A controversial road sign

Cyclists may use the full travel lane, just don't put it on a sign.

A controversial road sign

Vermont encourages alternate forms of transportation, such as pedestrian and cyclist travel, and the infrastructure — including signs, sidewalks, and bike lanes— that support them. The state makes grants available "to provide safe and convenient facilities for those Vermonters who desire alternative transportation opportunities." The Town of Thetford was awarded one such grant for roughly $5,000 in April 2021.

The initial idea was to add signs and painted sharrows (shared lane markings) on Tucker Hill Road, Academy Road, and Route 132, popular bicycle routes that are problematic due to blind curves and dangerous road surface deterioration. There is also Bike and Brew, an e-Bike rental business on Academy Road that puts more bicycles on Academy Road, including relatively inexperienced riders.

The Selectboard, however, almost decided. to return the grant, citing the proposed signs and road markings' unsightliness. They wavered after noting that Route 132 and Tucker Hill Road were state-designated bike routes.

Map showing designated bike routes in and around Thetford, VT

The Town Manager was instructed to implement a portion of the intended project rather than return the grant funds altogether. The compromise was to put up signs (pictured above: "[Bicycles] May Use Full Lane") but not the painted lane markings.

Cyclists' use of the full travel lane is legal with or without signs or lane markings. 23 V.S.A. § 1139 (a)(2) reads, "Bicyclists generally shall ride as near to the right side of the improved area of the highway right-of-way as is safe, except that a bicyclist :.. may ride to the left or in a left lane when taking reasonably necessary precautions to avoid hazards or road conditions. Examples include objects on the road, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface conditions that may impair the bicyclist's stability, or safety hazards caused by a narrow road or steep embankment, road geometry, or unfavorable atmospheric conditions."

Some residents found issues with the wording of the signs, however. One resident posted on the Thetford listserv on July 4th, 2022:

Hoping the signs are wrong and they are NOT allowed the whole lane. That's ridiculous! They should be respectful and ride single file on the side of the road. These bikers ride 3 side by side and put us cars and families inside in great danger trying to find a safe place to get around them.  Don't tell me to follow them all the way either.. they can't go very fast up a hill and fly down the hill not even stopping at the bridge.

In an email to the Selectboard, a group of residents asked that the signs be placed thoughtfully so as to not block scenic views: "Several places along Academy road there are great views across open fields to the New Hampshire Mountains making it a scenic drive, bike or walk."

Another resident wrote, "I simply don’t see it as an issue for which we need to spend $ on signs." Selectboard Chair Sharon Harkay responded, saying, "The majority of us wanted to turn down the grant, but cyclists kept coming to meetings and emailing us until we changed our minds and agreed to give it a go."

Harkay emailed the Selectboard and Town Manager, "As far as wording of the signs, we may want to revisit the wording that we finally settled on after a bit if the wording we chose creates issues since there are other allowable signs such as 'Share the Road'.  But, any discussion should, of course, happen in an open, properly warned meeting."

Town Manager Bryan Gazda replied, "As for the verbiage on the signs, we cannot deviate from what is on the signs as ... the signs conform to the federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Since this grant is funded by federal highway funds we have to abide by federal guidelines."

Ultimately, at Harkay's instruction, Gazda directed Road Foreman Dale Lewis "to take down the signs that are in the middle of Tucker Hill and Academy Roads." The signs have since been removed.

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