We need to talk about signs.

California, my home, is terrible with signs in general. Airports, freeways, parks, and buildings are more difficult to navigate in California than any other place I've been to, and that inlcudes the places for which English is a foreign language. Seriously. It's easier for an English speaker to get around Seoul than for one to get around a freeway system in Cali for the first time. I stand by this statement.

But when it comes to signage aimed at cyclists, pretty much everywhere sucks. Even Delaware has had problems. And most people don't even know what a Delaware is.

These signs have been getting better though, and they've been doing so right here in San José. Let's take a critical look at bike signs, and see how effective they really are, and which are the best for everyone.


First we have this classic construction sign. It's bright enough to been see through walls, and really stands out from all the other noise in the streets. It's even big and within sitelines of both drivers and cyclists. Visually, it's great if you're an English speaker.

But there are two main problems, one I am sure you've guessed already: It is dependent upon literary skills to be understood. There are dozens of languages spoken in this area as well as many tourists from other areas. Perhaps a sign in English is fine in a rural area, but not here. The bike does give the sign context, but do you want a person concentrating to figure out the (non-standard) language or looking at the road?

The bigger problem, however, is that it is completely ambiguous. This sign is dependent upon perspective, which is dangerous in a rage-filled construction zone during trafiic. To a driver, the sign reads, "Hey bike rider, move over and give me some more road. Driving next to you is dangerous to me." To a cyclist, it reads, "Hey driver, move over and give me some road. Riding so close is dangerous to me."

The sign attempts to inform both parties to share, when in fact it more likely exaserbates the problem of them seeing the road for them, although I'd argue as a cyclist that I never feel like the road is for me as long as there are drivers.


When I first saw this sign, I was impressed. I had figured the city saw that a small sign was in disrepair, but still somewhat useful. They decided to add to it a larger sign that was informative and clear.

Then I thought more and more about it. I thought, I've walked past this sign twice a day for months, driven past it, and of course ridden my bike past it scores of times, and this is the first time I've noticed it. What are the chances it was installed that day? Close to none.

This sign is difficult to see because it is in a place no driver, cyclist, or pedestrian would ever be looking. What is not visible in this picture is the fact that it is right after a one-way street intersects. By the time the people turn to this street--and very few people enter this street without having turned left on it--safe drivers and cyclists are already looking ahead to the next danger as they've been taught to do. The sign is also about 8-feet high, and not as visible as other signs seen at that height. (It should be orange or neon yellow!) Drivers and cyclists would each have to go out of their way to see this sign, as informative and clear as it is. Not good enough, San José.

But look in the background. See something? More on that later.


We're getting better. Instead of telling both parties to share, like the orange construction sign did, this sign tells the rule and does so without ambiguity. I cannot stress this enough. Those "share the road signs" are not clear. They are obviously meant to tell the drivers to make room for cyclists, not the other way around. By law, cyclists may use any lane they want as long as it's not on an expressway or freeway.

You can guess the problems with this sign. Why use English? Why not make it brighter? Why not make it easier to see. (It's way up high, and surrounded by foliage.) They can do better, and they do!


This is the best kind of bike lane San José has. Yeah, I know there's that tiny-ass 25' protected lane on San Fernando between Market and 1st, but I've almost been hit twice entering it. No joke. This sign makes it safer. Why? I'm glad you asked.

First off, it's visible from space. Okay maybe not, but it's green as hell and marked with high contrast white paint on freshly tarred black asphalt.

Secondly, it's placed where it can be seen by drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, squirrels, beetles ... it's where you can't help but to see it!

Thirdly, it's universal. No language needed. And not only is it universal, it's simple, making it quicker to understand.

This is how a bike lane needs to be marked if a city isn't willing to invest money to actually protect lives with segregated roadways serparated by barriers such as trees (optimal) or some man-made thing (ugly).

But in lieu of a segregated lane, a quality bike sign is needed. That sign should be clear, visible, unambiguous, and universal. Do signs in your town or neighborhood make the cut? Comments below are welcomed.