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.”

5 thoughts on Engineering Establishment Poised to Endorse Bike Boxes and Bike Signals

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

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