Will MAP-21 Require Thousands More Dangerous Stroads?

Shown in red are some of the arterial roads the Oregon Department of Transportation thinks will need to be upgraded to comply with MAP-21. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/2012/09/13/odot-scrambles-with-federal-expansion-of-national-highway-system-77202## Bike Portland##

An obscure provision of the new federal transportation bill is sparking concerns that it could erode walkability and bikeability in communities around the country. The so-called “Enhanced National Highway System” provision would require all major arterial roads to be folded into the national highway system. That could provide greater pressure for local entities to comply with AASHTO’s often highway-inspired standards, like wide lanes and shoulders that encourage car capacity at the expense of pedestrian safety.

The provision will result in a near doubling of the number of roads that will be part of the national highway system. But what will it mean for livable streets? There are lots of different opinions out there.

Jonathan Maus, at Bike Portland, who broke this story, said:

The significance of these roadways becoming part of the National Highway System is that if PBOT engineers want to make any changes that deviate from FHWA design standards for “principal arterials”, they would have to go through a cumbersome process of applying for exceptions.

In the words of a source at ODOT, “this designation basically forces state and local governments to treat arterials like major highways… Speed will increase, certain designs, like bulb outs, won’t be allowed without an exception. So on and so on.”

Travis Brouwer, senior federal affairs adviser for the Oregon Department of Transportation, echoed those concerns to some extent. Brouwer said the state was racing to reclassify its major arterials, up to 600 miles of road, by October 1, when the new law goes into effect.

“Those are roads that are likely highly trafficked by bikes and pedestrians and cars as well,” he said. “A lot of these roads are local roads that serve as main streets.”

But Kevin DeGood at Transportation for America is skeptical that the new provision will be quite that far-reaching. DeGood said that for most states, there will be no difference in the AASHTO guidelines states already apply for arterials and the new NHS-grade arterial roadways. The AASHTO Greenbook, sometimes called the bible of transportation planning, doesn’t have any special requirements for NHS roads, though it does have guidance for major arterials.

“There is some gray in there; it’s as much about state interpretation as it about U.S. code,” DeGood said. “It might depend a lot on states, [which] could take narrowest possible interpretation.”

However, David Goldberg, T4A’s communications director, added that some states “might use this as a dodge,” to say they can’t build complete streets on certain roadways because they are classified as part of the national highway system.

An official from FHWA told Streetsblog that the provision would only apply to newly constructed or rebuilt arterials, not existing ones. She added that the new rule would allow states to access federal funding for the newly classified arterials, the apparent motivation for the rule.

FHWA is willing to work with states on the new guidelines, ostensibly to provide exemptions from AASHTO standards in circumstances where pedestrian or cycling issues would warrant it, she added. She declined to elaborate because the agency won’t issue guidance until October 1.

7 thoughts on Will MAP-21 Require Thousands More Dangerous Stroads?

  1. USDOT:

    Policy Statement
    The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.

    More here– http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/overview/policy_accom.cfm 

  2. This seems like an issue to be solved through the functional classification system. FHWA has old, old guidance on functional classification that distinguishes between urban and rural areas: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/processes/statewide/related/functional_classification/fc02.cfm#fsiua
    For urban areas, the guidance distinguishes between urban principal arterials and urban minor arterials.

    Excerpting from the urban principal arterials description:

    In addition, significant intra-area travel, such as between central business districts and outlying residential areas .. between major inner city communities, or between major suburban centers should be served by this system. Frequently the principal arterial system will carry important intraurban as well as intercity bus routes. …

    However, this system [the principal arterial system] is not restricted to controlled access routes. In order to preserve the identification of controlled access facilities, the principal arterial system is stratified as follows: (1) Interstate, (2) other freeways and expressways, and (3) other principal arterials (with no control of access).

    For the minor urban arterials, quoting from the guidance:

    The minor arterial street system includes all arterials not classified as a principal and contains facilities that place more emphasis on land access than the higher system, and offer a lower level of traffic mobility. Such facilities may carry local bus routes and provide intra-community continuity, but ideally should not penetrate identifiable neighborhoods.

    So there are at least four different categories for urban arterial, two of which (principal arterial/not access controlled and minor urban arterial) where the FHWA already recognizes the importance of local access and bus service.

    The FHWA’s functional classification system guidance at least a place to start when engaging the state DOTs on what it means to transfer “major arterials” to the National Highway System.

  3. AASHTO is only “guidelines” but let me tell you, as someone who works in civil engineering, if you tell a risk-averse population like engineers that they should follow these standards unless they want to apply for exemptions, you’re going to get roads that follow the standards. In addition, if an accident occurs on the road and you are hauled into court as the designer of record, you are going to get grilled over why you didn’t follow the standards.

  4. NHS is used as an excuse to avoid context sensitive design in urban environments. This comes from people at all levels from local on up to FHWA. Goldberg’s comment is on the mark, except it isn’t a “might” but rather a “will”, as they do it currently. It is absolutely amazing that in the 21st century engineers will still insist on freeway-like design standards for urban arterials through the heart of a CBD or commercial and residential areas.

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