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MUTCD Update from June 2018 Meeting
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a publication of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. All U.S. states are required to be in general compliance with this manual that regulates how traffic control devices (such as signs, markings, and traffic signals) can be used on public roadways and bikeways. A new version is released every 8-12 years, following a federally required rule-making process for any new or changed regulation that applies to States or the public. The last complete version was issued in 2008, and some noteworthy revisions were added in 2012, but the date for the next complete update is not known. This manual is very important for bicycling, because if a treatment is not in the manual, it may be illegal to use it. If a treatment is in the manual, there is no Federal restriction on its use. The Manual applies to bicycling and bikeways as well as roadways, but it does not address many enhancements in bikeway traffic control that are seen in US communities.
The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) develops and reviews potential changes to the U.S. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). LAB is a voting member of the committee where we advise and assist in development of new provisions and changes that facilitate bicycling. We are represented on the NCUTCD by Rock Miller and Bill Schultheiss. Rock and Bill are both professional civil engineers and are leaders in implementation of innovative bikeway improvements throughout the U.S. Other committee members represent states, Counties, Cities, private consultants, and representatives of nationally based non-profit associations who are interested in participating. Most committee members are experienced traffic engineers, highway engineers, or transportation planners with interests in traffic controls and regulations.
The NCUTCD meets twice per year. The January meeting is in Washington DC. The summer meeting is held around the Country in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). It was held in Denver this year.
The Committee makes recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to add or change the MUTCD on an ongoing basis. Most committee-approved changes are eventually included in the manual, but the changes must go through an internal consensus building process and the must await final action by FHWA. Some changes are made by FHWA without committee action, but this is not common.
A large number of proposals have been fully approved by the NCUTCD and are awaiting final action by the Federal Government. Many of these proposals relate directly or indirectly to bicycle infrastructure and bicycle traffic controls, and some date back to 2008. Many proposals affecting bicycling have been developed since 2012, generally to allow additional traffic controls for bikeways and better facilitate bicycle operation on streets. LAB has helped to develop many of these proposals and has supported others The NCUTCD has generally not recommended any proposals that LAB has strongly opposed. Many proposals have been adjusted to assure that they properly consider and are generally positive for bicycling.
NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee
Most proposals that affect bicycling are developed by this committee. LAB representatives generally sit on this committee but observe and ultimately vote upon the actions of other technical committees when bicycling is involved. Several other league members also sit on this committee. Other technical committees focus on specific sections of the MUTCD, such as traffic signs, traffic signals, or construction zones.
NCUTCD June Meeting Highlights
The NCUTCD meet in June in Denver, CO. A highlight of the meeting is always to learn when FHWA may issue the next revision or new edition of the MUCTD. The next edition has already been postponed for about 4 years for various reasons. FHWA indicated that there is no firm date to begin the Federal Rule Making process for the next edition of the manual, but they suggested that a new revision to the existing manual is now being discussed internally. They also indicated that many proposals about bicycle traffic controls may be included in this revision.
Speed limit zoning and procedures has become a hot topic, in part because the National Transportation Safety Board released a report indicating that speeding was an increasing factor in traffic collisions. The NCUTCD has appointed a task force to review potential changes in the MUTCD that address how speed limits are determined. The results of a survey were presented, but no actions will be taken until a highly relevant study underway by the Texas Transportation Institute completes a large study on the subject of the effect of changing speed limits on safety is completed, toward the end of 2018. The Bicycle Technical Committee has gone on record supporting changes that would allow for lower speed limits where pedestrian and bicycle safety are at issue.
The NCUTCD approved and forwarded to FHWA 8 proposals at the June meeting. Two proposals may be of interest to LAB members:
- Guidelines for posting of curve warning signs and advisory speeds were recommended based upon recent safety research on high speed rural roadways. More consistent signing should reduce incidences of motor vehicles losing control on curves where they can drift into bicyclists on the shoulder.
- Guidelines were changed to allow posting of Stop/Yield Here to Pedestrians signs together with painted yield markings in advance of crosswalks. These signs have been formally restricted to multi-lane roadway approaches. They are very effective in reducing crashes involving pedestrians in crosswalks and many agencies have been using them on approaches with single lanes.
The Bicycle Technical Committee voted to approve five potential changes. These will be circulated to all of the sponsoring agencies for review and comment. If comments are not substantial, they could be approved by the full NCUTCD at the next meeting in January 2019. The changes proposed are:
- Turning Vehicles Yield to Bikes Sign. While this sign is already used by many agencies today, it is not currently in the MUTCD. Its use has been found to be controversial, especially at traffic signals. Resolution of this issue was reached at the recent meeting. If further objections are minimal, the sign could become “legal” soon. The version that was approved matches most of the signs that have already been posted by agencies based upon their needs.
- A standard layout for a sign indicating a minimum distance (typically 3 feet) for passing bicyclists was approved. The sign was selected upon completion of sign recognition and human factors testing to make sure that motorists and bicyclists properly understood the sign. Three-foot passing laws have been passed by at last 33 states in the last few years, and many states developed their own signs, all different. Agencies wishing to post this type of sign may wish to use the version that was approved by the committee.
- Several Vehicle Prohibition Signs were approved that can be used to notify inappropriate vehicles that they cannot travel on bikeways, including snowmobiles, off road motorcycles, and ATVs.
- A standard layout was approved for a sign warning bicyclists of a railroad that crosses the bikeway at an angle that can create risk of having the tire caught in the flange way gap. The Bicycle Technical Committee originally preferred a sign that showed a bicyclist catapulting off their bike, but the required human factors testing resulted in a different sign design. This has become a larger problem with the popularity of new urban street cars.
- Guidelines for marking of the space between the two lines of a bicycle lane buffer were adjusted. Buffered Bike Lane Markings increase the separation between motorists and bicyclists where room is available. FHWA says bicycle buffers are legal, even though they are not shown in the manual, but many agencies will not use them until they are included in the manual. This is one of the many proposals that have been waiting for the next edition of the MUTCD.
- Guidelines for extending bikeway markings across intersections were finalized. FHWA also says that this treatment is legal, but the current MUTCD provides no guidance. If agencies wish to use this treatment, they may want to follow the provisions of the proposed guideline.
- A change at traffic signals in the marking of a location where a bicyclist should wait to be detected was approved. There is an existing approved marking, but the proposed marking is clearer and more effective based upon experimental use in several communities.
The Traffic Signals Technical Committee completed two proposals with close assistance by the Bicycle Technical Committee. One proposal clarifies when pedestrian WALK/DON’T WALK signals should be provided at traffic signals. Many states do not use these traffic signal indications at suburban and rural locations where pedestrians are not frequent. The provision changes would require these signal indications at new or modified traffic signals under most conditions.
Another proposal clarified whether bicycle traffic signal indications are needed when a turn lane is striped adjacent to a bicycle lane at a traffic signal. This is often a design issue for communities that are building separated bikeways, facilities that run adjacent to roadways. Much of the pending content for the next MUTCD revolves around these facilities and their traffic control needs.