Over 25,000 Comments Calling for Safety and Equity Reforms to Once-Obscure Federal Street Manual
50+ Cities, Transit Agencies, Practitioners and National Organizations Call for Overhauling and Modernizing Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)
By the end of Friday, May 14th, thousands of Americans had submitted over 25,000 comments in a once-in-a-decade opportunity to ask FHWA to make key changes to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The manual is a regulatory document that dictates the design and implementation of road signs, signals, and markings, and by extension, what nearly every street looks like throughout the United States.
This enormous volume of comments (a more than ten-fold increase over the last time the MUTCD was updated in 2009) demonstrates the degree to which Americans want change. In addition, detailed, technical comments from dozens of major U.S. cities, transit agencies, leading national safety groups, and other safety and environmental experts, underscore the high level of public concern about the poor safety record of U.S. roads and a strong desire for FHWA to take decisive action to save lives and reduce transportation emissions.
As the Federal comment period closed on the revised Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a chorus of leading transportation agencies is pressing the Biden Administration to implement bold changes that will better align America’s road system with safety, sustainability, and equity goals and to ensure that the process for finalizing and adopting the 11th edition of the MUTCD, and all future editions, is robust, transparent, and inclusive.
“For a field focused on movement, American transportation often suffers from inertia. Just look at our federal roadway standards, which maintain the status quo despite a traffic violence epidemic,” said Corinne Kisner, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). “To make our streets safe, sustainable, and equitable, FHWA must commit to reforming this motor-centric regulatory document that affects every street in the country, and upgrade it to better reflect how we actually use, and want to use, our streets.”
“Making walking and moving easier outside of cars is one of the best ways to dramatically improve the social, physical, mental, and economic health of any place. Yet an outdated federal manual puts barriers to making more walkable, accessible places,” said Mike McGinn, Executive Director of America Walks. “The broad coalition advocating for a new MUTCD–from practitioners to community members–knows this, and we await an indication from the feds about whether they know this, too.”
“American streets are unsafe because of how they are designed. And the way they’re designed often comes down to five letters: the MUTCD,” said Beth Osborne, Director of Transportation for America. “If this administration is serious about its safety, climate, and equity goals, it will take the reins on updating this outdated and dangerous document.”
“To move forward–to “build back better”–and reduce traffic violence that is far too common and accepted in the United States, the MUTCD needs to prioritize safety and the accessibility and use of roads by all people, moving by all types of transportation,” said Bill Nesper, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists. “The MUTCD is a major barrier to safer, Bicycle Friendly Communities, and reforming it is one major step to making it so all Americans can safely and comfortably enjoy and access their community by bike.”
“As our city works on ambitious plans to make our streets safer and more accessible, from building a bikeway network to addressing systemic safety concerns, we are too often finding that the MUTCD conflicts with new mobility best practices,” said LaToya Cantrell, Mayor of New Orleans. “The federal manual must be reformed so that it more closely aligns with the equity, safety, and sustainability goals of the Biden Administration.”
“Baltimore, like many other cities across the nation, has too many streets that are unsafe and inaccessible,” said Baltimore City Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “Our residents deserve a modern MUTCD to construct roadway infrastructure that safely accommodates residents who use the transportation system and will improve the livability in Baltimore neighborhoods.”
“We are committed to enhancing safety on Fort Lauderdale streets for all users, yet our efforts have been thwarted by federal guidelines,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis. “While challenging these guidelines is a worthwhile fight, what we really want is a reframed MUTCD that removes barriers when we seek to implement designs that improve equity, economic development, and safety on our streets.”
“The MUTCD has not been fully updated in over 50 years, and still has roots in regulations for rural highways, which do not reflect the diversity and trajectory of transportation modes and uses of roadway capacity in the 21st century,” said Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) CEO Phillip A. Washington. “A fresh look at the MUTCD would support world-class strategies to prioritize the rapid expansion of transit and active transportation in urban areas. It would help address racial disparities in deaths and injuries from vehicle collisions in LA County and nationwide. Such changes to the MUTCD would also align with the Biden Administration’s goals on mobility, equity and sustainability.”
