“Share The Road” has no business on a road/traffic sign… STR actually STINKS as a marketing & legal concept… in fact, it’s not “legal” at all…




Usually diamond-shaped and yellow, these “warning signs” caution drivers that the road is slippery when wet; there is an intersection ahead, the lanes narrow, or there may be bicyclists, farm animals, or wildlife on or near the roadway. Somehow cyclists are supposed to be comforted by the notion that Big Brother is “protecting” us by putting out a “warning” that we are nearby – as though we are a hazard to motorists, like deer leaping from the woods or kids darting out after a ball.

They might as well put up “Bikes Might Be In Your Way” signs…



The whole point of the “SHARE THE ROAD” signage seems  to be to tell motorists that they ought to “share THEIR lane” with cyclists.

This entire line of thought has always baffled me, frankly, because it implies, to me, that the government believes that motorists OWN the lane and must be told, or really just asked, to “share” a bit of it with cyclists.  I’m surprised it doesn’t say “Share the Road… PLEASE?”

I wrote this piece in 2010 – and nothing has changed in the interim to cause me to update, change or modify my view that “Share The Road” STINKS” –  both as a legal concept and as State-Approved verbiage on a big yellow traffic WARNING sign.

From the MUTCD comes this language about Warning Signs:

“Warning signs call attention to unexpected conditions on or adjacent to a highway or street and to situations that might not be readily apparent to road users. Warning signs alert road users to conditions that might call for a reduction of speed or an action in the interest of safety and efficient traffic operations.

Is a bicycle on the road an “unexpected condition?”  Is a bicycle on the road something that is  “not readily apparent” to road users? Does the STR sign call for a possible “reduction of speed” or an action by a motorist “in the interest of safety?” Who is being asked to “Share?”  And, more importantly, what is it, exactly, that is to be shared?

“Share the Road,” to me, is absolutely obsolete, antiquated verbiage that arose during some era when bicycles were viewed as toys and bicycle operators were not treated, or taken seriously, as lawful vehicle operators driving around with a “right of way” superior to those coming up from behind in cars, trucks and busses. This language comes from an era which didn’t want to recognize that the cyclist, the vehicle operator, was entitled to exactly the same respect and rights as every other vehicle operator.  “Share The Road” has NO place in today’s transportation lexicon and certainly no place in today’s LEGAL analysis of right of way.

“Sharing” is not a concept mandated by or contained in the traffic laws.

“Sharing” is a nice, altruistic concept that relies upon the goodwill of the Share-or to give up a little bit of that which she/he owns to the Share-ee.

No law says that the motorist owns the road and the cyclist may borrow it sometimes, IF the motorist feels like sharing. Yet, motorists frequently act like my two year old son did almost 20 years ago when he was asked to “share” – instead of displaying his altruistic  tendencies, he tightened his grip on the “toy-to-be-shared,” got in the face of the proposed “Share-ee” and loudly proclaimed, MINE!”


Indeed, if the law said you should “share” the space on the road, a motorist might legitimately claim ownership of the road and say, “MINE!”

But this is not the law.

Rather, the LAW is that a PERSON wishing to use the public roads has the right to CHOOSE the vehicle on, or in, which to travel. In Ohio, and every state, a bicycle and a car and a truck and a bus and an Amish buggy and a large piece of farm equipment are equally valid, legitimate and lawful choices as vehicles.

This is the Critical Point here —>When it comes to the right to be on the roadway, and the right to move ahead in a straight line, a person who chooses to ride a bicycle on the roadway has exactly and precisely the same bundle of rights – the “right of way” – as one who chooses to operate a car.

Where does this “right” to be on the roads come from, anyway?


Remember this –> The rights associated with operating a vehicle belong to the person, not the vehicle.

The RIGHT is the RIGHT TO TRAVEL on the PUBLIC ways.

You do NOT get Bigger Rights if  you choose a bigger vehicle…



In 1215, in merry old England, the Magna Carta enshrined the “right to travel” stating:

“It shall be lawful to any person, for the future, to go out of our kingdom, and to return, safely and securely, by land or by water, saving his allegiance to us, unless it be in time of war, for some short space, for the common good of the kingdom: excepting prisoners and outlaws, according to the laws of the land, and of the people of the nation at war against us, and Merchants who shall be treated as it is said above.”

The “right to travel” has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. vs. Guest which held citizens maintain “…The constitutional right to travel freely from State to State and to use highways and other instrumentalities for the purpose…”

In Packard v. Banton, the Supreme Court said, “The streets belong to the public and are primarily for the use of the public in the ordinary way.”

In Kent v. Dulles, the Court said, “…The Right to travel is part of the Liberty of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law ...”

In Ohio, “…the right to intrastate travel is a fundamental right held by each citizen and cannot be deprived without the due process of lawState v. Burnett (2001), 93 Ohio St.3d 419, 428, 2001 Ohio 1581, 755 N.E.2d 857…”

The Virginia court said, in Thompson v. Smith: “The right of the Citizen to travel upon the public highways …. includes the right, in so doing, to use the ordinary and usual conveyances of the day, and under the existing modes of travel….”

