Petitioning U.S. DOT to Recognize That City Streets Should Prioritize Walking

The FHWA applies the same design standards to city streets as to suburban arterial roads.

The Federal Highway Administration classifies roads as either “rural” or “urbanized.” But the “urbanized” label is deceptive, because it applies suburban street design standards to any street that isn’t rural. So if you live in, say, downtown St. Louis, the FHWA applies the same standards to your streets as to the streets in Orlando’s most distant suburbs. This contributes to a horrendous mismatch: Many city streets where walking should take precedence are in fact designed for moving massive amounts of traffic.

Now there’s a petition drive underway to change that. John Massengale, Victor Dover, and Richard Hall — a team of planners and architects that are involved with the Congress for New Urbanism — are circulating asking U.S. DOT to develop more city-friendly standards.

The trio recommends establishing separate standards for urban and suburban streets, introducing new priorities that place pedestrians first on city streets. From their letter to U.S. DOT:

The new standards for Urban Areas would be fundamentally different than the current Urbanized standards. Two-way streets, narrow traffic lanes, bicycle sharrows, and a prohibition on slip lanes and turn lanes would be the norm. In large cities, faster urban routes might be limited to broad boulevards and parkways. Small-town residential streets and Main Streets would be similarly transformed, according to their context.

The team calls their proposal a “simple but powerful idea could transform America’s streets and make our neighborhoods, cities and towns more walkable.” As of this afternoon, the petition needs only about 60 signatures to reach the goal of 500 supporters.

  • I don’t think people dying while walking to the grocery store is something that we just need to “accept” about modern life. Although, I live in NYC now I grew up in Cleveland and many neighborhoods in my hometown suffer from poor street design. I hope thtat future planners will think of pedestrians more often and maybe this can help!

    By the way have we ever done one of those petitions to the white house where they have to respond after X many signatures? Is that a good idea?

  • mark

    I get the problem with slip lanes, but why are turning lanes bad?

  • Alen Teplitsky

    NYC streets are already walkable. i always see people walking on the street instead of the sidewalk

  • Devan

    The walkability of cities like NY and San Francisco are overrated. The problem is the streets are too wide, and the speed limits too high. They’re like freeways, or racetracks. Wide streets encourages people to drive fast, which creates more noise and more stress for everyone. Urban streets are designed to move and prioritize car traffic not people. The tremendous noise of the traffic congestion make it a very unpleasant and stressful experience for people who are walking or biking.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant. I’ve already signed.

  • Nate Hood

    Thanks for sharing Angie.

  • Anonymous

    There is a theory that turn lanes are dangerous. Apparently people are unable to left turn so hence they need to go. I saw one proposal to replace them with U-turn lanes. Which are somehow safer. I’ve also heard about replacing them with roundabouts. I don’t think either is likely.

  • Jeff

    This is well-intentioned, but wouldn’t we all be better served if instead of creating a new category of road, we simply reformed the urbanized classification? Suburbs aren’t going away anytime soon, and most of them are in desperate need of the same design recommendations as proposed for “Urban Areas.” Advocates in dense cities will continue to fight uphill battles for transportation reform until the suburban voters that are kowtowed to start seeing and understanding these improvements in their own communities.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I agree with the goal, but I think the method is wrong. There are walkable suburbs as well as walkable city neighborhoods, but this proposed standard would categorize all suburbs as auto-oriented. I believe they say they 80% of all streets are in suburbs, so only a small minority of streets would become safer.

    I suggest that that they come up with categories like:
    — Rural
    — Auto-Oriented Urban
    — Walkable Urban
    Let each city and suburb choose whether it wants to be auto-oriented or walkable. I think that there would be a strong movement toward walkable.

  • henzhou16

    tinyurl.com/l3cselt.

  • Geoff Bowles

    what’s the plan for getting goods to the retailers on these walkable corridors?

  • meism39

    tinyurl.com/l3cselt
    .

  • Anonymous

    Signed. That is an excellent petition.

  • Anonymous

    Take them in small panel trucks. Like they do in every city with a classic, pre-1950s downtown. It’s not a problem.

  • Anonymous

    Left-turn pocket lanes are OK, but right-turn lanes are TROUBLE. They end up being very dangerous for people trying to use crosswalks.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2013

|
A growing number places are adopting policies to create safe space on the streets no matter how you get around. This year 80 new complete streets policies were passed by municipalities, states, counties, and planning agencies around the United States looking to make walking and biking safer. That brings the total number of such policies […]

State DOT Engineers Say They’ll Do Better on Walking, Biking, Transit

|
In a welcome sign from an industry group that has been slow to embrace street designs that prioritize walking, biking, and transit, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) released a statement last week saying it intends to “better address multi-modal issues.” AASHTO’s street design manuals are highly influential and lay out standards that many engineers […]

U.S. DOT to Challenge AASHTO Supremacy on Bike/Ped Safety Standards

|
For years, the federal government has adopted roadway guidelines that fall far short of what’s needed — and what’s possible — to protect cyclists and pedestrians. By “playing it safe” and sticking with old-school engineering, U.S. DOT allowed streets to be unsafe for these vulnerable road users. But that could be changing. The bike-friendliest transportation […]

NACTO Previews a Progressive Design Guide for City Streets

|
One of the interesting developments to come out of the National Association of City Transportation Officials “Designing Cities” conference (currently in its second day) was the announcement of a wide-ranging new design guide to be released next year. NACTO’s “Urban Streets Design Guide” will show how streets of every size can be re-oriented to prioritize […]

Feds Propose Major Rule Changes to Eliminate Barriers to Safer Streets

|
Applying highway design standards to city streets has been a disaster for urban neighborhoods. The same things that make highways safer for driving at 65 mph — wide lanes, “clear zones” running alongside the road that have no trees or other “obstacles” — make surface streets dangerous and dreadful for walking, killing street life. The one-size-fits-all approach to […]

Federal Report: Bad Street Design a Factor in Rising Ped/Bike Fatalities

|
A new report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office [PDF] examines why people walking or biking account for a rising share of traffic deaths in the United States. While the conclusions aren’t exactly earth-shattering, one culprit the GAO identified is street design practices that seek primarily to move cars. The investigation was ordered by U.S. representatives Rick Larsen (Washington State), […]