NACTO Beats the Clock With Quick Update of Bike Guide

Once again, the National Association of City Transportation Officials has proven what an agile, modern coalition of transportation agencies is capable of. It was just a year and a half ago that NACTO released its first Urban Bikeway Design Guide and today, it’s released the first update to that guide.

A bicycle boulevard sign in Madison, Wisconsin. Image: ##

NACTO’s guide is far ahead of the industry standard, old-guard manuals: the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ design guidelines.

NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide was the first to provide engineering guidance for protected bike lanes. It also laid out four different kinds of bike signals, four types of striped bike lanes and a variety of intersection treatments and signage recommendations. The update, released today, also includes bike boulevards, which NACTO defines as “enhanced, low-stress, low-speed streets parallel to major roads.” (Check out this Streetfilm to see bike boulevards in action.) All of the treatments NACTO highlights are in use internationally and around the U.S.

Meanwhile, AASHTO just published its first update in 13 years and is still not ready to embrace protected bike lanes. (Boulevards do get a mention.)

The speed with which updates are made and disseminated could be the biggest difference between the two guides. With just 18 months’ turnaround, NACTO is updating its guide with the newest ideas. Meanwhile, AASHTO is hoping to get around to an update within five years, but given their history, it could be two or three times that long. It’s not online, and it’s not free — you have to order a paper copy (how quaint!) for $144.

It’s a clunky and old-school way to introduce the world to street safety treatments — but then again, they’re old-school street safety treatments too. NACTO has run away with the innovations.

NACTO’s guide exists in the modern world of instantaneous communication, the 24-hour news cycle, and open information. They followed up the release of their first guide with a digital version less than two months later. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood heaped praise upon the innovative guide and the Green Lane Project facilitated the implementation of NACTO’s recommended treatments around the country.

And it’s making a difference. Major cities are turning away from the traditional guides and looking to NACTO for advice on how to encourage cycling and design safer streets. Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein says the guide has already made “a remarkable imprint on Chicago’s streets.” As the city moves forward with a major overhaul of the city’s bike network, “the guide will serve as an essential blueprint for safe, active, multi-modal streets,” Klein says.

But it’s not only the Chicagos and the Portlands that are paying attention to NACTO. Phoenix Street Transportation Department Director Wylie Bearup says the second edition of the NACTO guide “will play a significant role in how the city of Phoenix designs and installs its growing network of bike lanes, routes, and boulevards.” He says it will help the city accommodate cycling as it moves toward adoption of a new Complete Streets policy.

6 thoughts on NACTO Beats the Clock With Quick Update of Bike Guide

  1. Awesome. Fantastic and important work by NACTO. This is a perfect example of what Andres Duany calls “capturing the transmitter” — or, in this case, building a new transmitter and encouraging people to tune in (and tune out AASHTO, which sounds like a dinosaur that is unable to adapt to the modern world).

  2. Nope, no, nada…. at least in regards to intersection treatments, with NACTO, it’s the same old old skool as with the last edition. Shame on you cheerleaders. Which “industry standard”? There is a reason that TEN times as many people ride bikes – percentage-wise – in Groningen, Netherlands than in Portland, Oregon. 

    Imagine if this was a treatment for cancer. The Dutch have a better treatment, but this is America, so we just call what we do “best” over and over and over. Even if people die, just call it “safe” over and over and over. I can’t wait to burn my passport. The NACTO guide has dangerous designs which the Dutch never used or discarded years ago.
    See and for 112 dollars buy the “Design manual for bicycle traffic” at (go to English Summary and then download the PDF which lists materials in English and German)

  3. NACTO has moved the bar far which I give them tremendous credit for.  However, innovatiion is not always good.  Some of the items that are shown in the NACTO guide have not been proven to be effective and, in some cases, could actually cause safety concerns which have not been immediately shown.  For example, if a treatment is installed and the immediate result is an increase of bicyclists and a decrease in collisions, great.  But, the question that needs to be asked is “Is this a blip or a pattern?”  This is not the case with some of NACTO’s treatments.  Until that happens, I think we will continue to have state and other conservative DOT’s hold back on implementing this guide.

    I do want to give NACTO credit for citing resources.  One of the issues I have with AASHTO and the MUTCD are there lack of research citations of why certain decisions are made.  As a society, I think we are beyond the time when we just accept what the experts say and want to know where this came from.  Call it a lack of trust or an overvalued sense of self, but in any case, decrees from on-high do not apply any more. 

  4. I would personally like to see a lot more emphasis on total grade separation. Many cities already have grade-separated railways, expressways, or els which can be leveraged further by hanging lightweight structures for bicycles on them. The major place where cyclists have conflicts is at intersections. Nothing except total grade separation can ever truly fix this. The Netherlands already has a few good examples of intersections where bike lanes and motor traffic are routed to different levels. This should become the norm, especially in cities with heavy motor traffic.

  5. I really like most of what is in the NACTO guide but many of the references on the controversial treatments are circular in nature.  Cities A, B, C & D (all NACTO members) have this new design in their bicycle plans, etc. etc. so it must work.  Even much of the research “proving” the efficacy of some designs were done by NACTO members or on the behest of a member city.

    Again, most of what is in the NACTO guide is perfectly fine including much of
    the innovative stuff and I applaud the effort but there are some treatments that leave questions
    not resolved in the sources referenced.  Show me hard peer reviewed, INDEPENDENT empirical evidence that these great “innovations,” that bend and break traffic norms, actually work and don’t create more hazards than they solve, then many might not be so critical of the document. 

    AASHTO for all of its very annoying shortcomings is justifiably conservative on what it recommends in its guide (the old one at least, I have not seen the new one due to the obvious barriers).  Even though the old guide is well old, and not super innovative, I have no issues with anything recommended in that document.  Most of the design in the AASHTO guide have been vetted through many years of use and well reasoned logic.  Also AASHTO has heaps of research in its annals including much on bicycling and bicycle traffic interaction with motor traffic.  I doubt anything in its guide would contradict it’s own empirical research.

    It would be best for all involved, including NACTO, if they could reference research, free of the possible taint of bias, proving that some of the more controversial treatments in the NACTO guide are at least as safe as the AASHTO design solutions. 

  6. @google-14337a1ef15748d16fa8ce174e953d81:disqus The NACTO guide is a work in progress. Obviously, it’s not perfect, but they update it every 18 months. Your criticisms are useful, and will help to continuously improve the guide.

    The point of the guide is as an alternative to AASHTO, the previous standard in bikeway design, which is updated every 9 years, is not available online, and most importantly has no guidance on cycle tracks, bike boulevards, etc. I should also add that the CROW manual is not accesible at all. For starters, it’s 89 euros and you have to order through a ridiculous process of mailing a form and check to the Netherlands (which they screwed up and I had to call the Netherlands and reorder several times). NACTO also cites sources way better and has free webinars to explain the thinking behind the guide and answer questions. Again, not perfect, but certainly a quantum leap past previous US design guides, and certainly nothing to burn your passport over.

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