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One Reason to be Excited About New Federal Automated Vehicle Guidance

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation released Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0 (AV 3.0). This 80 page policy document is, according to its authors, “structured around three key areas:

  1. Advancing multi-modal safety,

  2. Reducing policy uncertainty, and

  3. Outlining a process for working with U.S. DOT”

While much of the promise of automated vehicles is speculative, there is one thing in AV 3.0 that bicyclists should gain from soon – an update to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). On page 11, AV 3.0 states “FHWA will pursue an update to the 2009 MUTCD that will take into consideration these new technologies and other needs.”

The MUTCD sets standard for signage, traffic signals, pavement markings, and other basic elements of our roadway system. It does not prescribe designs, such as lane widths or turning radii. In some sense, it is like the building blocks of road design, if the building blocks exist then road designers can use them to build roads as they see fit.

For bicyclists, there has long been an incomplete set of building blocks. The League sponsors the National Committee that develops the MUTCD so that our representatives can help assemble a complete set of building blocks that will enable better, safer, roads to be designed and built. Regardless of automated vehicles, bicyclists have other needs that should be addressed by any update to the MUTCD.

Since the last version of the MUTCD was adopted in 2009 the new building blocks created by the National Committee have only been available to cities and states that have gone through the Federal Highway Administration’s Interim Approval or Experimentation processes. A new MUTCD means that all cities, towns, counties, and states will have access to these building blocks and can begin to use them to design and build better roads.

Here are some of the building blocks that designers will likely have access to when a new MUTCD is adopted:

» Green-colored pavement for bike lanes – This is already the 3rd most commonly approved interim approval, with 31 states and the District of Columbia asking for and receiving approval – often for statewide use. This building block is often, but not exclusively, used in separated bike lanes and to mark intersection crossings.

» Bicycle box – This building block has been approved by interim approval in 16 states. It allows bicyclists to stop at the front of an intersection, providing more room to spread out from a crowded bike lane and providing visibility to bicyclists at the intersection.

» Bicycle signal faces – This building block has been approved by interim approval in 14 states. It allows traffic signals to display lights in the shape of bicycles and is often used to provide a leading interval or alternative interval for bicyclists to cross an intersection.

» Two-staged bicycle turn boxes – This building block has been approved by interim approval in 12 states. It allows bicyclists to have an area to safely wait while executing a two-stage left turn, where a bicyclist crosses to the far side of an intersection, turns 90 degrees and then proceeds through the intersection as if she/he had made a left turn. This is an important building block for creating lower-stress crossings of multi-lane roads and for designs such as protected intersections.

There are several more new building blocks that might be added to a designer’s toolbox by the time the MUTCD is updated. Our representatives to the National Committee, Bill Schultheiss – co-author of the upcoming AASHTO Bike Design Guide, and Rock Miller – recently seen at the Walk/Bike/Places Conference discussing the need for lower speed roads, will continue to push for bicycle-friendly reforms that give bicyclists, and the people who design roads for them, better tools.

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