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Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home        Washington Bicycling Hub - Winter '07      Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home 
Bikeway Design Guide Undergoing Important Update
Last Updated in 1999, New Guide Slated for '09

By Charles Pekow

Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington, DC journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues. 

National standards for designing bikeways are getting a much-needed revision. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences is undertaking an effort to update the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.

Most local governments use the AASHTO standards when designing bike paths, lanes, shared roadways and markings. Or at least the standards provide a standard for designers to use. But AASHTO’s Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, last updated in 1999, "lacks some important information, and the current content needs updating," NCHRP says in a project statement. The guide needs, for instance, to conform with updated national references and research findings, including the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and AASHTO's own Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, often known as AASHTO's Green Book. The manual, for instance, refers to shared lane arrows and loop detector markings that tell bicyclists where to go to activate a green light – which the current bicycle guide doesn’t include.

"Because of shortcomings of the guide, many current decisions affecting the planning and design of bicycle ways are not based on research, recommended practices or the collective knowledge of professionals," the project statement says.

The academy has been at work at this a while before it could even consider rewriting the guide. Two years ago, Sprinkle Consulting, Inc., an NCHRP contractor, did an initial study that recommended a new guide (//www.trb.org/NotesDocs/20-07(187)_FR.pdf ). In addition to updating standards for bicycle facilities, the project recommended adding chapters on planning, bicycle operation and safety, maintenance, bicycle parking and bicycle linkages to transit. It also recommended guidance on intersection and roundabout design and ensuring that shared-use paths comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Last fall, the academy took bids for a contractor to come up with a research plan. It got about four proposals, said project manager Chris Hedges. The academy tentatively selected a winner but Hedges said in February that he couldn’t reveal the name until the parties finalize a contract. He said he hopes to get the project started in April or May – pretty close to the original schedule.

The contractor will coordinate with AASHTO’s current standing committees, state bicycle/pedestrian coordinators and national bicycle organizations. The first big task involves figuring out where more research is needed and figure out how to get it done – and identify any gaps it can't fill within the $250,000 budget NCHRP has provided. NCHRP wants to give the contractor six months to get this far.

If all goes well, NCHRP will give the contractor the go-ahead to write a revised guide. It figures the project will take two years. The problem is that it takes years to update a guide and get it to local planning and traffic officials so any guide by definition will be outdated by the time it's in use as it won't reflect research of the previous few years.

"We've learned an enormous amount about bike lane design, trail user characteristics, the value of bike route signs, etc. over the past decade and all that knowledge needs to be included somehow" in a revised guide, notes Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. The 1999 guide currently in use, he notes, reflects knowledge from the mid-1990s. And we’ve got at least two years to go before planners can see a new one.

"I think the guidance should say that as long as roundabouts are designed to be low speed, single lane intersections, then little needs to be done to accommodate bicyclists. The higher the speed and greater the number of lanes in the intersection, the tougher the choices are to accommodate bicyclists," Clarke states.

And while AASHTO takes a long-term approach to improving traffic facility design, a new tool is out now. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center released a new version of a crash typing software that can communities can use to create a database of local auto/bicycle crashes to spot trends and improve safety. Users can, for instance, look at behavior of drivers and cyclists before collisions, spot locations and times crashes most often occur, note types of injuries, determine age and sex of victims, and more. Download the tool from //www.walkinginfo.org/pc/pbcat.cfm.

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