Some new state signs allowing cyclists to ride in the middle of traffic lanes instead of to the right of vehicles may be causing some confusion as to the interpretation of Virginia cycling laws and causing a rift between some cyclists and motorists.
The signs, which say “Bikes May Use Full Lane” are placed sporadically throughout Fairfax County, allowing cyclists to ride in the middle of lanes on certain roads as opposed to riding to the right so traffic can pass them.
“Bikes May Use Full Lane signs are relatively new traffic control devices,” said Randy Dittberner, a regional traffic engineer with the Virginia Department of transportation, in an email. “They were first included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) in the version that Virginia adopted in December of last year. The signs are intended to alert cyclists and motorists that, because of the narrow lane width, cyclists may be riding in the center of the lane.”
But Vienna resident Ronald Corso says the signs are an impediment to commuters and potentially violate state law.
“One of these signs is on Beulah Road, where many people drive to avoid terrible traffic on Route 7,” Corso says. “My sister-in-law has had to actually add time to her commute on Beulah because of bikers taking up the full lane and going a fifth of the speed limit and backing up traffic. In addition, the signs appear to be in conflict with [Va. Code § 46.2-905] which states: ‘Bicyclists operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under conditions then existing shall ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of roadway.’”
Corso, who says he is a cyclist himself, added that the signs may also be giving cyclists the impression that they can ride in the center of any road. “These signs do not say that they pertain only to the areas in which they stand,” he said. “I have asked VDOT if that was the case, but I did not get a satisfactory answer to that question.”
Corso has also contacted the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Virginia State Delegate Mark L. Keam, (D-Dist. 35) about the issue.
“We are looking into it,” said Harry Blackwood, who works in Keam’s Vienna office. “I have spoken with VDOT and am in the process of getting some answers.”
Randy Karn, a member of the Reston Bike Club, said there are several issues within Virginia’s bike laws that need clarification—such as when cyclists can legally ride side by side— and these signs may have introduced yet another one. “It sounds like these signs may not be in compliance with the rules of the state,” he said.
But Dittberner of VDOT says the signs are perfectly legal and do not violate Virginia Code.
“As you pointed out, cyclists generally are required to stay as far to the right as practicable, but the Code of Virginia (§ 46.2-905) gives several exceptions to this general rule,” he wrote in an email. “One of these exceptions relates to lane width: Where a lane is too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side-by-side, cyclists are not required to stay to the right…the Code of Virginia spells out the circumstances under which this is permissible, and a sign does not need to be posted for a cyclist to exercise these rights.”
Corso maintains that the signs are poorly designed and confusing.
“The Town of Vienna has signs that simply say ‘Share the Road’ that seem to have some common sense behind them,” he said. “They don’t instruct cyclists to hog the whole road.”
Blackwood, of Del. Keam’s office, said there has to be some common sense and consideration on the part of both motorists and cyclists for roadways to be safely shared.
“I think we need to err on the side of safety, but if every road sign had the full text of the law it was meant to convey, we’d have some pretty big road signs,” he said. “By the same token, I think that by and large most cyclists who notice they are holding up traffic will pull over or stop to let a long line of cars go by. That is a simple common courtesy. ”