Reforms Are Coming to American Road Design

The federal manual governing road design is getting an update. Will it encourage real progress toward road safety?

2 minute read

August 16, 2023, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

A post on the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) website outlines the key reforms the organization is looking for in the newly revised Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the federal document that dictates how roads are built in the United States.

For many safe streets advocates, the MUTCD is uniquely responsible for the unsafe design of many American roads, where over 40,000 people lose their lives each year. As NACTO points out, “The MUTCD governs all road markings, stop signs, and traffic lights in the U.S., and prioritizes moving vehicles quickly at the expense of safety, sustainability, and accessibility for people walking, biking, using a wheelchair, or riding transit.”

Some of the changes NACTO hopes for in the new MUTCD, which will be released after a review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), include: 

  • Elevating safety and implementing a ‘safe systems’ approach
  • Eliminating the 85th percentile rule and other free-flow speeds in setting speed limits.
  • Reforming regulations for signals to make street crossings safer for pedestrians.
  • Removing the manual’s new proposed chapter on autonomous vehicles, which, according to NACTO, “absolves AV companies of the responsibility to build vehicles that keep road users safe within the existing transportation network.”
  • Removing unnecessary restrictions on the use of paint for bus lanes, bike lanes, and crosswalks; and eliminating design restrictions for urban bikeways that conflict with data on bike safety.

Monday, August 14, 2023 in National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)

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