This Arcane Manual Could Pave the Way to More Human-Friendly Cities

There’s a motive {that a} cease register Sheboygan seems to be like a cease register Seattle. There’s a motive that highway lanes are divided by white and yellow markings in each locations too. There’s additionally a motive why, if a bicycle lane image etched on the road is accompanied by a phrase, like “SLOW,” the bicycle all the time comes first. The motive is 862 pages lengthy and has been round, in a single kind or one other, for 85 years: the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The concept behind the guide is that, for roads to be secure, they have to be constant, irrespective of the place persons are driving, strolling, or scootering. The guide is “a visual representation of what the rules of the road are,” says Jeff Lindley, the deputy government director of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. It gained’t let you know when to put in a roundabout, however it would let you know the signal you want to assist clueless drivers navigate a roundabout. “It’s not a real fun evening bedtime read,” says Luke Schwartz, the transportation supervisor for the metropolis of San Luis Obispo, California.

For transportation engineers, the guide is akin to an expert bible, which they seek the advice of weekly, if not each day. Inside is a mixture of obligatory shalls, in all probability good shoulds, and OK-to-do mays. The Federal Highway Administration, the US Department of Transportation company that has managed what goes in the guide since 1971, maintains that engineers ought to all the time use their skilled judgment to decide whether or not a selected highway signal, lane marking, or bicycle stencil works for the scenario.

Now the guide is getting its first replace in 11 years. That’s introduced out critics who say it’s outdated and too centered on automobiles slightly than individuals on foot or two wheels. Some metropolis officers need the freedom to create site visitors indicators, markings, and road configurations that cater to their native roads, and the different choices—bus, moped, escooter—now accessible to their residents. They need the flexibility to select completely different bike lane markings or to set up colourful crosswalks, decisions that aren’t endorsed by the guide. (Federal officers have issued sternly worded letters to cities together with St. Louis, Ames, Iowa, and Lexington, Kentucky, urging them to convey artistic crosswalks into compliance.) Earlier this yr, a number of progressive transportation teams launched an effort to not simply tweak the guide, however to reframe and rewrite it.

The tussle over an obscure set of federal guidelines factors to a bigger development in transportation planning: a renewed give attention to making streets equitable, climate-conscious, and secure for everybody, not simply these in cars.

Nationwide, security statistics are moving the wrong way. Preliminary information collected by the Governors Highway Safety Association discovered a 4.eight % improve in pedestrian deaths final yr. Factor in the decreased driving due to the pandemic and the quantity will get much more dire: a 21 % improve in pedestrian deaths per car mile traveled. That’s the largest leap since the authorities began retaining observe of such numbers in 1975.

“This is the time to say, ‘What should the spirit of the document be? And what should be the best way forward?’” says Zabe Bent, the director of design at the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a bunch representing metropolis departments of transportation in North America that’s spearheading the effort to reframe the guide.

The Federal Highway Administration launched a draft of proposed adjustments late final yr. The final time the guide received an replace, a couple of thousand individuals, principally transportation professionals, submitted feedback. This yr, 26,000 feedback poured in from throughout the nation.

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