Bicycle safety signs guidelines to be drafted by Md. transportation and highway agencies

(Greg Dohler/The Gazette) - Bicycle safety advocates in Prince George’s County hope to see more signs like this one on Seventh Street in Laurel.

Maryland officials are developing guidelines for the use of federally approved bicycle safety signs along state roads, thanks to e-mails from members of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association and hundreds of Maryland residents.

In a letter dated July 1, Beverley Swaim-Staley, Maryland transportation secretary, tells the supporters that the department will work with the Maryland State Highway Administration to draft guidelines for where and when “Bikes may use full lane” signs are posted.

“The SHA will consult with stakeholders before adopting a final set of guidelines,” Swaim-Staley added in the letter.

This reverses a previous decision by the SHA not to use the signs, as indicated in a May 13 letter to the Glenn Dale Citizens Association, said association member Jim Titus, who also is a member of the board of directors for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

The association requested in August 2010 and again this month that the signs, designated R4-11 by the Federal Highway Administration, be placed on Glenn Dale Road and sections of Route 450 inside the Capital Beltway, Titus said, because these roadways either have little or no shoulder or have lanes that are too narrow to fit both a bicycle and an automobile.

The original rejection of a sign shown to make cyclists safer, said WABA executive director Shane Farthing, prompted the organization to send an action alert to its members, asking them to contact Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Swaim-Staley. Almost 700 Maryland residents did so.

“We’re trying strategically to make roadways safer,” Farthing said. “It’s being proactive on the roads where it’s obviously less safe.”

Michael Jackson, the director of bicycle and pedestrian access for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said the first letter should not have been sent, as a final decision had not been made.

“I apologize that incorrect information was communicated prior to any formal decision,” Swaim-Staley wrote in the July letter.

MDOT and SHA expect to draft the guidelines and ask for input from cycling activists, residents and others by the end of this fall, Jackson said.

“We recognize the value of the R4-11 to communicate the rights of bicyclists to use the full lane when the lane is of substandard width,” he said.

R4-11, a square white sign, was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in late 2009, but states and municipalities can alter the sign’s color, size and font, Farthing said.

“We really do want something that communicates clearly both a warning and a right of usage of that portion of the road,” he said.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission supports the use of the signs, said Fred Shaffer, the commission’s planning department’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

“When treatments are accepted on a national level, we tend to think it’s acceptable to start incorporating them into development planning,” said Shaffer, who also works with the county’s Bicycle and Trails Advisory Group. The volunteer cohort, organized in 1998 by the county executive’s office, recommends trail priorities and comments on local development plans.

The signs are most effectively implemented on low-speed roadways where the lanes are not wide enough for a bicycle and an automobile to share a lane, Shaffer said. He added that bicycle safety improvements, which also can include bike lanes and wider shoulders, are needed most in dense urban areas, such as those surrounding Metro stations.

Jackson declined to give the criteria SHA and MDOT are considering as they draft guidelines for the posting of these signs.

Laurel, which has its own zoning jurisdiction, has posted the county’s only R4-11 sign across from the Laurel Branch Library, Shaffer said.

 
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