State DOT Engineers Say They’ll Do Better on Walking, Biking, Transit

In a welcome sign from an industry group that has been slow to embrace street designs that prioritize walking, biking, and transit, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) released a statement last week saying it intends to “better address multi-modal issues.”

"Stroads" -- dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Can the engineering profession do better? Photo: Strong Towns
The engineering profession can do better than this. Photo: Strong Towns

AASHTO’s street design manuals are highly influential and lay out standards that many engineers view as gospel. While the guidelines are supposed to be flexible, in practice they promote a highway-style approach to city streets, emphasizing the movement of motor vehicles more than a welcoming pedestrian environment or safe routes for biking.

That appears to be changing — slowly. The group’s Committee on Highways recently passed a resolution [PDF] saying its next “Green Book” — the big book of street design standards — “should address designing in and for a multi-modal transportation system.” That version is due out in 2021.

Five years may be a long time to wait, but this is an encouraging development, said Ian Lockwood, an engineer with the Toole Design Group and a voice for reform inside the profession. “‘Multi-modal issues’ is their way of saying ‘allowing and encouraging cities, counties, and states to design streets that are safer and more comfortable for people who are walking, cycling or using transit,'” he said.

While AASHTO’s resolution points toward progress, it also falls back on old excuses to justify its slowness to adopt modern design standards that have proven effective in cities all over the world — including the U.S. The National Association of City Transportation Officials has stepped up to provide American engineers with design guidance for interventions like protected bike lanes, transitways, and public plazas, while AASHTO and its members often claim such treatments need further study.

Presumably referring to the NACTO guidelines, AASHTO’s new resolution says: “Other publications provide examples for multi-modal street design, but there does not exist research-based, peer-reviewed design guidance that fully address the technical design-related aspects of these issues.” The organization says it will identify “gaps” in the research and fill those gaps.

More research can help, said Lockwood, but that’s not an excuse for inaction by entities like AASHTO with a responsibility to protect people.

  • Vooch

    They know they are being made irrelevant by NAHTCO (so?)

  • Kevin Love

    “Other publications provide examples for multi-modal street design, but there does not exist research-based, peer-reviewed design guidance that fully address the technical design-related aspects of these issues.”

    Actually there does. The CROW standard is research-based, peer-reviewed design guidance. … Kevin rolls eyes once again…

  • com63
  • BBnet3000

    Don’t you realize cars have square wheels in The Netherlands and drive on sideways roads because the laws of physics are different? We can’t use those studies here!

  • Actually, this is doubly ironic, since the AASHTO standards are NOT research-based and peer-reviewed.

  • J

    Yes, in fact much research goes directly against their recommendations. The idea that street design is purely technical is absurd. AASHTO has made the political decision to prioritize the fast movement of cars above ALL of the following, which research has shown to be negatively affected by the designs put forth by AASHTO:

    Pedestrian safety
    Pedestrian mobility
    Bicycle Safety
    Bicycle Mobility
    Public Transit Effectiveness
    Social cohesion
    Economic prosperity

  • The fruit of US traffic engineers: Over 30,000 deaths per year.

    If engineers in The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and so many other countries can produce such safer streets, why can’t US engineers?

  • Kevin Love

    If I was working on a project that caused mass death, I would at least be fired and probably be looking at criminal charges. But 30,000 people crushed to death and a lot more poisoned to death by motorists? Not a biggie.


    AASHTO is the same group that said crosswalks are unsafe because they encourage people to cross the street.


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