13 May 2021
I was planning on posting my monthly update for April today, but then I realized that tomorrow (May 14th) is the final day for public comment on the proposed revision to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD is the document that determines not only how signs look, but where crosswalks can go, and where the rule that maximum speed should be set at 85th percentile of actual speed driven is found). It has been more than a decade since it was last updated, and may be another decade or more before it is updated again. If you are a person who walks, cycles, or drives in the US (so, everyone), you have an interest in making sure that this document reflects what you want from our roads. There are a lot of articles about the MUTCD out there right now, but to save you a web search, you might want to start with Streetsblog or America Walks. If you have a few minutes today or tomorrow and don’t know where to start, America Walks has you covered. If you’re curious, here’s what I wrote in addition to the template:
As a driver, pedestrian, and cyclist, I feel that our roads are designed with speed, not safety, in mind. When driving, I feel the constant tension between the maximum designated speed on a road and the speed that the road design encourages. Since most roads around me have differing speed limits but nearly identical design, a lot of traffic goes in excess of the posted speed limits. When I or other drivers attempt to drive the posted speed limit, other drivers react with aggressive driving (tailgating, honking, overtaking in areas of limited visibility). I have come to realize that the MUTCD plays a role in how roads are designed and how speed limits are set, and would ask that you adopt standards that are designed to create roads that encourage drivers to travel at the appropriate speed rather than relying on signs to do so.
As a cyclist, I have been hit by drivers who are turning against a red light, who have run stop signs, and who have made an unsignaled turn through a bike lane. In addition, I am frequently told by drivers that I do not belong on the road, been spit upon, and have had items thrown at me. I have had to explain to my 8 year old why drivers are yelling at us when riding on residential roads. Most recently, I have noticed that where a residential road goes from 25 to 35 mph (without any change in the road design), I am subject to much more abuse in the 35 mph segment. I would ask that you remove the 85% rule for speed limits, set standards that encourage non-arterial roads to signal slower speeds to drivers through their structure, and create signage that clearly states that bicycles are legal road users in those locations where the laws provide for that.
As a pedestrian, I deal with the issues created for drivers and cyclists. With high speeds and lack of infrastructure making it difficult and unpleasant to walk near my house, with cyclists riding on the sidewalk in areas where they feel unsafe riding in the road due to lack of or inadequate bicycle infrastructure (riding in unprotected bicycle lane on a 40 mph road does not feel safe). The effect of this is that when walking I feel like an afterthought at best and a nuisance at worst. In areas where there is good infrastructure for walking, it often sounds like that has been achieved in spite of the MUTCD rather than because of it.
Given that a decreasing proportion of road spending comes from gas tax and other user fees, and much of local road spending comes from the general fund, even when I am not driving I am still responsible for paying for roads, I shouldn’t be made to feel like a second-class citizen when I am using them other than driving. As a driver, I want roads to reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior. However, from what I have read, it sounds like the MUTCD is focused primarily on vehicle throughput, meaning that driving is unpleasant, walking is inconvenient, and bicycling is dangerous. This is supported by the data showing that an increasing proportion of traffic fatalities are pedestrians and cyclists who have been hit by cars, even as overall fatalities decrease.
I believe that the people who have worked on this version of the MUTCD are doing their best and I appreciate the time that they have put into it. However, I have to wonder if the goals and objectives that they have been given reflect the realities of our present situation. I am asking you to take a step back and assess what the desired outcome of this document is, what sort of infrastructure we want and need. I know that this is a big ask, since so much work has been put in already, but if the choice is to not do that work now, I worry that the next time the MUTCD comes due for a revision it will be with another decade of data on deaths and injuries that could have been prevented.
I’ll plan on posting my monthly update in the next day or two, it can wait. Better streets can’t.