Currently in the United States, all road design and engineering must follow the guidelines laid out in a federal document called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD, which is published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) with considerable input from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Known as the bible for traffic engineers, the manual was first drafted in the 1940s. It still reflects the values and reality of the time, and it does not offer much guidance for cities that want to build a comprehensive bicycle network. Furthermore, the FHWA and the MUTCD can be very slow to recognize new design innovations.
Essentially, if bikeway design treatments — such as bike boxes, bike-only signals, cycle tracks, etc. — are not listed as an approved design in the MUTCD, many engineers are unlikely to use them. Engineers can still install these innovative facilities, but they must apply for a “Request to Experiment” which can be a time consuming and intimidating process.
Cities for Cycling is a coalition of transportation planners from around the U.S. who are seeking to change all that and help change the rigid federal roadway design guidelines that have stifled bikeway innovation. The goal of Cities for Cycling is to provide support for urban transportation planners looking for guidance in building the next generation of bikeway networks — guidance that the highway-oriented federal government is not willing or able to provide.
The coalition is in the process of creating a new manual of bikeway designs that includes technical information and best practices gleaned from what has proven to work in the world’s most bike friendly cities. The MUTCD is scheduled to be revised in 2011; hopefully some of their recommendations will be incorporated into the revision.
You can see Cities for Cycling’s best practices information here, and other design resources for urban bicyling here.