are travelling at the same speed as traffic
        To turn (eg left turns)
        When there are two lanes (such as on Barbur- though I dont know as i would take the lane there)

        On Germantown or Skyline (or Cornelius Pass for that matter) a cyclist could take the lane going downhill (I have done that when going 35-40 downhill) but taking the lane while going 7MPH UPHILL would be considered illegal, in such case my understanding is that my responsibility is to stay to the right and allow faster vehicles to pass…

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        • Kristen September 1, 2011 at 10:07 am

          Cyclists can take the lane if there is not enough room in the lane for a motorist to pass safely in the lane while giving that nice 3-foot buffer in passing.

          As in, roads where there are no bike lanes or shoulders.

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          • Kristen September 1, 2011 at 10:08 am

            Forgot to add: REGARDLESS of the cyclist’s speed.

            As in, the person on bike does not need to be going the speed limit to be able to take the lane.

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    • q`Tzal August 31, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      ODOT needs to explain that this applies here too in some circumstances, especially sharrows.

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  • anonymouse August 31, 2011 at 11:49 am

    The signs should reflect the fact that all users should be aware of other users and their modes of transportation. Like you said, pedestrians seem to have the expectation of exclusive use of the path and are surprised that users with faster modes of transportation are there as well. Courtesy should prevail and slower users should give way as well as the reverse where faster users should exercise caution and not go too fast.

    To bad there aren’t tickets for walking too slow or blocking the path or other discourteous actions. Without some kind of penalty for not being curteous, people won’t have any incentive.

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    • Paul Johnson September 1, 2011 at 10:21 pm

      Why should we waste money on signs that state the obvious in the first place? People who don’t get this should be cited if they’re on a bike, or revoked if they’re a motorist.

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  • Spiffy August 31, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I think both signs need to go away and not be replaced with anything… it makes people only aware around those areas and then they go back to oblivion when they’re past…

    people need to get used to other users in all areas, not just when there is a sign around…

    there are already too many obvious signs cluttering the landscape in order to remind idiots for certain situations… let’s stop catering to the idiots and require people to actually observe their surroundings and learn a few things that they should already know without needing a sign…

    “Here’s Your Sign” –Bill Engvall

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  • Chris August 31, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I have a sign idea for the springwater:
    “Horse riders: this is a multi-use path, please clean up your s#*t.”

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    • Chris I August 31, 2011 at 1:53 pm

      Didn’t you get the memo? Horses are allowed to crap wherever, whenever. Dogs and humans? Completely unacceptable.

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  • Roger Averbeck August 31, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    People: This is a multi use path. Reduce speed and watch for other people!

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  • Mindful Cyclist August 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I am personally fine with “Share the Road” and “Bikes On Roadway” signs. Simple and to the point. We make signs like the one on MUP’s on roads where the Speed limit is 40+ mph, we are making driver take their eyes off the road and just providing another distraction.

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    • Peter Buck August 31, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      “Bikes on Roadway” reminds me too much of “Deer Crossing” signs, like we’re a hazard to avoid having to clean off the hood. It’s too passive and doesn’t encourage cooperation, patience, and consideration in shared traffic situations.

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      • Mindful Cyclist September 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

        “Share the Road” is much better, but no sign will ever make someone “cooperate.” When I worked in retail, we expected a 5% loss from shoplifting and we still had signs up telling people not to do it.

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  • Doug Smart August 31, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    It’s sad that we seem to need signs to remind people of the basics. For example, I passed through a construction zone recently and noted a sign reading, “BE PREPARED TO STOP”. The presence of the sign seems to imply that there are times when being ready to stop is not important.

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    • Spiffy August 31, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      exactly… I don’t know about the rest of the population but I’m ALWAYS prepared to stop…

      it’s like the signs that say “illegal to pass when solid line in your lane”… well yeah, duh, you needed to know that to get your license…

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    • Rol August 31, 2011 at 1:34 pm

      I think they use those signs on construction sites because either there’s a stop sign you can’t see until you’re right on top of it, or construction vehicles are likely to enter the road frequently, or they just want you to be extra careful/alert. But yeah actually we should be prepared to stop at all times.

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    • Duncan August 31, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      I worked a site years ago where a fatality accident was cause when the first car (I toyota sedan) stopped for the flagger, and the second car (Ford truck hauling a boat) didn’t.. and that was on a highway with LOTS of signage and flashing yellow lights. There is a reason for all those signs…cause without them it would happen more often.

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      • Doug Smart August 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm

        @Duncan,
        I wholeheartedly agree. And I stand by my original statement that it’s sad that we seem to need signs to remind people of the basics.

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  • matt picio August 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Some great wording ideas – but one reason why we don’t have signs like this is because the sign is too long to read in a glance – and at motorized speeds a glance is all the operator gets.

    Which brings up one of my pet peeves – since road sign language is standardized by the MUTCD, why is it that if road conditions warrant a particular sign, that the speed limit of the road isn’t adjusted DOWNWARD to the highest speed appropriate to READ the entire sign?

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  • PorterStout August 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Unfortunately, “duh” seems to describe too many users minds these days. A few nights ago I was crossing the Broadway Bridge, headlight on, and this pedestrian was coming against the flow, texting! I had to come to almost a complete stop in front of him before he looked up and stepped out of the way. Should we really have to put up a sign for this? Duh.

