NACTO Paves The Way for Better Cycling

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When it comes to accommodating bicycling, it’s no secret that the United States has fallen behind. According to the forthcoming, “Bicycling Renaissance in North America? An Update and Re-Appraisal of Cycling Trends and Policies,” (Pucher, Buehler, and Seinen), even our Canadian counterparts cycle twice as much, and with about half the serious crash and fatality rate.

Yet, the same report, which profiles nine of North America’s most prominent cities, shows that cycling rates are going up—in some cases, way up.

While robust cycling policies, programs, and advocacy efforts are instrumental in encouraging more people to consider the ‘ol hobby horse for their transportation needs, leading cycling cities also invest in bikeway infrastructure geared towards a broader spectrum of the population.

That is to say, a bike lane squeezed into an otherwise inhospitable arterial won’t really appeal to the majority of people who are interested in cycling, but are concerned about their safety when doing so. Similarly, a rail-to-trail conversion is great for recreational riding, but often does little for daily transportation needs—not to mention the problem of dispensing with valuable rail infrastructure.

We must do more.

Enter the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Otherwise known as NACTO, this group of 15 large American cities formed in 1996 to share information and best practices. Prior to its creation, public-sector transportation officials had few, if any, official professional communication channels. And with decidedly different interests than those put forth by state and national highway organizations like

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the need to provide urban solutions to urban problems became clear.

Fast forward to today where NACTO’s current President, Janette Sadik-Khan, recently helped launch the Cities for Cycling campaign, which is focused on advancing urban bikeway design practices to meet the needs of a diversity of bicyclists, in a variety of contexts.

The importance of this type of leadership should not be overlooked.

The campaign’s first tangible effort is the recently released Urban Bikeway Design Guide, which directly addresses the need for more progressive bikeway designs not currently found in AASHTO’s 10-year old bikeway design manual, or the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

The new Guide not only provides guidance, case studies, and examples of the most progressive and effective bikeway treatments used in America, it promises to expose planners, engineers, and advocates across the United States to thinking behind the technical details of better bikeway design.

At present, the Guide is available online and as a downloadable PDF. 

In short, guidance for the following bikeway elements is included: 

- Bike Lanes

- Cycle Tracks

-  Intersections 

-  Bicycle Signals

- Bikeway Signing and Marking

Within each of these sections are numerous sub-types accompanied by the following information for each:

- Treatment/Bikeway type definition

- Treatment/Bikeway type benefits, with research citations from leading studies

- Typical Applications

- Case Study from city where said treatment/type has been used sprinkled throughout

- Detailed design guidance

Required, recommended, and optional details for application all illustrated visually

- Maintenance recommendations

- Cities where treatement/type has been adopted and used successfully

- Renderings

 Image Gallery of actual examples

The Urban Bikeway Design Guide currently represents the best of North American bikeway planning, which is a rapidly evolving discipline. Moreover, as a dynamic online guide, new designs and insights can be added as they become available, making for a much more nimble document than its predecessors. As information travels faster than ever, the importance of this cannot be underscored.

New urbanists should quickly familiarize themselves with the dozens and dozens of techniques embedded in the Guide as they offer a much needed way forward in designing streets for the 21st century. 





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