Press statement: Newly updated MUTCD doesn’t go far enough to protect pedestrians


Washington, D.C. (Dec. 20) — Yesterday, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released the 11th Edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), a document “that governs how traffic control devices communicate the design intent to the road user to safely and efficiently navigate the roadway system.” Smart Growth America and Transportation for America are glad to see FHWA include more considerations for people outside of a personal automobile and provide additional flexibility for practitioners. However, in the face of historic rates of roadway fatalities, especially pedestrian fatalities, incremental improvements are a lackluster response.

Beth Osborne, Vice President of Transportation and Thriving Communities at Smart Growth America, released the following statement:

“This update to the MUTCD did respond to some of our requests, particularly allowing transportation agencies to paint red bus-only lanes and green bike lanes. There are also long-awaited updates that could have positive impacts, such as new considerations before setting the speed limit at the 85th percentile speed and making it a little easier to justify new crosswalks.

“However, this falls short of the kind of major paradigm shift required to protect vulnerable users at a time when the United States leads the developed world in roadway fatalities. For example, while transportation agencies must consider context and the users of a road before setting speed limits at the 85th percentile speed, they may still do so even if that causes dangerous conditions. The document also indicates great concern about color and designs in crosswalks that would better draw a driver’s attention to those areas, including a misguided fear that pedestrians might actually stand in traffic to look at those colors and designs.

“Some of FHWA’s trepidation around innovation may come from a misunderstanding of how agencies use manuals like this. In our direct technical assistance programs, the MUTCD is cited as a barrier to many common-sense safety interventions in almost every state DOT. New flexibility often goes underutilized for lack of clear and strict guidance. That is because engineers understand the status quo while the flexible option requires an engineer to create something new, something most overworked agency engineers do not have time to do. Even when they do, their general council usually cautions against trying new things because flexibility does not come with the same legal coverage as a standard.

“To achieve safer streets, we stand behind FHWA’s goal to make the MUTCD a living document and look forward to continued partnership to align their intentions with results. To that end, we call upon the FHWA to improve data collection and implement a feedback loop that allows amendments to the current MUTCD as soon as 2024 to prevent more avoidable deaths. We commit to working with FHWA to modernize the MUTCD and with Complete Streets champions in their efforts to make streets safe for everyone.”



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