Advocates to Feds: We Need a New Traffic-Control Manual - Streetsblog


A coalition of leading transportation advocates is pushing for an overhaul of the manual that sets the design guidelines for our car-focused roads — stressing the need for a fundamental reframing of the document which reinforces unsafe national transportation standards on streets across America.


In a pair of action alerts, nonprofits America Walks and Transportation for America urged the Federal Highway Administration to “reframe and rewrite” Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices in order to prioritize safety and equity over driver speed. The groups also galvanized advocates to submit their own letters to the agency, rather than rely on the FHWA’s piecemeal comment process.


The letter template the organizations are encouraging safe streets proponents to use was developed by the T4A and the National Association of City Transportation Officials, which have questioned many aspects of the obscure but critical technical document. Although many MUTCD recommendations are not legally binding, the manual undoubtedly shapes the design process for countless signs, signals and roadway markings; engineers often point to passages when justifying road design choices that advocates say are harmful to pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users.

“I remember once, back when I was still mayor [of Seattle, Wash.] I asked my local DOT for a stop sign at a dangerous intersection, and they told me they couldn’t do it because ‘it didn’t meet the warrants’ in the MUTCD,” said Mike McGinn, now the executive director of America Walks. “So, essentially, our engineers were saying that all of the streets in our city were presumptively safe for pedestrians, because they followed the guidelines in this obscure manual. But what was I supposed to believe: the manual or my own eyes?”


Among other offenses, the MUTCD long has perpetuated dangerous guidelines such as the so-called 85th percentile rule for setting speed limits based on drivers’ average rate of travel, as well as crosswalk signal timing standards that don’t always give slower walkers enough time to traverse wide roads. It also says that crosswalks and traffic signals are not “warranted” at intersections that are crossed by fewer than 93 pedestrians an hour, unless five pedestrians are struck by drivers at that location in a single year — a ridiculously deadly standard.


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