URGENT ACTION ALERT: Demand a better recipe book for safer streets
Have you ever approached your city about adding a crosswalk in an important location for pedestrians? If you have, you’ve probably come away frustrated.
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In the United States, neighborhood residents don’t get to decide where is the best place to place a crosswalk. Instead, that decision is left to an obscure technical document called the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices. This manual is meant to create “uniformity” in the look of our road signs and symbols, including traffic lights, crosswalks and all kinds of street markings.
Unfortunately, while it’s presented as a neutral and scientific document, it is full of assumptions and value judgements that privilege driver’s convenience over pedestrians’ safety.
For example, if you want a crosswalk this engineering manual most likely says: “No, you can’t have a crosswalk.” See the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices says a crosswalk with a traffic signal is not “warranted” unless 93 pedestrians are cross at this location per hour (an outrageously high bar especially without the proper supportive infrastructure in place) or five pedestrians are struck there in a single year!
It’s part of the reason people seeking these kinds of low-cost basic safety infrastructure are so often shut down by their city’s traffic engineer.
Secretary Buttigieg recently called it “the notorious MUTCD.” “How that manual is written and what it calls for could actually have a lot of consequences for how people get around, in terms of safety, even in terms of equity.”
We have other concerns about the new draft as well. It continues to set local speed limits based on how fast cars are going, rather than safety (the “85th percentile” rule). It bans colorful crosswalks. It allows agencies to add traffic lights without installing a pedestrian signal head that displays the “Walk” and “Don’t Walk”.
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control devices is a federal regulation — meaning it is law. It is riddled with harmful obstacles to safer streets like this. And even well-meaning engineers are sometimes hesitant to go against its recommendations — although technically they are allowed, if they do a bunch of extra work showing why it is needed.
There’s good news on that front though! The MUTCD is currently being revised by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, the version they came up with is barely an improvement. But we will have a chance to make it better.
If the MUTCD were revised to support walk/rollability, we could see improvements over time in every town and hamlet in America.
You can help! Follow these instructions by May 14th:
Below is a comment or letter template that you can simply copy/paste, customize and send directly to the Federal Register’s open comments section on this issue. You can also print/send this letter directly to Transportation Secretary Buttigieg if you want.
Copy and paste the body text below OR download the template attachment by clicking here.
Paste or upload your customized comment right here.
For extra credit, send us your comment too, at email@example.com
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Federal Highway Administration
US Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave S.E.
Washington, DC 20590
RE: Serious concerns about the MUTCD in its current form
Dear Acting Administrator Pollack and Secretary Buttigieg:
I write, as a supporter of America Walks, and a person who cares very deeply about my community, [NAME CITY OR TOWN], to raise serious concerns about the current draft MUTCD under revision by the agency. The MUTCD, an obscure technical document, is a major obstacle to the kind of humane, activity-supporting street level changes that are needed in my community and others across the United States.
Grassroots advocates like myself have valuable local knowledge that is too often brushed aside by traffic engineers based on the rule-bound dictates of the MUTCD. To make matters worse, much of the guidance is outdated, pseudoscientific and based on the premise that speeding cars through intersections is the most important goal.
I join America Walks and other groups to ask that U.S. DOT perform a comprehensive overhaul of the MUTCD, centering safety, equity and accessibility. We need a rule book that is designed to support healthier safer communities, one that:
- Ensures every urban and suburban signalized intersection has accessible pedestrian infrastructure, including curb ramps, audible and tactile signals, pedestrian signal heads that display “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” messages, and painted crosswalks.
- Set speed limits based on safety, not based on how fast cars are driving on the road
- Gives local residents a voice in what kind of infrastructure is needed.
- Gives engineers flexibility to design urban streets that are safe enough for children to navigate.
- [ADD YOUR OWN DREAM GUIDELINE IF YOU’D LIKE]
I join America Walks in asking that FHWA reframe and rewrite the MUTCD, creating a path for guidance that more closely aligns with the equity, safety, and sustainability goals of American cities, as well as those of the Biden Administration.
Paste or upload your customized comment right here.
America Walks is also asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to substantially rewrite the document centering safety and equity. We are hopeful thanks to the new Administration will seize this opportunity to make America’s entire transportation network a little more humane.
We have further actions around this and we need your help! Please read, share and take part in these other pieces:
- Attend our webinar / watch the recording: The ’Notorious’ MUTCD – Why Fixing a Federal Manual is Critical to Safety, Equity and Climate
Read this blog for extra context: How the MUTCD Creates Unsafe Conditions for People Just Trying to Access Food
- Read NACTO’s brilliant overview of the MUTCD: Modernizing Federal Standards: Making the MUTCD Work for Cities