Engineers tend to be a conservative bunch.
While community planners and bike advocates push for new, innovative bike infrastructure such as protected bike lanes, bike boxes and hybrid beacon signals in other cities across the United States, it’s the traffic engineers who are responsible for making sure people don’t get hurt and agencies don’t get sued.
The NACTO guidelines are some of the most progressive in the United States for pushing the envelope on safer designs like protected bike lanes to make everyday people feel safe on bikes.” ~ Michael Darga, senior project engineer at Giffels Webster
The endorsement elevates the UDBG to something traffic engineers can hang their hats on. The traffic engineering design guideline bible remains the AASHTO Guide, but the organization has been slow to make recommendations for progressive infrastructure like protected bike lanes, despite evidence that such amenities make cycling safer and make people on bikes feel more comfortable.
NACTO is a non-profit organization of city transportation officials with a mission to share information and develop transportation design guidelines relevant to urban transportation contexts.
Michael Darga, senior project engineer with Giffels Webster helped design the Southwest Detroit Greenlinks. Darga says the NACTO UDBG has become the “go-to” book for bicycle improvements in urban communities.
“The NACTO UBDG was created specifically by bicycle, non-motorized and transportation professionals to support good design for both bicycles and vehicles in our urban cities,” says Darga. “Beyond just the sizing and shapes of facilities, there is guidance on materials, costs, and maintenance, all backed by research and the experience of the NACTO communities.”
A lack of clear endorsement by road agencies has hindered full implementation of the NACTO UDBG, according to Darga.
“Our challenges in using the NACTO UBDG is where it differs from the AASHTO guidelines and it’s acceptance by the various governmental entities with jurisdiction of the roads,” he says.
NACTO guidelines offer design options for increasing the level of comfort for all cyclists on roadways.
“The NACTO guidelines are some of the most progressive in the United States for pushing the envelope on safer designs like protected bike lanes to make everyday people feel safe on bikes,” says Rory Neuner an independent, Lansing-based non-motorized transportation consultant and board member of the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition.
“There’s a group of people who feel safe no matter what, but the rest of us, and women in particular, are more of an indicator species for safe biking infrastructure,” she says. “NACTO guidelines give more options to get families, women, and everyday people on bikes.”
Neuner believes the FHWA endorsement will help grow the movement to construct innovative bicycle infrastructure across Michigan.
“In Michigan, we have engineers who really want to do innovative thing to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, but they need the blessing and permission of higher-ups to say ‘that’s ok’,” she says.
Neuner points to a newly installed buffered bike lane on Saginaw in Lansing, one of the first of it’s kind to be built on an MDOT trunk line, as an example of the way forward to making city roads friendlier to cyclists.
“That kind of infrastructure is really important to getting the average American on a bicycle,” she says.
Getting more Michigan communities to embrace the types of solutions offered by NACTO will require local officials to see the solutions as applicable to their cities and towns, Neuner says.
“NACTO can be perceived as “big-city” set of solutions, but the FHWA endorsement will lend some credibility for smaller communities to take the guide more seriously.”
Making the connection between solid bike infrastructure and economic competitiveness clear to local officials is also needed to advance the cause.
“More communities need to understand the connection between this kind of infrastructure and talent attraction and economic development,” says Neuner.
“The results are not only more bike friendly communities, but cities with a higher potential for economic development and sustainability,” he says.
Want to see more progressive biking infrastructure in Detroit? Come to our event this Thursday!