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With New Rule, Feds Forget Their Own Best Ideas on Street Design

1:22 PM CDT on July 30, 2015

This image is from the FHWA's own ##http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/separated_bikelane_pdg/separatedbikelane_pdg.pdf##Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide## -- but these designs aren't endorsed by the agency's new rules.
This image is from the FHWA's own ##http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/separated_bikelane_pdg/separatedbikelane_pdg.pdf##Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide## -- but these designs aren't endorsed by the agency's new rules.
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Antiquated, car-oriented road design guidance is losing its vise grip on our cities. Other manuals are challenging the dominance of the "design bible" issued by AASHTO, the coalition of state DOTs. But the federal government might be missing an important opportunity to enshrine street safety for all modes.

Over the past few years, the Federal Highway Administration has endorsed other manuals that do include more innovative and multi-modal designs, and has even issued its own guidance for protected bike lanes. The pending Senate transportation bill also sanctions the use of alternative guides issued by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

But the new flexibility at the federal level hasn’t yet made its way into every nook and cranny of the system. In its new revision of design rules for the National Highway System, FHWA doesn’t seem to be including NACTO and ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) manuals, or even its own protected bikeway design guide, as approved engineering guides. This is a serious oversight, especially because the current transportation bill, MAP-21, dumped thousands of miles of new roads into the NHS, including arterials and main streets that aren’t what you think of when you think of highways.

In a letter to U.S. DOT, Smart Growth America expresses concern that the new rule is at odds with other department initiatives to improve bike and pedestrian safety. “The NACTO, ITE, and FHWA guides referenced above help designers create safe streets for everyone,” the letter read. “This mixed message from USDOT will make it more difficult for local and state transportation officials to partner with Secretary Foxx to further our shared priority of improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety across the country.”

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