Monday, March 14, 2011

Bicycle Facilities and the MUTCD

"The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD defines the standards used by road managers nationwide to install and maintain traffic control devices on all public streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public traffic." The latest version of the MUTCD published in 2009 includes Shared Lane Markings (Sharrows) and "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" signs. See BikePortland for a summary or see the MUTCD section on Traffic Controls for Bicycle Facilities.

Each state has two years to either adopt the MUTCD or develop a State MUTCD/supplement. Here's a site showing adoption status by state. Virginia plans to adopt the national MUTCD along with a State supplement by June 2011. The current draft of the Virginia supplement is now online.

The Federal Highway Administration recently published a list of various types of bicycle facilities and whether or not they are permitted in the current version of the MUTCD. For instance, contraflow bike lanes are now being used in DC and elsewhere but guidance is not contained in the AASHTO Bike Guide. According to the FHWA site, "Contraflow bike lanes—Can be implemented at present time if signs and pavement markings that are compliant with the MUTCD are used." The same is true of "Buffered bike lanes." Cycletracks are "Not a traffic control device, so no MUTCD restriction on its use."

In some cases a bicycle facility may be experimental, and the site indicates whether there are experiments currently underway.

See also the footnote to the table: "Inclusion on this list does not constitute FHWA endorsement. The purpose of this list is to describe the status in the MUTCD of different bicycle-related treatments. Practitioners should consult any applicable design policies, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, and State laws of the State within which the treatment is contemplated for use. The design and implementation of traffic control devices requires careful consideration of the roadway environment to ensure the safety of all road users."

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I really wish they advised the use of "Bicycles may use full lane" sign more often than "Share the road." The "Share the Road" sign is ambiguous and seems like it tells drivers to just "squeeze through" while cyclists hug the curb.

The "Bicycles May use full lane" sign is for those roads where cyclists should be taking the lane (not wide enough for a car and a bike in the right lane). This describes nearly every road in my area.
I think the "Share the Road" sign will see much less use in the future now that the "Bicycles may use full lane" is contained in the new MUTCD. VDOT says that they only use the "Share the road" sign in very limited situations. In the draft VA supplement to the MUTCD there's this statement that gives very specific guidance for use of the Share the road sign:

"A Bicycle Warning sign (W11-1) and SHARE THE ROAD supplemental plaque (W16-1P) assembly shall not be used as a substitute for a bike route sign or where a jurisdiction wants to communicate a general policy statement.
08 A Bicycle Warning sign (W11-1) and SHARE THE ROAD supplemental plaque (W16-1P) assembly may be considered where all of the following conditions exist:
* A bike lane ends,
* The speed limit is 40 MPH or greater, and
* A hazard exists, such as a narrow bridge or overpass, narrow lane, parallel parked vehicles, or a downstream intersection with many turning vehicles. (The end of a bike lane, by itself, is not a hazard.)"

I agree; the "Bicycles may use full lane" signs could be placed on just about every road on which I ride in Fairfax. I think we'll start seeing a lot more of them in the county in the future. Let's hope VDOT formally adopts the new MUTCD guidelines and VA supplement soon.

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