In this older case the tension on the roads was between cars and the horse/buggy configuration but the court’s use of the phrase  “ordinary and usual conveyances of the day” is certainly broad and bicycles, having been around longer than cars, certainly fit the bill!

With regard to your right to travel and move about the country, a Mississippi court held in Teche Lines Inc. v. Danforth, held as follows:

“…The right of a citizen to travel on public highway is a common right which he has under his right to enjoy “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” and the right to “travel,” which means the right to go from one place to another, includes the right to start, to go forward on the way, and to stop when the traveler’s destination has been reached, and also the right to stop on the way, temporarily, for a legitimate or necessary purpose when that purpose is an immediate incident to travel…”

Of course, good quotes cannot just be strung together to make a real legal argument in a real court case, and none of these cases are “bike cases.”  No court has held that there is “constitutional” right to operate a bicycle on the roads.

However, it seems very clear to me that virtually every court in the country would be forced to agree that  you have a fundamental right to use the public ways, the roads, to move about the country.  So long as your vehicle choice is one permitted by state law and you obey the traffic laws, you have the right to use most public roadways for bicycle travel. In Ohio, and in every state, citizens have the right to choose to use a bicycle and operate that bicycle on  just about every public street in the country.


So the PERSON, the “citizen,” not the vehicle, possesses this “right to travel.”  But, once you’ve walked into your garage, looked at your car, your truck, your motorcycle and your bike and  chosen to head out on the public way on your BIKE, what “rights” do you have while operating your bicycle? What duties and responsibilities do you have?

Most states say you have the SAME bundle of rights as the operator of other vehicles, and the same responsibilities. In fact, a common mantra among bicycle advocates is Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules!

As noted above, you don’t get bigger rights because you choose a bigger vehicle and  you don’t get shafted by being granted lesser rights for choosing a smaller, lighter-weight, economical, “green” bicycle! Humvee drivers have the same bundle of rights as pickup truck drivers and Beetle drivers and motorcycle drivers and semi-drivers and bus drivers and Amish buggy drivers …and bicycle drivers…

In general, the person driving “lawfully” at the front of the pack of “traffic” typically has the “right of way.” The rights of the operators of the vehicles operated behind, or passing, the leader are subservient to the one with the right of way.  

This “right of way” is a very powerful collection of rights which should not be given up, or “shared,” willy nilly by the cyclist.

In Ohio, for example, the “right of way” is defined in O.R.C. 4511.01:

(UU) “Right-of-way” means * * * :

(1) The right of a vehicle, streetcar, trackless trolley, or pedestrian to proceed uninterruptedly in a lawful manner in the direction in which it or the individual is moving in preference to another vehicle, streetcar, trackless trolley, or pedestrian approaching from a different direction into its or the individual’s path;

Note – the word “share” is not found in the right of way law.  

There is no crying in baseball, and there is no “sharing” in the right of way law.  So, really, this concept of “sharing the road” has absolutely no business being in the transportation lexicon.  Advising a motorist who is coming up on a bicyclist from behind to “Share The Road” with the cyclist riding in the lane ahead is fundamentally and legally WRONG.  You either HAVE the right of way or you don’t.

That cyclist riding ahead of the motorist possesses the “right of way” – the right to move forwards uninterruptedly –  and does not have to share… in fact the cyclist shouldn’t “share.”  Once the cyclist gets into a “sharing” mentality, the cyclist has lost the battle.  You HAVE a “right” – the right of way – which is actually a very powerful collection of rights. However, you have to ASSERT that right – use it or lose it.  The fact that you have a right means nothing if you don’t USE it.


One instance when “sharing” may seem to come into play is in the Dance of the Passing Maneuver. However, even during this dance there is always someone with the right of way and someone whose “right of way” is subservient. The “Passer” is behind the “Passee” and wants to pass. The Passer initiates the dance – signals the intent to pass – moves left and begins to pass.

At some point during the Dance of the Passing Maneuver, the  the Right of Way baton passes from the Passee to the Passer. The Passee then has the duty to allow the Pass to be consummated.  Passing laws generally prohibit “drag racing” and mandate the vehicle ahead has to “give way” to the passing vehicle at some point. This is not “sharing” at all. The Passer has legal duties she/he has to meet in order to be allowed to make a legal pass.

How close to the bicycle can the passing vehicle be?  Under prior Ohio law the passing maneuver had to be completed at a “safe distance.” This was problematic language for cyclists. We found that, to law enforcement, this often meant  “No Blood No Foul.”  Even when there IS “blood” there was often still “No Foul.”

In 2017, after many years of efforts by the Ohio Bicycle Federation the Ohio legislature adopted a Three Foot law. So now motorists are supposed to allow a three foot safety cushion around cyclists when passing… we’ll see how that works out.

