What does a “Share the Road” sign mean to you?
The State of Oregon has decided that those signs mean different things to different people so they’ve taken the step of officially phasing them out. Oregon isn’t the first state to do this. Delaware banished Share the Road signs in 2013 after that state’s advocacy group (Bike Delaware) made the case that its ambiguity “invites conflicting interpretations.”
In Oregon the effort to re-consider Share the Road signs came from within. Nastassja Pace with Travel Oregon and Oregon Parks’ Bicycle Recreation Specialist Alexandra Phillips were the ones who first brought the issue up to the transportation department. At a January 15th meeting of the Oregon Traffic Control Devices Committee, Phillips and ODOT’s Active Modes Engineer Gary Obery made an official proposal about the issue. According to minutes from that meeting, they said people who ride bikes felt the signs were confusing and other road users were misinterpreting the signs as “telling bikes to share the road.” (There’s also recent research that indicates the signs don’t work.)
The ODOT committee agreed that the current sign is confusing and decided to phase it out in favor of a sign that will show a bicycle symbol and have the words “On Roadway” beneath it.
Oregon’s new policy isn’t an outright ban on using Share the Road signs; but new state signage guidelines clearly state that “On Roadway” is the preferred option. Here’s the statement from ODOT Engineer Gary Obery:
“ODOT intends to use the ‘ON ROADWAY’ plaque instead of the ‘SHARE THE ROAD’ on new installations or replacement of installations that have reached the end of their useful life. The ‘SHARE THE ROAD’ plaque is still in the MUTCD [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a federal guide] and is still available for ODOT or any other jurisdiction to use as may be appropriate, but the ‘ON ROADWAY’ plaque is now identified as the generally preferred option.”
The state’s official guidelines now say the “On Roadway” sign is preferred and is, “meant to remind motorists that bicycles may be present in the roadway.”
The signs are currently used across the state, mostly on rural roads where cycling is popular. Phillips manages Oregon’s Scenic Bikeway program. She said the issue first came up when her department was asked to install Share the Road signs on Scenic Bikeways. “I wanted to make sure we were using the best sign available,” she said. Phillips had also heard from colleagues in Bend who also said the signs were being misinterpreted by road users.
Reached today by phone, Bike Delaware Executive Director James Wilson said he’s pleased Oregon has followed his state’s lead. “Our state’s motto is ‘the first state’ but we didn’t want to be first and we certainly didn’t want to be the only state to do this.” Wilson says the trend to re-think the “Share the Road” mantra might present a challenge to bike advocates. “To the extent the bicyle movement has a national unifying slogan you could argue it’s ‘share the road'” he said. The dozens of states that have the phrase emblazoned on special license plates are a testament to this fact.
Oregon is one of those states. No word whether the slogan will be phased out of license plates next. “I imagine it’d be kind of awkward to remove it from the signs but still have it your plates,” Wilson said.
UPDATE, 2/26: Worth noting that the We Bike Eugene blog reported some of this story on February 4th. (Sorry Richard! I didn’t realize you wrote that post.)
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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