“Safety, equity, and sustainability must be addressed in an inclusive way they haven’t been in the past,” said Shyam Kannan, Vice President, Office of Planning, WMATA. “It’s time for a comprehensive review and rewrite of the MUTCD, which should include a collaborative dialogue between the U.S. DOT and a broad, diverse range of experts and stakeholders – including public transit experts.”
“Pedestrian fatalities have risen 50% over the past decade, and our streets are the most dangerous of any of our peer countries, with over 40,000 people dying every year,” said Jane Terry, Vice President, Government Affairs at the National Safety Council (NSC). “It’s clear we must take a more holistic safe system approach when it comes to roadway design—setting speeds with safety as the guide and updating pedestrian safety to support their safe mobility. Safety must be prioritized in a MUTCD rewrite.”
“The MUTCD is a relic, designing streets for cars instead of the people that use them,” said Brian Gist, a Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The FHWA should revisit the manual to reflect current research and modern standards for safety, equity, and environmental protection.”
“The path to building more livable and sustainable communities travels through streets that support more ways of getting around,” said Amanda Eaken, NRDC, Transportation Director of the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge. “Already, cities are leading the way in building safe streets for people to walk and bike, and to get the bus out of traffic. For the Biden administration to meaningfully reduce transportation emissions toward its ambitious climate goals, it must bring these local solutions to scale by improving the outdated manual that dictates the design of our streets.”
NACTO’s staff and 89 member cities and agencies compiled 400 specific edits that, if adopted by FHWA, would substantially reframe the MUTCD to a safe and sustainability-first document that removes the red tape between federal regulation and safe, inviting, and innovative treatments like pedestrian signals, red transit lanes, and crosswalks. Other national groups, like the League of American Bicyclists and the engineering firm Toole Design, have submitted similarly-detailed comments that, if adopted, would dramatically improve the manual and make safer streets easier to build across the U.S.
Cities calling for a reframed MUTCD span from coast to coast, and include large metropolises like Chicago, fast-growing cities like Chattanooga, and smaller and mid-sized cities like Bend, OR, and Somerville, MA. Prominent transit agencies calling for a reframed MUTCD include King County Metro, LA Metro, SEPTA, and WMATA. Organizations like the National League of Cities, the US Conference of Mayors, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), the Southern Environmental Law Center, TransitCenter, and hundreds of national and local advocates have also called on FHWA to modernize the MUTCD, and commit to a new, more inclusive and transparent process for future updates.
NACTO, America Walks, Transportation for America, and the League of American Bicyclists ask the Federal Highway Administration to immediately outline its timeline for incorporating and responding to feedback. In addition, the groups request transparency and notice about how the comments will be handled, and how FHWA intends to ensure a robust, inclusive, and expedient process for more frequently updating the manual.
To learn more about the MUTCD and the campaign to update America’s street manual, visit nacto.org/mutcd.
About the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
NACTO is an association of 89 major North American cities and transit agencies formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices and cooperatively approach national transportation issues. The organization’s mission is to build cities as places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life. Learn more at nacto.org and on Twitter at @NACTO.
About America Walks
America Walks is dedicated to making communities more walkable, accessible, equitable and inclusive, by supporting advocates working on local, state and national issues for making America a great place to walk. Learn more at americawalks.org.
About Transportation for America
Transportation for America is an advocacy organization made up of local, regional and state leaders who envision a transportation system that safely, affordably and conveniently connects people of all means and ability to jobs, services, and opportunity through multiple modes of travel. That work is conducted through direct technical assistance, analysis of transportation system performance, and policy development and advocacy. Learn more by visiting t4america.org or following us on Twitter @T4America.
About the League of American Bicyclists
The League of American Bicyclists leads the national movement to create a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone. With a history dating to 1880, the League is committed to engaging diverse communities and building a powerful, unified voice for change around protecting and promoting bicyclists’ rights. Learn more at bikeleague.org.