Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.
A large car is less than seven feet wide. But thanks in part to an obscure federal rule, millions of miles of traffic lanes on local streets around the country are 12 or more feet wide.
Lanes that wide, it’s now known, make urban streets less safe. They give many people a false “freeway” feeling behind the wheel, leading to speeding and worse. And for cities looking to boost the appeal of biking, wider lanes mean less room for buffers, planters and other separators that dramatically improve the biking experience.
But for road projects that get federal funds, dangerously wide auto lanes have often been suggested or required.
Though they rarely make headlines, the “13 Controlling Criteria” have loomed large in the work of traffic engineers across the country since they were adopted in 1985. The idea then was to create a simple, hard-to-break list of basic guidelines for street design: shoulder widths, grades, cross slopes and how close to the roadway an “obstruction” (such as a tree or post) would be allowed.