For the first time in the ten years I have been working in bicycle planning, I am seeing cracks in wall of rules and regulations that have stymied the development of innovative bicycle facilities in the United States. Planners and engineers in the US have been hog tied by acronyms like the MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the AASHTO Greenbook (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials), the WisDOT FDM (Wisconsin Department of Transportation Facilities Development Manual), and on and on. These conservative tomes set the rules and guidelines for building roads.
But recently, largely do to the efforts of advocacy groups like the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and the League of American Bicyclists, Federal policies have begun to prioritize bicycle and pedestrian accommodations on every road project involving federal dollars. Now our former adversaries have become our allies. Those same advocacy groups have to organize trips to Europe for US planners and engineers. The goal of these trips is to see how European facilities and programs might be adapted to the US in the hopes of improving safety and growing the number of people who walk and bike. These trips abroad seem to have finally developed a genuine interest in trying to implement European traffic engineering principles for bicycles and pedestrians in the United States.
One recent such trip was the International Scan on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety, in which transportation policy gatekeepers visited 7 cities in Europe. The following 15 minute video of Copenhagen was produced by James Makay, P.E. He is the City of Denver Bike Planner and also one of the good guys pushing for change on the NCUTCD (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices). Sorry for the extra jump that takes you to another page to view the video, but because of the format, I could not embed the video or download it. If any reader can download it and email it to me, please do so and I will embed or upload the video and update this post.
But more than junkets, the return on investment in these trips is now visible in the United States. Recently the District of Columbia Dept of Transportation recently installed bike boxes, colored bike lanes, contra-flow bike lanes and bicycle traffic signals in Washington, D.C.
While acronyms have held us back in the past, there is new hope with NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials. NACTO is a group of transportation officials from larger US cities who are working together to advocate change in transportation laws, regulations, and financing to enable large cities to better provide the integrated transportation services envisioned by Federal transportation law.
Here is a diagram of the wonderful new facilities in D.C.
I have ridden in this area the last time I was in Washington. I look forward to trying these new facilities the next time I head to DC. These contraflow lanes allow cyclists to ride legally in both directions on New Hampshire Avenue. When they reach the intersection, they will wait for the bike signal to turn green and then move into the bike boxes on 16th Street. Cyclists then use the regular traffic signals as other vehicular traffic crossing U Street. The bike boxes are make cyclists more visible to other traffic in this unique situation. When the traffic signal is yellow or red, motorists on 16th Street will now have to stop behind the white stop line behind the new bike boxes. They should not stop on top of the bike boxes. DDOT also banned right turns on red at this intersection, something that all bike boxes require.
Madison has bike boxes that went in immediately after they took transportation gatekeepers on a similar trip to Europe. I have had some very preliminary discussions with the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin to try to organize a trip for Milwaukee officials next year. Seeing videos and photos of these facilities is one thing, but a personal visit seems to be a lot more effective. Cross your fingers things work out for Milwaukee.