Engineering Establishment Poised to Endorse Bike Boxes and Bike Signals

Bike boxes and bike traffic signals are becoming increasingly common in American cities. But as of yet, these tools are not fully recognized by one of the country’s most important engineering guides.

Bike boxes may soon be updated to officially recognized guidance in engineering manuals. Image: ## Otrec##
Bike boxes may soon be officially recognized in engineering guidance. Image: ## Otrec##

Bike boxes and bike signals are currently classified as “experimental” in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — which stops many local agencies from installing them. But there are new signs that these two treatments are on their way to official acceptance from the engineering establishment.

The MUTCD is developed and revised by an advisory group called the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devises. When that committee meets for its annual meeting in January, one of the recommended updates they’ll be considering is elevating bike boxes and bike signals to regular, non-experimental status in the MUTCD.

Ronnie Bell, chair of the Signals Subcommittee, and Bill Schultheiss, of the Bicycle Subcommittee, both confirmed that their groups were forwarding these treatments to the full committee for approval after reviewing the performance data in American cities.

In order to receive “interim non-experimental approval,” these recommendations will need to receive two-thirds support from the full NUTCD committee. In addition, the proposed changes must still undergo review by AASHTO and the Institute of Transportation Engineers, followed by a “rule-making period” during which design recommendations are fine-tuned.

MUTCD approval “gives cities interested in these tools permission to use them,” said Darren Flusche, policy director at the League of American Bicyclists. “It will help traffic engineers in those cities sleep easier at night knowing that the treatment is officially approved.”

  • jamesbeaz

    Bike boxes only work if they — and speed limits — are enforced.

  • While it is absolutely true that AASHTO and NUTCD are obstructions to safe cycling and thus higher cycling modal share, at best NACTO standards are not state-of-the-art either, and bike boxes are not really implemented anymore in the only place in Europe whose designs really matter, the Netherlands. (Search for the term “bike boxes” at

    Bike signals that work are a great thing but I actually don’t know of many examples in the USA in terms of fully-developed, and full-featured implementation. Chicago…? Where else?

  • Nick

    Shifting transportation designs and standards is like moving mountains. No doubt the NACTO guide isn’t perfect, but it has worked tremendously at changing the conversation at the federal level (The upcoming adoption of Bike Signals and Bike Boxes wouldn’t have happened without the NACTO Guide.)

    And unlike the federal manuals, the NACTO guide can be updated every year to evolve the practice. Think of it like baby steps along the way to eventual Netherlands quality infrastructure. (I like to think we’ve reached 1980s Denmark with the current edition of the NACTO guide).

    Portland, Ore has many bike signals installed at key locations to separate through bicyclists from right turning cars, to give bicyclists a head start, and for an ‘all direction green’ phase for bicyclists where all car movements are stopped completely.

  • Thanks. Exactly. Keep on pushing.

    Not been to Portland and I don’t understand why what you mention is not more widely examplified.

  • spare_wheel

    Bike boxes/ASLs are dangerous facilities that are not used in continental europe because they inherently unsafe. They have been linked to increases in injury collisions in Portland something PBOT’s chief traffic engineer was forced to concede in a letter to the FHWA:


Contraflow Bike Lanes Finally Get Nod From U.S. Engineering Establishment

Buffered bike lanes have been used in some American cities for decades now, and an increasing number of cities are implementing contraflow bike lanes. But only just now are these street designs getting official recognition from powerful standard-setters inside the U.S. engineering establishment. Late last month, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices gave […]

Bike Signals Get the Green Light From Engineering Establishment

Think of it as a Christmas gift: On December 24, the gatekeepers who determine which street treatments should become standard tools for American engineers decided to add bike signals to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, sometimes called “the bible of traffic engineering.” The decision should lead to more widespread use of bike signals, […]

American Traffic Engineering Establishment Finally Approves Bike Boxes

The wheels of change grind slowly at the institutions that guide the American traffic engineering establishment, but they are moving forward. This week, U.S. DOT issued interim approval for bike boxes [PDF], a treatment that positions cyclists ahead of cars at intersections. Dozens of American cities currently use bike boxes — some for the better part of the past decade […]

Engineering Establishment Sets Out to Purge Deviant Bikeway Designs

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices might be the most influential group of American bike policy makers you’ve never heard of. The committee shapes street design standards in the United States to a large extent. Their recommendations become part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a guide to street markings, signs, and […]