If you ever pedal outside of Fort Collins, you may have seen a sign out in the county that says “Share the Road. Share the Rules.” The signs were put up by request of the Larimer county sheriff. As he explains it on his Facebook page, the goal of putting those signs up was, “to improve the relationship between cyclist and motorists.” Unfortunately, the signs probably cause more confusion and ill will than anything.

Share the Road

Given that sharing is something we learn as toddlers, we should have a pretty good sense of what the term means. I get a turn to play with the toy. Then you get a turn to play with the toy. Then if we’re well behaved and cooperative, perhaps we can find a way to both use the same toy at the same time in a way where we’re interacting on friendly terms.

But when it comes to sharing the road, everything we learned in preschool and kindergarten flies right out the window. Instead there often seems to be more of a bullying mentality where motorists are allowed the full use of the lane but bicyclists are only allowed the gutter, or the gravel filled shoulder, or the maybe even just the while line along the edge of the travel lane. This is the equivalent of kids “sharing” a toy where the bully gets to use it whenever he wants, but others can use it when he’s busy somewhere else in the room.

And this attitude isn’t just perpetrated by motorists. Bicyclists cling to it as well by hugging the side of the road even when there’s a “Share the Road” sign in full view.

On a skinny road where there is no shoulder, or where the shoulder is full of debris, it is safer for the cyclist to ride in the travel lane in such a way as to encourage motorists to switch lanes to pass. Trying to share the lane side-by-side can lead to crashes, injury, and even death.

On a skinny road where there is no shoulder, or where the shoulder is full of debris, it is safer for the cyclist to ride in the travel lane in such a way as to encourage motorists to switch lanes to pass. Trying to share the lane side-by-side can lead to crashes, injury, and even death.

So what is the true meaning of “Share the Road”? It means that the bicyclists should be in the travel lane, ideally positioned in such a way that motorists won’t feel like they can squeeze by inside the same lane. (In other words, around the center of the lane.) And motorists need to pass bicyclists by changing lanes. (Remember, motorists are always allowed to cross the double yellow line, when there is no oncoming traffic, in order to pass a cyclist.)

The fact that the “Share the road. Share the rules.” sign includes an image of a car and a bicycle traveling side-by-side, on a street where there isn’t room for the car and the bicycle to safely, or even legally, travel side-by-side, is horribly misleading. The only way a car can fit on the same road as a bicycle in these instances is if the person in the car changes lanes to pass the person on the bike. The image should either be altered to reflect that fact or it should be removed altogether.

Remember that a motorist must always leave a 3 foot buffer between the farther rightmost point of the automobile (usually the passenger side mirror) and the farthest leftmost point of the bicycle (usually the left edge of the handlebars). So for a car and a bicycle to legally fit within a lane, there has to be room for the width of the car, a 3 foot buffer, and then room for the bicycle. When there’s less room than that, then to “share the road” means to ride/drive single file and to pass when it’s safe to do so.

Share the Rules

As if the image of a car riding side-by-side with a bicycle in a lane where the two cannot physically or legally fit side-by-side isn’t confusing enough, then there’s the line about sharing the rules. This definitely makes sense if the rule we’re talking about is stopping at a stop light. Both motorists and bicyclists are obliged by law to follow that rule. But the statement makes no sense at all if we’re talking about something like Section 1412(7) of the Traffic Code, which states that a person should, “keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times.” That’s not a rule meant for sharing between bicyclist and motorists. That’s a rule meant for a specific type of road user and only that type of road user. Expecting motorists to share a rule like that is just plain silly.

In fact, there are so many rules that are different for bicyclists than for motorists that there’s a specific section of code that points that fact out:

1412(1) Every person riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under this article, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions which by their nature can have no application. [emphasis mine]

AND

109(7) For the sake of uniformity and bicycle… safety throughout the state, the department of revenue in cooperation with the department of transportation shall prepare and make available to all local jurisdictions for distribution to bicycle… riders a digest of state regulations explaining and illustrating the rules of the road, equipment requirements, and traffic control devices that are applicable to such riders and their bicycles….

Did you catch that? The Traffic Code points out that there are so many lines of code that are specific only to bicycle usage (not rules that are shared in common with motorists) that the department of transportation will make a digest of the rules. So we’re not talking one rule that’s different. Or two rules. Or even a couple of handfuls of different rules. We’re talking about a digest worth of rules that are not shared between motorists and bicyclists.

So to throw a sign up along the side of the road that says we should all be sharing the rules seems to ignore the fact that the Traffic Code itself says that we aren’t all supposed to share the same rules.

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So you’re pedaling along and you see this sign, whatcha gonna do? Well, to follow the Colorado Traffic Code, you’re going to want to ride in the center of the traffic lane in order to make clear that any bicyclists, equestrians, truckers, motorists, or what have you, are going to have to use the road in a single file line until a time comes when the vehicle in the back is able to safely change lanes to pass the vehicle in front.

That’s what the rules say to do. And that’s a rule we can share.

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