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.”