Dec 232011

Have you ever noticed the short gray posts installed along some county roads?  They’re meant to deter drivers from leaving off the road so their cars won’t create ruts and run over features like stormwater management swales.  Swales can be damaged if drivers drive or park on them.  The posts are used on “open section” roads, i.e. roads with no curbs.

Edge posts on Fernwood Road in Bethesda

County policy calls for the posts to be located 12 inches beyond the edge of the pavement (although in practice distance varies considerably).  Well, MoBike’s crack research team used sophisticated instruments (a mountain bike, measuring wheel and cheap camera) to determine that anything less than 24 inches reduces the space available to bicyclists and creates a collision hazard.  Cyclists who wisely choose to steer clear of the posts must ride further to the left, so the posts can effectively turn a wide shoulder into a narrow one or make it impossible for drivers to give cyclists three feet when passing.

More photos:

If you allow shy distance from the posts and from the cars, there's nothing left

It’s surprisingly difficult to judge the distance between your bike handlebars and a 4 foot tall vertical post (see the photo below).  It’s an exercise in perspective and maybe courage.  So riders must allow considerable shy distance.  The consequences of clipping a post with your handlebars could be severe. A collision would twist the rider’s handlebars to the right, causing him to fall to the left into traffic.

Can YOU judge the distance?

Surprisingly, most riders don’t carry a tape measure.

Mountain bike handlebars are often 24 inches wide

DOT engineers tell me that drivers will rut the grass if the posts are located more than a foot from the roadway.  But a car with two wheels on the grass will almost certainly hit a post two feet off the pavement and get a nasty scratch.  Drivers don’t like hitting things.  Neither do cyclists of course, but we’re not as uptight about paint scratches, especially while we’re slamming into stupid posts.

At my request DOT moved some posts on Fernwood Road further back from the pavement, but they only moved them to a distance of 12″ based on the policy.  Therefore MoBike has submitted a formal request to DOT and the Department of Permitting Services asking for the policy to be changed.  Otherwise I wonder whether the county will install edge posts along MacArthur Boulevard after that road is widened for bicyclists.   If so, the posts would negate half of the pavement that’s being added (and adding pavement is not cheap).

  3 Responses to “What’s with those edge posts? (road hazard #11)”

  1. Jack – soon after you raised this issue re: Fernwood, I noticed while riding there that SOME of the posts had been moved, while many remain too close to the road edge. What’s with that? Do you need to request each post be moved, one by one? I think Seven Locks Rd has some far more egregious examples of posts jeopardizing cyclists, on the northbound side between Gainsborough and Montrose, where the shoulder is interrupted by what appears to be a drainage ditch. Need pictures?

    • It’s partly my fault… I asked them to move the posts 18-24 inches from the road. Instead of telling me they wouldn’t move them that far, they just went and started moving them to 12 inches. I said that’s not enough and only then did they tell me about the policy. When they were about half done I told them to stop until they changed the policy, so that they wouldn’t move each post twice. But the wheels of government are much too slow, and I got distracted with other things. I’ll just tell them to move the rest to 12 inches for now.

      The ones on Seven Locks Road are difficult as well, though the road seems wider than Fernwood. I had some photos somewhere but can’t find them. They will be harder to move so we don’t want to ask them to move those twice. What do you think?

      • Not sure I understand…Are you asking, “should we request that they be moved 12″ per the current policy and then that they be moved again once the policy is revamped?” Good question. Right now, I’d call them an immediate hazard – if the cyclist sees them well ahead of time and can adjust their line, and motorists are paying attention and respond appropriately, then it’s not so bad. Heaven help the cyclist who doesn’t know about them in advance and rides there when visibility is not good. Just moving the posts may not be adequate – the road surface is bad in spots, and moving the posts may encourage unknowing cyclists to ride further from the traffic lane, where there’s a sudden, steep dropoff. I really think that stretch is a bad accident waiting to happen. The currently installed posts provide some guidance for motorists, are little help for cyclists. Restriping the traffic lane narrower might be an option – that would leave more space for cyclists between the traffic lane and the posts. I’m open to suggestions.

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