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The MUTCD: Reframe for Safety, Rewrite for the Future

As I wrote in early April, we now have a once-in-a-decade opportunity for safer streets in the update to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). While the League continues to prepare comments to the literal hundreds of areas for improvement that we’ve identified, many groups are calling for a larger reframing and rewriting of the MUTCD.

Read more about our once-in-a-decade chance to rewrite the MUTCD

Today, I want to write about the value of reframing and rewriting the MUTCD that will make our roads safer and more accessible for everyone and enable communities to build back bicycle friendly. 

This was 2009. The iPhone and Twitter have come a long way since then, so too should the MUTCD.

Despite public comments requesting it and public messaging campaigns claiming it, federal transportation policy – and with it the MUTCD – has never put “safety first.” The driver behind federal transportation investments, and the policies and assumptions embedded in the MUTCD, has been moving motor vehicles and creating motor vehicle networks, not safety. 

The last update to the MUTCD was in 2009. Remember 2009? A lot has changed since then. If a new version is adopted this year, the 12-year gap between updates will be the second longest time without an update in the history of the MUTCD, which traces back to 1927. The only longer gap was between 1948 and 1961, when the United States first embarked on highway-oriented federal policies and funding. Then, in 1971 the Federal Highway Administration took responsibility for the MUTCD which led to perhaps the only “completely rewritten MUTCD” in history. 

Those major changes to the MUTCD during the height of highway expansion and urban renewal deeply affected the ability of people to bike, walk, and ride transit in the United States and created and reinforced deep inequities along race and class lines. The MUTCD as we know it today is an evolution of that destructive time, which the Biden administration acknowledges in the American Jobs Plan with $25 billion to “redress historic inequities and build the future of transportation infrastructure.”

Reframing and rewriting the MUTCD is a critical part of supporting the future of transportation in the United States so that it is a future where more people can choose to bike, walk, and take transit. So that the future is one where, at some point for the first time since 1946, fewer than 30,000 people die on our nation’s roadways. So that the future is one where transportation is no longer the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. And so that the future is one where the historic inequities embedded in our transportation system are addressed and redressed, so everyone has better access to the whole of our communities and the ability to safely be physically active throughout them.

There is immense value in reframing and rewriting the MUTCD so that it proactively promotes safety over vehicle flow, and so that it serves as a foundation for a better transportation system for tomorrow. In our efforts to build a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone, the League has join our partners in calling for just such a reframing and rewriting.

Watch for an Action Alert from the League on the MUTCD!

Ahead of our action campaign, we sent the following letter as a public comment noting our firm belief that the next MUTCD adopted must provide proactive safety guidance so that the United States can make progress on equity, sustainability, and traffic safety goals. Read the letter the League submitted below. 

Download the letter here »