Here’s an actual sketch of a nasty crash from a case I handled. A landscaping contractor in an SUV was pulling a large, homemade trailer on a narrow 2 lane road.  As he passed the cyclist, he clipped the cyclist with the trailer, causing a crash leading to catastrophic injuries.

Police officers were actually sitting on the side of the road ahead the SUV and bicycle – they were facing the oncoming car and bicycle as the officers had pulled over another driver. The result? NO “unlawful passing” ticket was issued despite the motorist striking the cyclists with the trailer – a ridiculously close pass which led to some horrible injuries for our client.

During his deposition the motorist actually denied hitting the rider. However, we found a deep gouge on the rim of the bicycle which lined up nicely with part of the tail light attached to, and sticking out from the back of, the homemade landscaping trailer pulled by the motorist… we had to file suit due to the insurer’s initial denial of the claim, but came away with an outstanding settlement in the end…

Close Pass - No Blood No Foul

Remember, the cyclist ahead of the motorist has the right of way –  the right to proceed forward in an uninterrupted manner –  a right of way that is SUPERIOR to the right of the passing vehicle.  The operator with the right of way, as the preferred vehicle, has rights that are GREATER than other vehicle operators.


Traffic laws need to be unambiguous. Traffic signs also need to clearly state their message in unambiguous terms. “YIELD” -“RIGHT LANE ENDS” –

The big problem with “Share The Road” signs is that nobody knows what they mean. Well, that and the fact that there is no “Share the Road” law…

A “Share The Road” sign may give the motorist behind the cyclist the wrong message – the motorist may think that she/he can choose to share… or not… That would be…ummm… wrong.

The implication of STR signs is that the bigger car has bigger rights that supercedes the right of the cyclist and that the operator of the bigger vehicle can CHOOSE to share… or not.

STR signs may also give the motorist the wrong impression that the LANE can be “Shared” with the bicycle – i.e., that they can co-exist side by side in the same lane. STR signs discourage motorists from leaving the lane to pass and tend to allow the motorist to think it is OK to try to “thread the needle” and pass the cyclist as close as possible without going over the lane line to the left.

In 2006 the Ohio hBicycle Federation won an important victory in Ohio when the legislature adopted [unanimously] the “Better Bicycling Bill.” This bill included an amendment to Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.55, Ohio’s “AFRAP” law. 4511.55(A) contains the ubiquitously ambiguous requirement that cyclists ride “as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable.” [I’ll save my “AFRAP is unconstitutionally void for vagueness” argument for another post.] The key revision to 4511.55 was to add the C-Section, which creates an exception to AFRAP under certain circumstances. One fo those circumstance is huge. There is no need to ride AFRAP if the lane is “too narrow” to be shared safely, side by side, with a motor vehicle.

This exception virtually overcomes the rule. Virtually EVERY LANE IN OHIO IS TOO NARROW to be shared side-by-side with a car, truck or bus.  Keri Cafferty created this cool graphic to show that even a 14 foot lane is too narrow to be shared. She conservatively gives the cyclists a 30-40″ berth on the far right side of the lane but even with that it’s clear that trucks, trailers, busses and such impede into the 3′ safety buffer required by law.  STR signs might send a message to a motorist that it’s OK to dangerously try to share a narrow lane side-by-side with a cyclist.

Worse, STR signs may cause the motorist to believe that the sign is aimed at the cyclist – telling the cyclist to “share the road” with bigger, faster vehicles – telling the cyclist to GET OUT OF THE WAY.  The motorist may be encouraged by the sign to view the cyclist as one who has actually SNATCHED HIS RIGHT TO DRIVE HIS CAR down the road… which ticks off the motorist, who may not WANT to “share” his roadway with any namby-pamby  bike riding maniac…

The Right of Way is valuable – it’s important – and it’s something cyclists should not be asked by the state to SHARE.

Maybe we need a new sign …

Diamond Bikes in Way CHILL OUT

Printed from: https://ohiobikelawyer.com/uncategorized/2010/09/share-the-road-stinks/ .
© 2024.


  • Steve, this is a brilliant piece. I read just about everything there is to read about cycling rights and safety, but I’ve never seen anyone challenge the ubiquitous and universally accepted “share the road” notion. Yet your point is exceptionally well taken. So simple, yet I’ve not heard it before. Nobody else is concerned with “sharing the road” with others; so why should “sharing the road” be a concern for, or about, cyclists?

    The closing line says it all.

    You need to write a book. I suggest opening with Selz.

    Thank you.

  • Eli Damon says:

    HI Steve. Great article.

    I did not realize that there was federal case law on the right to travel. I read another article on the right to travel that claimed there was none, except for the right to travel between states, which was only discussed in the context of a permanent move to another state. I will have to read those decisions you referred to.

    The “share the road” message made sense to me in the beginning. But, in addition to your point about sharing inappropriate, the message has turned out to be confusing to many people. I think that it is often interpreted as commanding cyclists to “share the road” by getting off of it to the greatest extent possible.