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    • Chris August 31, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      Yes, don’t give people too much credit to do the intelligent thing. Remember this is the society that needs “caution: do not use hair dryer in shower” lables.

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    • Rol August 31, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      How about something like this: http://tinyurl.com/3pcmjao

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  • Steve B August 31, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Add “and Pedestrians” to that sign and I think we’ve got a winner!

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  • Paul Souders August 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Every road that’s not a limited-access freeway is a multi-use road. “Share the road”-type signs, sharrows, etc., make what should be the norm seem like the exception. What’s next, a sign above stoplights that reads “stop on red?”

    My 2¢: we don’t need more signs, we need more driver’s tests.

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  • A.K. August 31, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Paul Souders
    My 2¢: we don’t need more signs, we need more driver’s tests.

    Yes, indeed! I was reminded about this by a friend who doesn’t bike (drives and takes the max) but expressed interest in renting a bike to sight-see while on vacation. I told her to remember to use her hand signals and don’t suddenly stop in the middle of the path, and she told me she didn’t know the hand signals.

    Don’t they teach those in the driver’s manual? Seems like you should have to memorize at least three hand signals while operating a 3,000 lb vehicle.

    It actually bothers me to know she drives around cyclists every day but doesn’t know what they mean when they stick an arm out in a given direction??

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    • Kristen September 1, 2011 at 10:14 am

      They do teach them in the Oregon Driver’s Manual.

      And when was the last time anyone (besides me and probably some people here) actually read the Oregon Driver’s Manual? I got my license over 20 years ago, if I was a typical person that would have been the last time I would have read the Oregon Driver’s Manual.

      I encourage everyone to check it once a year. It’s even online at http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/forms/manuals.shtml

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  • Duncan August 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    There is a reasonning behind a lot of the traffic control signs we see- “do not pass when solid yellow on your side” generally means that there have been a number accidents caused by drivers ignoring this law. Also the yellow turn signs with flashing lights generally mean that a fatality or multiple injury accidents have happened when drivers failed to negotiate a corner.

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  • are August 31, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    i don’t think eleven or twelve words in a small font is enough for a high speed roadway. they should put up the full text of the statute.

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  • Peter Buck August 31, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Speaking of signs and shared roadway use, Multnomah County has an especially aggravating way of sharing bike lanes. They use bike lanes to post signs to warn motorists of road hazards created by road crews. I encounter this weekly on Glisan out in Gresham. When I pointed out that this practice was hazardous to cyclists and could they stop, I was told this was official policy to use bike lanes in this manner.

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  • fw August 31, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Lately, I’ve been really disappointing in many cyclists using multi-use paths. Specifically, the East Bank Esplanade and the Broadway Bridge sidewalk. People are riding way too fast, swerving dangerously around pedestrians without cautioning them, or worse- swerving between a pedestrian and myself as I’m trying to pass safely.

    I know you people need to get to work on time, but sheesh! Slow the ‘f’ down or take an alternate route!

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  • dwainedibbly August 31, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    “Bikes on Roadway” makes me think that the peleton has just crashed.

    Lots of good ideas on this thread. Hopefully someone is listening.

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  • Paul Johnson August 31, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Probably because…

    1) The sign is nonstandard and not sight-readable, making it more of a distraction than a help.

    2) The answer isn’t more broken signage, but complete streets. And I’m not talking about just highways, the MUP concept is fundamentally flawed compared to a cycleway with pedestrian facilities, something Tulsa learned a LONG time ago but Portland still hasn’t.

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  • bikefish August 31, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Thanks for paying attention to language. There are many many ways that the language we use reinforces the idea that cars are the only “real” transportation. Your mock-up sign wakes us up to the pro-car assumptions behind an ordinary sign most of us would not think twice about. Good work!

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  • Jim Labbe September 1, 2011 at 11:43 am

    If I could take the soap box for a moment, I’d say the universal principle should be “yield to the more vulnerable user.” Cars to bikes and pedestrians, bikes to joggers to walkers, etc. Whatever we provide for cars and bikes, a humane society will maintain safe, delightful, and sometimes exclusive passage (e.g. exclusive infrastructure) for the most vulnerable and low-tech user: the pedestrian.

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  • Duncan September 1, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Kristen
    Forgot to add: REGARDLESS of the cyclist’s speed.
    As in, the person on bike does not need to be going the speed limit to be able to take the lane.

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    Yes but the driver can legaly cross the yellow line to pass the cyclist safely, something they are more likely to do if they dont have to go to the far shoulder.

    Also how about some mention of people biking two abreast chatting away while biking uphill? Seen that plenty of times. Maybe we need a sign telling people “don’t be a jerk” too?

    If the bicyclist simply stays to the right, the car driver swings over the yellow line to the left, eevryone is happy.

    I dont like having some car tailgate me anyway, and as long as they are under 35MPH they simply need to give you ample space not three feet. Portland is a city sometimes you dont get all the space you want. I would rather have a motorist pass closer sooner than have them get their panties in a knot and zoom by angrily later.

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  • GuillG-Iowa City IA September 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

    “bicyclists are not always on road signs”. Inspired from same signs about wildlife in Canada.
    Now, signs won’t do much for motorists who deny seeing bicyclists and slowing down for them. Having said this, same goes for bicyclists who ignore the presence of pedestrians, like on every sidewalk in town here. (They are a plague as well). Note, I walk, run, ride a bike and drive a car as well, and there definitely is a bunch of irresponsible road users in all these categories…

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