Tell the Federal Highway Administration to make good street design the standard

THIS DOESN’T LOOK LIKE A HIGHWAY. US-62 in downtown Hamburg, NY is part of the National Highway System—and a great example of why the system’s design standards should be flexible. Photo by Dan Burden.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is poised to issue new guidance about street design across the country. Will the new guidance include walking, bicycling, and transit facilities?

Last month, FHWA proposed revisions to its rule governing design standards for the National Highway System (NHS). That system includes interstates and other high-speed, high-volume roads, but it also includes a whole lot of routes you’d more likely call “Main Street.” Thousands of miles of the NHS are streets serving commercial centers, homes, shops, parks, schools, and hospitals—places where people often walk, bike, or take public transportation, in addition to driving.

Given this reality, you’d expect FHWA to recommend context-sensitive, multimodal design standards. This kind of approach—which planning and design professionals nationwide use and endorse—offers a wider set of possible street designs, since what works well on a highway might not work well on a street in town.

Yet the only street design guidance included in FHWA’s draft rule is 2011’s Policy on the Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (aka, the “Green Book”), published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. While this document allows for some design flexibility, it offers minimal instruction for the development and integration of appropriate walking, bicycling, and transit facilities.

Different design standards would make streets safer for everyone. Specifically, the Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guide, published by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context-Sensitive Approach: An ITE Recommended Practice, developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Congress for the New Urbanism, and FHWA’s own Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide. FHWA already supports these documents, and citing them as standards would help state and local agencies plan and design great streets for people walking, bicycling, taking transit, and driving.

Tell FHWA that good street design should be standard:


The additional guides show designers how to create streets that are safe for everyone—and the United States needs this desperately. In 2013, over 5,500 people were killed in a traffic crash while biking or walking. An additional 114,000 people were injured walking or bicycling in that year.

Such alarming statistics were the impetus for U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s Safer Streets: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative, launched in last fall. Central to this effort is a challenge accepted by than 200 mayors across the country to “take significant action to improve safety for bicycle riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.” In order for these mayors—and all other transportation decision-makers—to rise to that challenge, they must be able to use proven safety solutions for designing integrated walking and bicycling facilities on all routes. The rule, as written, does not cite sufficient guidance in this regard. The alternate guides help designers create safe streets for everyone.

The comment period for this guidance officially ended on July 2, but we’re not going to let this issue go by without action. Join us in asking FHWA to amend this rule to use design standards that make streets safer for everyone.

Complete Streets