  • Eli Damon says:

    You can also add the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision in Commonwealth v. Weston. “We do, however, reach the following conclusion: the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights guarantees a fundamental right to move freely within the Commonwealth.”

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks for the kind words. As I review and re-write, the key word in both the OH and TX laws is “preference.” When one vehicle is moving “in preference” to another it means that vehicle has rights that are superior to the other and that the other vehicle’s operator must give way to the superior rights of the vehicle in preference. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with the size or speed of the vehicles. All that matters is their relative positions in the lane and direction of travel…

  • leo Stone says:

    Steve, that is brillant.
    May I borrow that and send it on ?
    gears to you…leo

  • Steve Magas says:

    This is still evolving as a piece of work, but Absolutely! keep me in the loop.

  • Ian Cooper says:

    Hi Steve. Great article. It clarified a nagging annoyance I had about ‘share the road’ but couldn’t quite put my finger on.

    One criticism. Although your piece lays out clearly that vehicles on intersecting paths (“approaching from a DIFFERENT direction into its or the individual’s path”) do not have the right of way, where is the clarification over vehicles travelling along the SAME path behind the person?


  • Wayne Pein says:

    Great take on the issue.

    One little nitpick. You said, “Indeed, if the law said you ought to “share” the space, a motorist might legitimately claim ownership of the road and say, “MINE!”

    I’d use the word “illegitimately.”

    I don’t have TOO much of a problem with the stand alone W11-1 bicycle icon warning sign when sparingly used (it’s methadone for sign addicts), but as soon as the W16-1 SHARE THE ROAD supplemental plaque is added it changes the whole dynamic. As you said, some motorists interpret the two signs together as, BICYCLISTS, SHARE THE ROAD! by using as little as possible.

    For my paper on the “Share the Road” signs, please see:


  • Oops, Steve, apparently there was a spell-checker error. I meant “confusing contexts.”

    Let me rewrite the entire post to get the page title exact, too:

    Thanks for the post. I have more examples of share-the-road signs: In Massachusetts, they appear in a wide variety of styles, and also in quite a range of confusing contexts. Please see my page, Nonstandardization of Share-the-Road Signs and markings.in Massachusetts.

  • Steve Magas says:

    The rule is that once you have the “right of way” you have the right to proceed uninterrupted. In any scenario ONE vehicle has the “right of way” to proceed over the rest of the vehicles in the equation. People BEHIND you are subject to your right of way – they cannot hit you, crowd you, or otherwise interrupt your right to proceed. YOU must be proceeding “lawfully” to have the right of way. In the bike setting, this can get a little goofy as the whole “AFRAP” thing comes into play. Are you “as far right as practicable” under your state’s law??

    The right of way becomes flexible in the passing mode. All state laws have provisions on how to pass. At some point in that passing maneuver, the “lawfully proceeding” passing vehicle takes over the right of way from the vehicle being passed. Under most state definitions the passing vehicle seeking to take the right of way from the vehicle ahead must be proceeding “lawfully” [i.e., not speeding, passing on the wrong side, passing over a double yellow, passing too closely, etc]. At some point during the pass, the vehicle being passed may need to “give way” to the passing vehicle & the “right of way” torch is handed off.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks for the note! While the case law isn’t bike specific, the broad general rules governing “travel” in general certainly make sense at a very gut check level. We have the right to move about the country. While some limitations, in the name of public safety, are needed [i.e., the state can make sure that cars are safe, that people operating these 2 ton bowling balls know what they are doing, etc] this right to travel cannot be impinged unreasonably. This right has come up in many civil rights settings in federal court, although no “bike” settings that I have seen.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Interesting quote from none other than Winston Churchill about the “road tax” in which he states that it is a short step from a “road tax” to motorists claiming “…moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created…”

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks for the props! Glad to see someone reads this stuff! ;^)

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m more of weed whacker with words than an organized mower – a book is a ways away. For now, I HIGHLY recommend “Bicycling and the Law,” which Bob Mionske authored. I was a contributing author.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks John. This “Share the Road” notion has become a mantra for folks looking to do SOMETHING to save those poor cyclists who are out on the road. It’s part of the same “paren patriae” mentality that passes laws banning bicycles on the main drag during rush hour. Once sign makers and users realize that we are not children in need of their protection, and motorists understand that we have the RIGHT to be on the road, things will flow much more smoothly in Utopia…

  • Steve Magas says:

    Nice article. The “bike crossing” sign is troubling to me. We have had more than a couple fatalities at bike path/road intersections. These intersections are often set up with such signs as well as a “crosswalk” type of marking which would imply some level of “protection” that really isn’t there in the law…

  • Hear hear!

    In my experience, “Share the Road” often just means “Get Out of the Way.” I fought what I eventually felt like was a losing battle against these signs a couple of year ago, so I’m glad you’re bringing this up. Tying this in to the common law right to travel is genius!

