From our friends at Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB):
In the Fairfax Times article New state road signs spark confusion for cyclists, motorists: ‘Bikes May Use Full Lane’ intended to alert motorists that cyclists can use center lane on narrow roads, a motorist is quoted as saying the new signs are illegal.
The new Bicycles May Use Full Lane signs are used "where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side" according to the official guidelines for their use. The guidelines go on to state "The Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign may be used in locations where it is important to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane."
In the article Ronald Corso, who says he's a cyclist, complains about "bikers taking up the full lane and going a fifth of the speed limit and backing up traffic." He goes on to state that he thinks the signs are illegal: "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.’"
What Mr. Corso neglects to quote is the end of that sentence in the code, "except under any of the following circumstances:" One of those circumstances is "substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right curb or edge."
Fortunately Randy Dittberner of VDOT knows the code and he did a good job of explaining why the signs are needed. The signs are for both cyclists and motorists. The cyclist pictured in the article (above) is demonstrating what not to do in a narrow lane, ride in the gutter. This is very dangerous. There is not enough operating room and one small mistake by a cyclist in this position could lead to a crash, potentially in the path of a following motor vehicle. The cyclist is much safer riding away from the curb. If the lane is too narrow to share with a motorist, taking the lane and forcing motorists to pass safely is the best option.
Regarding delay of traffic; bicycles on the road are part of traffic and during rush hour often travel about the speed of other traffic. Even if traffic is traveling at the posted speed, which is 35mph on Beulah Rd, bicyclists are traveling only slightly slower than other traffic. Delays for following motorists, especially on the short 1/4 mile stretch between Clarks Crossing Rd and Trap Rd where most cyclists ride on Buelah, are minimal.
We wrote about the signs not long ago, along with several articles about shared lane markings. Obviously more needs to be done by VDOT and the county to educate motorists and cyclists about the purpose of the new signs and markings and about the laws in Virginia as they apply to bicyclists.