Bigger, Bolder Bike Stencils Needed by Dave Snyder

Another in a series of articles focusing on creative solutions for safer streets.

In the August/September Tube Times, we featured colored bicycle lanes, which create a more distinct path for bicycle travel and improve safety and comfort. This article looks at "take the lane" stencils on streets where installing bicycle lanes is not practical or advised.

"Share the lane" stencils are already in use in Berkeley, Sacramento, Oakland, and some parts of San Francisco. You may have seen the little green "bike in a house" symbol on 17th Street, Grove Street, Page Street, or others. Those stencils are the result of a trial by the DPT stemming from the last bicycle plan. The goals of the stencil are (1) to tell motorists to expect bicyclists in the center of a traffic lane and (2) to tell bicyclists to ride outside of the dangerous door zone. Feedback from cyclists indicates that the current stencil is too small to be effective and that the green color is not visible enough.

The Department of Parking and Traffic's chief traffic engineer used green instead of white due to fears about liability for the city (and its taxpayers) if they used white, a color whose use is restricted to approved markings. Both Berkeley and Sacramento have used bolder, white stencils, and we have no evidence of liability in those cities. While the DPT's conservative stance sets back progress for bicyclists in San Francisco in the short term, their willingness to get approval for a white stencil could pave the way for its use in cities throughout California, providing a long-term solution for bicycle safety on streets where bicyclists must "take the lane."

The stencil is used best in narrow lanes where it is impossible for motorists to pass cyclists in the same lane. The California Vehicle Code does not require bicyclists to ride "as far to the right as practicable" in such lanes. The stencil will also be useful on downhill stretches where a bike lane would dangerously restrict bicyclists to a narrow path next to parked cars.

The DPT's planners will test versions of the stencil and its application and then report to the California Traffic Control Devices Committee, which approves such markings, with a request they adopt it as a California standard. The SFBC has requested that the recommended stencil be much larger than the current tiny green one, and that it be white.

To get involved in this process for adding new and improved bike standards in the city, see the Bike Plan Update above.