  • Keith Morris says:

    It’s meant to appear bike-friendly while at the same time prioritizing motorists, which is the case with most cycling infrastructure. As much as I’d like to see “Bikes use full lane” or some other clear cut, concise message the good thing is that in practice it’s up to the cyclist to use the lane. In Florida, bike lanes are being painted everywhere and have recently been made mandatory: cyclists who know how to ride properly there have been effectively outlawed and motorists there do in fact have the sole right of way there.


    While “Share the Road” is better than that, we really shouldn’t settle for subpar infrastructure. After all, if the city had listened to cyclists such as myself, we wouldn’t have those signs in Columbus. If they do have to change them at some point I will be the first to go to city council and give them a big “told ya so” lecture.

  • JeffreyY says:

    Color me unconvinced. When there is a single object, and sometimes I possess it, and sometimes you possess it, I call that sharing. If sometimes I on a bike possess the right of way, and sometimes a guy in a car possesses the right of way, that feels like sharing too.

    What would you replace the signs with, which would do a better job of letting cars know that bikes have a right to be there?

  • Blue says:

    The Winston Churchill quote regarding “road taxes” is so appropriate! The thing that most drivers fail to consider when complaining about cyclists is that the vast majority of cyclists on the roads also own cars and, therefore, pay the same “road taxes” as the complainers.

    Great article!

  • Dave says:

    Let’s almost remember the responsibility part, since many (often most) of the cyclists I encounter think the laws don’t apply to them.

    *Yes you MUST stop at a stop sign and wait your turn.

    *Passing on the right is illegal. If you are behind 10 cars then you wait, you don’t conveniently slip into the shoulder and pass on the right.

    *In most places you are required to be in the road, not on the sidewalk. Switching back and forth in order to avoid red lights is unacceptable. (you are not a pedestrian!)

    *Your must signal all turns clearly and accurately.

  • Wayne Pein says:

    It would be nice if there was a “First Come, First Served” statute, but there is no such state or UVC law that I am aware of.

  • Chris Daughtrey says:

    Thank you very much. This gives me great legal argument/info for my friends who think that cyclists have less of a right to be there. Chris D.

  • James M from Tucson says:

    Steve: You are so right and yet the motorists will view us as ‘so wrong’ However, we do have a right to use the roadways as do a number of other users. However, motorists do see us as an impediment to their ‘right to travel’. I do thank those who give way and actually make my day easier. I do the same for them. I don’t push the issue of who has what rights (btw, 3,000 + pound car vs. 200 – bicyclist, you loose.) So, I try to be a good motorist/bicyclist and I expect the same. Very rarely do I not get this and after a conversation, not argument, they tend to see things in a more balanced manner. We should be good citizens of the road. Give way to faster traffic, stop at all stop signs and stop lights, and generally obey the laws of the roads we are on. This goes a long way rather than a sign on the side of the road reminding others to ‘share the road’.

  • Michael Larmer says:

    While I admire your legal argument, and in principle agree with it,
    I think you are ignoring the obvious practical difficulties involved
    in “Maybe the motorist doesn’t know this but you have to ASSERT that right. The fact that you have a right means nothing if you don’t USE it.” Such well intentioned and principled prose is, inevitably,going to get people killed.

    I experienced such a confrontation with a pickup driver in a hurry
    last month. After being intimidated from behind and finally passed with inches of clearance, I caught up with him in traffic three blocks later. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to flash to very angry tunnel vision after near death experiences. However, had I broken his window, pulled him from the truck and beaten him about the head and shoulders, I suspect I might now have one of your fraternity on retainer.

    I got a license number and description written down, only to discover that in my town, at least, there is no legal mechanism
    to pursue a complaint. None. So short of suicidal behavior
    akin to squirrels in the roadway, how does one” assert”?

    Mike Larmer

  • Skip says:

    I think the bigger problem is negligence law. In accidents bicyclist are treated the same as other vehicle users (i.e. cars), so a “I didn’t see them” defence is sufficient to get a driver off with a minor citation or even nothing at all, even in the case where the bicyclist ends up dead, same as if in a minor fender bender, the car driver was distracted for a minute.

    Changing attitudes (and law) so that it protects more vulnerable road users will be the only way to get drivers to start paying attention to more than cars on the road. In addition, we need license revocation to the starting point rather than a last resort when someone breaks the law – particularly in injury cases.

  • Kim says:

    We have the right to use the road, on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, but driving is only permitted by licence. Roads are not there just for cars.

  • John says:

    First, I would point out that the yellow signs are warning signs, not regulatory signs. Since the yellow signs do not require a roadway user to do anything, this whole post is somewhat moot, but still very interesting.

    Second, the new MUTCD has an option to use “BIKES MAY USE FULL LANE” regulatory signs (R4-11). I do prefer these to “SHARE THE ROAD.” I have had drivers yell at me in the past for not sharing when I was taking up the whole lane. Apparently he thought that sharing only applied laterally, not longitudinally.

