Sunday, November 17

MUTCD Muddle

Sign Seen in North Richland Hills, Texas. What Are We Being Advised About?
On occasion, you'll see bike blogs that pay more than a decent amount of attention to signs, and complain about the finer points of "Share the Road" or "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" items. Recently, there was a story in "Streetsblog" that expounded on an advocacy organization that fell into this trap. Khal's "LA Bikes" skated out on to that thin ice, though I don't think he actually fell in to the trap. IMO, his main error was in forgetting that the whole MUTCD thing is a result of mixing engineering and politics into an area where few people know or care about the finer points. In this post, I'll attempt to avoid falling through the ice that Khal so bravely stepped out onto. Gulp!

In the first place, and in reality, we should remember that all signs are basically intended to give us information we need to safely go down the road or to make our lives on same nicer and more pleasant. Way back when, someone came up with the notion that different sorts of signs ought to have different colors and ought to be the same from place to place. Hence, the "MUTCD" was born. And THAT was the start of much arguing about the best ways to do things, much as people used to argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Basically, the idea behind sign coloring is a pretty good one, and the colors are supposed to align with the purpose of the sign. The BEST summary of this that I've seen is on Richard Moeur's pages, with the color guide here.

Speed Limit Lowered in Work Zone
 Red, white, and black are regulatory colors. Stop and yield signs are red and white, speed LIMIT signs are white and black. Seems pretty straightforward. Similarly, yellow signs are advisory/warning signs. If there's a slower speed needed for an exit, it'll be on a yellow sign. Part of the problem is that people also get creative with signs, such as with the "share the road" sign at the top of this post (what are they warning us about) and with the "duck crossing" sign. Signs mainly in blue are for useful things off the road that it's good for the traveller to know about. Ditto for brown signs. ORANGE signs are used around construction. I can't really say I've seen pink signs or any of those other colors, well, except for the green signs that are the general roadway information signs.

Advisories Suggest the Lane to Reach the Informational Destinations

This Sign Advises There's a Way to Avoid Death if Your Truck's Brakes Have Failed
It is Otherwise Illegal to Simply Park There!
Rest Stop Bathroom Signs are ALSO Blue
Both Signs in this Photo are "Regulatory"
Advisory Speed
Regulatory Speed Sign
These colors are both the strength and weakness of the system. People don't seem to like "advisory share the road" signs. "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" signs seem to be prefered by the "no share" crowd, but IMO, a "BMUFL" sign is somewhat akin to implying that using a full lane is not otherwise allowed. Some might feel, on the other hand, that a BMUFL sign is akin to the "runaway vehicle" sign in that runaway vehicles clearly ARE allowed to stop places other than the runaway vehicle trap. But bikes ARE different as any cyclist that has read newspaper comments on cycling stories will know.

Ducks May Not be MUTC "Orthodox," But it's Pretty Easy to See the Warning Intent

What's the RIGHT answer? Well, IMO, I don't think it really matters. Cyclist rights are independent of any oddball signage and most people really don't understand the finer points of same in any event. Note below many signs that really don't entirely fit with the rules.

Is This Sign Warning Us We'll Fall if We Have No Front Wheel?

Someone Invented This Sign and Zip Tied it to a Pole
Business Sign Attempts to "Look" Like a Recreation MUTCD Sign

I Guess RED Makes it LOOK More Official
Business Sign Using MUTCD Green
Regulatory Looking Sign Telling City Employees Not to Cut the Wildflowers

Note the Duck Sign, and the "Construction" Barricade, Along With the Political Sign

What Regulation Does the Contractor Fall Under?
The Road Work Sign on the Bike Path is OK, but Watching for Pedestrians is a "Regulation?"
Note that the "signless" pole USED to be a Stop Sign
And YES, the "Share the Road" placard under a bike picture might fit in this bunch of pictures as well since, while one might consider the bike graphic a "warning" of bikes ahead, the "share the road" really isn't simply advisory. OTOH, how many angels CAN dance on the head of a pin? Can you spell "POLITICS?"

This "Advisory" Sign Predates MUTCD!


limom said...

My observation is most folks don't pay attention to signs.

Khal said...

Great post, Steve. "...Cyclist rights are independent of any oddball signage and most people really don't understand the finer points of same in any event. ..."

Bottom line, eh?

p.s. Thin ice abounds.

Justine Valinotti said...

This is one of the best posts I've read on a bike blog.

When I hop on my bike to "get away from it all", am I on a "runaway vehicle"?

Ian Brett Cooper said...

" IMO, a "BMUFL" sign is somewhat akin to implying that using a full lane is not otherwise allowed."

I agree. However, on many roads, this is what many motorists believe anyway, even if they've never seen a BMUFL sign. The application of a BMUFL sign at least informs drivers that cyclists belong. Too many motorists just assume we don't belong on any road, simply because they don't want us to belong and they are too fricken lazy to read their Driver's Handbook. I wish it were otherwise, but until all motorists recognize that cyclists belong on the road, BMUFL signs at least have the effect of taking back some roads for us - not that they're not ours anyway, but because some idiots think they're not and act as if they're not.

Steve A said...

I think we probably agree that, better than attempting to educate motorists through various and sundry signs, a better approach would be mandatory recurring motorist education so that they don't kill 30000 of themselves each year despite overwhelming motorist facility and vehicle engineering. Perhaps the discussion should start with "how much and what form" the education should take to be effective and politically acceptable. As an LCI, I am biased towards educating cyclists, but cyclist education will never attack the main source of roadway carnage.

Steve A said...

Justine, if you're not on a "runaway" vehicle, you may not legally stop on that gravel escape road. I think neither of us would want to barrel through the gravel unless the alternative was sure and certain death! In that case, severe road rash sounds pretty attractive.

Steve A said...

Khal, what's that cracking noise.

Steve A said...

Limom, THAT is why the details of signs really don't matter - unless you are searching for Star Tobacco.

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