LaHood: Communities Should Embrace Next-Gen Bikeway Design Guide

LaHood, flanked by NYC Transpo Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, lauds the NACTO bike guide. Photo: Darren Flusche, League of American Bicyclists

If Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has anything to say about it, every transportation planner in the country should have a shiny new engineering guide on his or her bookshelf.

It’s been six months since the National Association of City Transportation Officials released the Urban Bikeways Design Guide in an online format. Yesterday, LaHood was among the first to hold the print edition in his very-excited hands, providing a ringing endorsement for its widespread adoption.

It would have been a bittersweet moment, coming only hours after LaHood told reporters that he would be a one-term transportation secretary – if the attendees had heard the news by then, which most of them hadn’t.

Before the most bike-friendly transportation secretary in U.S. history took the podium, another groundbreaking policymaker — Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City Transportation Commissioner — set the stage. Sadik-Khan is more than the architect of NYC’s next-gen bike infrastructure; she’s also the president of NACTO. So, she proudly raised a copy and called the guide a compendium of “everything you need to know to bring world-class bikeways to city streets.”

With American cities constantly struggling to implement cycling facilities that have long been the norm in Europe, NACTO created the guide to speed adoption of bicycling infrastructure by speaking directly to planners and engineers in their specialized technical lingo. By compiling a manual written by American city officials, for American city officials, Sadik-Khan said, the guide will give cash-strapped municipalities the certainty they need to view cycling facilities as proven traffic applications, not costly experiments. By putting all the engineering specs on paper, she added, it will help cities move beyond the rigid design standards that have limited bike infrastructure in the past.

Beyond the ease of reference, the guide breaks new ground by detailing bicycle infrastructure that has yet to be officially embraced by the old guard of transportation engineering institutions. The current versions of the AASHTO Guide to Bikeway Facilities or the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) directly reference only five of the 21 treatments outlined in the NACTO guide, according to the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Looking for design guidance on bike boxes? Best practices for protected bike lanes? Thanks to NACTO, now there’s a reference guide for that.

What will that sleek techno-manual mean for the average cyclist? A blossoming of bike infrastructure that will help mainstream bicycling, make streets safer for all users, and finally bring American transportation into the 21st century, said Sadik-Khan. “This is a design guide for streets that work today and in 2050; streets that aren’t designed for 1950,” she said.

Secretary LaHood seconded that emotion. The first words out of his mouth were a direct recommendation that every community use the design guide as a means to promote more and safer cycling. “This is an extraordinary piece of work that’s long overdue,” the secretary said.

True to his reputation, LaHood touted the importance of “providing cycling opportunities that are safe, convenient and available.” The new guide, he said, should serve as a resource in that effort.

“This is a big deal,” he said of the proliferation of urban bicycling. “And this guide is a big deal.”

  • The NACTO guide is an improvement on what currently is used for infrastructure design in the U.S.,but so what? There are lots of examples in the guide of infrastructure what was made obsolete in e.g.the Netherlands years ago. 

    I am really tired of everyone throwing around the term “world class” as if it only means better. It does not. It means among the best in the world! If “best” is defined by modal share, and that is over 40% in inner city areas, only a few towns and cities in Denmark and the Nethlerlands are “world class”: Not most of the places in these two countries, and certainly nowhere else in the West. You can say “Best in the USA”, and that is a good thing, but everything is relative.Imagine if this was a guide to treating cancer: American “experts” would in effect censor what might be better information from abroad only to protect their own jobs! (In truth cancer research is thankfully quite advanced in the U.S., so imagine if the medical establishment in Europe was saying something much less effective was the best).Read more details here: http://hembrow.blogspot.com/search?q=NACTO.

  • icarus12

    This is so exciting.  I couldn’t be happier, except that LaHood should stay on.

  • Mr. Positive

    Green Idea –

    In many ways you are right, but sometimes we gotta move in what directions we can.  This NACTO guide is amazingly well thought out and good.  Perhaps the NACTO 2.0 guide in a few years can reach even further.

  • Mr. Positive, did you read my comment? I put it best practice into a disease-context there, and now I will put it into a religious one:

    Let’s say that a bunch of people in country A came to the conclusion that there is a one true god and that its installation manual, as it were, was written in the language of country A, which people in country B only know in an earlier form. Country B people are interested in this god and it seems to be what they need, but instead of translating and perhaps localizing a little the country A manual, they grab some bits of it and then write a whole bunch of other stuff, and call it the Country A Manual, complete with statements on its cover like “Best Practice for World Class God Worship”.

    The team that created the NACTO guide should have put their egos aside and contracted Dutch infrastructure experts and translators to make a guide, with localizing only to take into account anything which might be difficult to change in the USA context (though I cannot think of any examples right now).

    My next metaphors would be about food, but Koreans make good bagels and Brazilians make great pizza, so I will think of something else…

  • Or as people suggested 7 months ago when the electronic version came out,use the manual from CROW as a basis for a guide for the US. http://www.crow.nl/nl/Binaries/PDF/PDF-Over_CROW/products_eng-germ.pdf

    If there are problems with accessibility and various mayors and their staff “owning” it, then re-do it as necessary.

  • 90% of what’s in the NACTO guide is superb and is long overdue in receiving endorsement in a design guide.

    5% is weak and of questionable merit.

    5% has a number of members of APBP rather upset by its inclusion in the guide since there is serious debate about safety of these design treatments in real-world dynamic traffic situations (and no, I’m NOT talking about well thought out cycle-tracks, like the many that can be seen in NYC).

    Unfortunately, the NACTO guide uses way too few references from independent, peer reviewed sources to help to prove the safety of the more controversial design treatments like is standard for both the AASHTO and MUTCD guides.  The few that were referenced were sometimes even asking the wrong questions as a measure for safety (bike box studies). As such I’ll still wait for the woefully overdue AASHTO Guide for the Planning, Design and Maintenance of Bicycle Facilities and look it over before I start celebrating.

  • Hijj2011

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