  • Pete Medek says:

    Hi Steve,

    I have a different take on “Share The Road.” The signs and sharrows painted on roadways are a continuation of a driver education program that began with the ‘Share The Road’ license plates.

    Though drivers may be required to share the road legally, many take matters into their own hands and openly intimidate and harass cyclists. They blast horns at close range, rev engines, shout, throw objects (drinks seem to be a favorite), some even use the car to deliberately brush by closely when there is adequate room to share the lane.

    It’s largely a behavioral problem that’s driven by ignorance. Ignorance of the law, as well as a false belief that roadways solely exist for automobiles. Law enforcement officers have even ordered bikes off the road, as you well know. This is perhaps the best example of how widespread and common these beliefs are among automobile drivers today. That’s the reality that road cyclists face today and it hasn’t changed much since the ’60s when I began riding the roads in Ohio.

    “Share The Road” is the first attempt I’ve seen to better educate drivers regarding being more tolerant when using public transportation corridors. Perhaps the presentation isn’t perfect (though I don’t have any problem or confusion with the signage), but I believe that most roadies will overwhelming agree, that an education program is long overdue.


  • Steve Magas says:

    When you look at warning signs, what are you WARNING about? Are you warning motorists of the “danger” of cyclists ahead? It just makes no sense. If these were used on roads that were DANGEROUS for cyclists it might make some sense but they are used on the most heavily traveled “bike roads” as a way for a city to sort of say, “Yea, we like bikes…” but really they are saying “We tolerate bikes… here… on this bike popular bike road… ”

    The BMUFL sign is great. It’s “legal” and it gets the point across.

    THANKS for posting!

  • Steve Magas says:

    The “I didn’t see them” isn’t a defense, to me… it’s an admission of guilt. That’s what I argue to judges, juries and insurance adjustors on a daily basis. Under Ohio law there is a duty to “see what there is to be seen.” Cyclists are the re.. they are “visible” if you “look” effectively. Problem is, many car drivers are like giant ancient predators, scanning ahead for things that present a danger or threat and letting the smaller things just scatter out of their way… can’t DRIVE like a dinosaur under Ohio law!

    THANKS for posting!

  • Steve Magas says:

    MIke, thanks for the great note. There is an entire army of bicycling instructors teaching people how to “take the lane.” You’re right. It’s going to be a battle. It’s a battle now. “Taking the lane” is riding far enough into the lane to make traffic break out of the lane to go around you.

    Do NOT do physical battle with folks over lane position though. If you get buzzed, get the license and report it. Call it in on your phone. Get the police to respond. But don’t confront the motorist. One fellow around here did some jail time as a result of such an encounter…

    Steve Magas

  • Steve Magas says:

    You’re very right. Bicycling magazine ran an article on legal stuff several years ago.. they called me to talk and the only quote they highlighted in a side box was the one where I said we must get used to having cops “ticket scofflaw cyclists just as they ticket scofflaw motorists.” Cyclists are REQUIRED BY LAW to follow basic traffic rules – this means stopping at stop signs and red lights, signaling turns, NOT riding drunk and all others… you are subject to ticketing and, in some states, to “points” on your license!

  • Steve Magas says:

    What we have to do is do a better job of educating motorists. Motorists have no clue of what the law is relative to cycling on the roads. They feel like if there is a sidewalk or path, we should be there, and that’s not the law. “Share the Road” sends 100% of the wrong message – it tells motorists that they own, but they ought to share. “Bikes May Use Full Lane” is the newest sign on the block… that works well for many areas.

    THANKS for reading and tracking me down!
    Steve Magas

  • khal spencer says:

    Steve, as I said in a private email, this is an excellent essay that deserves broad dissemination to the MOTORING community, not just the cycling community. But I would start by seeing that Bicycling and the LAB newsletter print it. Its gonna be linked on my blog right now!

    Where I have seen “Share the Road” signs used is often where there is not a bike lane or other convenience. There is definitely a hierarchy involved that puts us in the back of the bus, i.e., “…those pesky bicyclists are gonna be in the road, so bear with them…”. Not exactly the right message.

  • DrJohnM says:


    Thanks for writing such a well thought out piece. I found it through our Louisville cycling e-group.

    I am among the many who have been hit by a motorist–however, in my case it was a police officer. (The same officer had also struck and killed a pedestrian the year before.)

    As a cardiologist, advocate for healthy living and bike racer it is pleasing to read your persuasive argument. It is clearly true that we have miles to go in our fight for cycling safety, but in continually putting right-minded thinking out there, progress gets made.



