Ride IllinoisRide Illinois
January 08, 2016

Working for Safer Road Signage

Anyone who drives a bike or car knows that sharing the road isn’t always easy, especially on high speed, high traffic, narrow roads. Conflicts arise not just from having to negotiate about a limited resource, but questions of hierarchy. Who has more “right” to the space? The person in the bigger car or the more vulnerable cyclist?

Fortunately, Illinois law clearly states that both have equal right to use the road, and provides guidance on how to share. For example, although cyclists should ride to the right to the extent that it is safe and practical, we can “take the lane” as needed. And drivers need to provide at least three feet of clearance when passing. Ride Illinois has been instrumental in creating and clarifying laws that support road sharing in practice, not just theory.

Unfortunately, the current approach to signage is akin to letting travelers duke it out. “Share the Road” is vague; just because laws are on books doesn’t mean they are known. . .or embraced. Recent behavioral studies show that the sign may be interpreted in opposite ways by cyclists and motorists, reducing their effectiveness in alerting and educating motorists about sharing the road with bicycles properly.

The good news is that Ride Illinois has started asking state and local agencies to install signs, like the ones pictured below, that are more explicit about how to share the road. Executive Director Ed Barsotti has been researching best practices and initiating conversations with the Illinois Department of Transportation as well as local transportation planners and engineers about the pros and cons of various signage options. Download his Safer Signage Technical Brief.

Ride Illinois is also working with bike clubs and advocates throughout the state to identify specific roads and problem areas that could greatly benefit from new signage and will be raising the funds to cover the costs of new signs and installation over the next year. If you’d like to provide feedback on problem areas in your community, please use our form.

Perhaps you are wondering why tweaking a message on a sign matters. Because:

  • Clear directions can help prevent and diffuse the kinds of conflicts we frequently hear about from members.
  • Signs educate and remind people, including enforcement professionals, about the laws that protect cyclists.
  • They reinforce the message that “bikes belong,” which encourages would-be riders.
  • It’s an example of the quiet advocacy Ride Illinois does with decision makers to effect change. While we never hesitate to sound the alarm when direct action is needed, we also cultivate and value relationships with the myriad agencies that influence cycling conditions.
  • We can’t make change alone. By helping raise awareness about the small and big variables critical to making biking better in Illinois, we hope to empower more people to be effective advocates in their own communities.

Thanks, as always, for your support! See you on the road.