The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) dictates how roads are built in the US and has for far too long benefitted driver convenience over pedestrian safety and mobility. The first major update of the MUTCD in over a decade is currently being revised and taking public comment. Feet First Philly urges you to take this opportunity to weigh in and demand more protections and amenities for our roadways’ most vulnerable users. As pedestrian advocates, we certainly have many issues with how roads are currently designed: lack of safe midblock crosswalks, signal timing that doesn’t allow enough time to walk across an intersection, high speed limits along otherwise walkable roads. A main reason for many of these issues is the MUTCD.
A number of pedestrian-focused organizations have shared their comments and we’ve highlighted a few of the most important ones below:
- New language in the document does not go far enough to eliminate the misguided 85th percentile rule for setting speed limits. Guidance for setting speed limits should be rewritten to follow a Safe Systems approach.
- Outdated traffic signal warrant requirements focus on the history of pedestrian deaths or current crossing demand, instead of known conflicts or planned land use changes. The Manual limits the installation of traffic signals because of the potential that they will slow car travel, resulting in guidelines which place pedestrians at risk of being injured or killed before new signals are recommended. The requirement to meet a signal warrant in the Manual requires more people walking at a subject intersection than cars for the same safe crossing.
- Remove the new, victim-blaming passage which gives engineers permission to ignore the needs of any user who isn’t “a reasonable and prudent individual who is alert and attentive” and is “demonstrating due care,” which can omit the needs of children, elderly, and disabled road users.
- Remove the proposed Chapter 5 on automated vehicles. This chapter elevates new, and largely unproven, technology above existing road users. It is not appropriate to add statements to the Manual while these technologies are still in their infancy. This chapter could force cities to change their streets and disturb vibrant, multimodal communities to cater to connected and autonomous vehicles. The technologies must be designed to adapt to our cities, not the other way around.
- Remove inappropriate regulation of public art on public streets. New language in the draft MUTCD stipulates that “the right-of-way is dedicated exclusively to highway-related functions” and that people should not be encouraged to “engage” with the street. Data shows that high-contrast crosswalks play a key role in pedestrian safety, with color and pattern added to further reflect community character and support neighborhood vitality.
If you’d like to dig deeper:
- NACTO’s letter calling for more progressive change to the MUTCD
- Toole Design Group, a leading traffic engineering consultant, submitted in depth comments which can be downloaded here
- A sample letter from America Walks
The current administration and new Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, have made bold declarations about major shifts to focus on safety and equity. Now is the time to ensure that the MUTCD provides guidance which matches these priorities and ceases to focus primarily on moving cars.