  • Mark says:

    If roads do not belong exclusively to motor vehicles, then it’s past time for everyone — bikes and walkers and wheelchairs and dogs and runners and migrating amphibians — to claim their rights to the roads. Let’s hear it for bicyclists riding the wrong way on one way streets and pedestrians crossing against the lights and for crying-out-loud-especially the kids following a bouncing ball into the street. There is no universally “convenient” way to effect changes in road behavior. The only way to effect change is to stop traffic the more often the better.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Mark, thanks for the note. Cyclists have been claiming their right to the road since the 1880’s! The “Good Roads Movement” brought cyclists together in the late 1800’s to fight for road space. The first vehicle codes started coming into being and bikes were included as “vehicles…”

  • All of what you say is fine, as long as cyclists remember that they have to obey all the same traffic laws that motorists do. We can’t have it both ways and you don’t discuss this in your post.

    And then there is always the idea that much of what goes on has an aspect of being “relative.” We might have the right to take the lane, but it doesn’t always make much sense. You can’t legislate “common sense” any more than you can legislate “share” but both are good ideals to keep in mind. Practically speaking, Its a continuous give-and-take out there on the roadways.

  • Mark, I agree with your concept, but I can’t agree with the means. Perhaps I’m reading too much into your comment. We have a right to use the road *for travel* by whatever means we choose, but that does not include a right to use the road for any purpose whatsoever. Specifically for bicycling, we theoretically have a choice. We can choose the same travel rights as vehicles, in which case we should accept the same responsibilities. This is currently the law. Or if we don’t care about having the same rights, by all means jettison the responsibility. But I want the same rights, and I’m willing to accept the responsibility in return. I think it’s a good tradeoff.

    Just stopping traffic anytime we want, as a tactic, as your comment implies to me, is not only perhaps a violation of impeding (notwithstanding that in some states that only legally applies to motor vehicles), but also counter-productive as a tactic, in my opinion. We need to not be afraid to assert our right to a full narrow lane, but generally we are not completely stopped while doing so (except in line at a red light), and, I would argue, as a consideration for other travelers should not “hog the lane” when it *is* shareable and there are no other conditions preventing it (even in the few states that have no “far right as practicable laws”).

  • Paul Souders says:

    Oregon law explicitly states that operating a motor vehicle is a privilege. (Which reinforces what Mr. Seng told us on the first day of Driver’s Ed: “Driving is a privilege not a right.”) The language of the law constantly reinforces the situations (e.g. DUI) where the privilege can be revoked (and how to reinstate it). There is a clear separation between the right to use public roadways and the privilege of using a particular mode of transport.

  • @John (of comment 9/28 11:10), I like the way you described the different interpretation of sharing as laterally vs. longitudinally. When I described this article to my wife, she thought it was kind of making a mountain out of a molehill because it seemed obvious to her that “Share the Road” didn’t mean necessarily share the lane, but that all vehicles were allowed to use it, either in different lanes or at different times. Obviously not the same space at the same time, that’s not what the sign says to her.Since she takes a broader view of the word “share” than some motorists do, to her this article seemed like splitting hairs. But she’s not an everyday transportational cyclist, so she doesn’t have the experience with bicyclist/motorist interaction that some of us do.

    Of course, it can still mean sharing laterally when the lane is wide enough to share, or when there is more than one lane in each direction, in which case the sign refers to the overall roadway width, but not necessarily each lane. Problem is, some motorists DO think “share the lane” when they see “share the road” in a multi-lane situation.

  • Michael Larmer says:

    This has been a current topic on our local bike advocates listserv.
    With your permission, I’d like to share my recent exchange with another member . It seems reasonably pertinent:

    A motor vehicle posses no serious threat (generally), until an human gets behind of the wheel. The safe driving and operation of that vehicle is in the hands of the driver. Without a driver, rarely do motor vehicles collide with cyclists.

    to which I responded:

    My point exactly. It seems to me a lot of the “wisdom” dispensed
    as bicycle safe riding technique assumes that you have a reasonable
    chance that all of the motor vehicle operators you encounter will
    1. Actually licensed to drive.
    2. Reasonably able to drive in the physical sense
    (vision, reaction time, etc.)
    3. Paying attention as if lives were at stake
    4. Non aggressive at least to the point that they
    are willing to yield right of way in any unclear
    5. More or less awake.
    6. Free of the influence of mind altering substances,
    whether prescription, legal recreational, or illegal.

    My experience, both in life and in emergency services has been that
    one can count on none of these to be true. Motorists, of course,
    don’t just run into bicycles. They take out each other, pets, pedestrians, utility poles, snow banks, houses, glass storefronts, and anything else that is not agile enough to get out of the way with an alarming statistical frequency. I have little confidence that “taking the lane” is going to change that fact much in my lifetime here in the USofA. So it behooves us to ride accordingly.

    Most respectfully,
    Mike Larmer

  • khal spencer says:

    I don’t think “taking the lane” (or I prefer to say controlling the lane) is equivalent to what Steve is talking about.

    Steve is, I think, saying that a cyclist is legally entitled to occupy the space on the road that he or she requires; that is a more general concept. Sure, in the instances where this means controlling a traffic lane, that is appropriate. If it means riding in the left turn lane, the right tire track of the right lane, or to the right of traffic on a wide lane, that is appropriate. But the bottom line is that we don’t have to ask someone’s permission to use whatever amount of road is appropriate under any given set of conditions.

    Indeed, in some situations you may be less likely to be hit by controlling the lane than by trying to share it. A not unheard of scenerio is when a motorist will try to overtake a cyclist who is riding too far right in a narrow lane. That encourages the motorist to play chicken with oncoming traffic and when the motorist panics, he/she then veers back right and hits the cyclist being passed. Call it the James Quinn Memorial Crash, after a Univ. of New Mexico grad student who was killed this way on Route 66 outside of Albuquerque.

  • khal spencer says:

    Just an addendum to that last post after reading a colleague’s email.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that a cyclist deliberately blockade traffic just to make a political point (or as I said to him, to be an A-hole). Sure, one should move right and facilitate passing if traffic backs up just as any other slow moving vehicle should, but only when one can do so safely. That is consistent with controlling the lane–you ride where you should ride, and cooperate with other traffic to keep things moving. Otherwise we will not exactly win friends and influence people in a positive way. Actually, when I have done that on NM-4, a 4 mile climb with an average 7.5% grade to 9,000 feet on a very narrow road full of blind curves, I more often get an appreciative wave rather than a middle finger. Maybe instead of that “share the road” mentality, we should see cooperation with other traffic as “teamwork”.

  • Ed Beighe says:

    Thanks for writing this… i’ve long felt there was something untoward about the “share the road” campaigns and signs

  • Paul says:

    What would you replace the signs with, which would do a better job of letting cars know that bikes have a right to be there?

    I like the idea of a guy on a bicycle with a Dan Wessen 45 caliber pistol in a very visible holster. The idiot in the car may not understand why someone puts on tight pants and rides a bike, but he WILL understand what is going to happen if he tries to kill that person.

  • Steve Magas says:

    @ Jennifer –> Thanks for the note. I have written often on the responsibilities of cyclists – there are rights AND duties. I was quoted in Bicycling magazine 10 yrs ago saying that “scofflaw cyclists need to be ticketed just as often as scofflaw motorists…” The focus of THIS particular piece was the ubiquitous use of “Share the Road” signs by municipalities without any thought of what they are saying…

    I agree 100% on the distinction between what we have the RIGHT to do and what we OUGHT to do as members of a civilized society. If you take a look at the court’s opinion in State v. Patrick [http://caselaw.findlaw.com/oh-municipal-court/1439247.html ] you can see what the judge says about that one.

  • Don Burrell says:

    This is a great article and I wish it was getting broader exposure than primarily to cyclists. (But the civility of the responses would likely deteriorate.)

    I have come to interpret the “sharing” as working both ways for the motorists and cyclists and I may accommodate passing motorists when safe for me to do so. In the MUTCD, the “share the road” sign is permitted “in situations where there is a need to warn motorists to watch for bicyclists traveling along the highway”. So it is intended as a warning for motorists more than cyclists. In that way it is intended to alert all drivers to compensate for conditions on the highway of potential danger as are the other warning signs for intersections, steep grades, curves, traffic signals and pedestrians.

    The importance of your article, in my view, is for those situations/cases where cyclists rights to the road are challenged. Such as the recent case in Illinois where a court decided that roads are no longer intended for use by cyclists and thus prevents cyclists from challenging unsafe road conditions. A town in Colorado also recently banned cyclists from their streets, but I think that was withdrawn.

    Don B

  • Jim Coppock says:

    The sign installed by the City of Cincinnati recently is shown in the sign collection at the top. It’s rectangular, white letters on blue background, which are standard colors for information signs in the US. As far as I know, that sign is only used in Multnomah County Oregon and Cincinnati. It is not a warning sign. There are two versions used here – “Be Courteous – Share the Road” and “Share the Road – Its the Law”.
    Do these stink?

    The blue signs are not as odiferous, although they suffer from the same “share the road” mentality. It’s like we are PLEADING with motorists… “Come on, people… play nice…” The Blue is better since it is not in the yellow Caution sign format [“Slow Children and Bikes In Way”] but I think we need to shift away from the “Share” mentality to a tougher thought – These Cyclists Got Rights – still working on how to beat that into millions of cars… maybe we can have a law that mandates PSA’s be broadcast on all the new InfoTainMent systems that are coming…
    Steve Magas


  1. Share? « An Old Guy On Two Wheels
  2. Opinion – Why “Share the Road” Stinks « Orange County Bicycle Coalition : Bicycle Advocacy : OCBC
  3. Share the Road? « Single Speed Seattle
  4. Share The Road » Cyclelicious – Interbike 2010
  5. Share the Road Stinks? « Muscle Powered Carson City
  6. Is it Bad to Share the Road? : Great City
  7. Share the road? /  Cycling in Wellington [beta]
  8. Language of Change « RIDE Solutions
  9. Ciclistas contra las “ciclocalles” » Ciudad Ciclista

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