Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Breaking News: Feds may be approving innovative bikeway designs soon

Painting a green bike lane in San Francisco
Why are colored bike lanes, bike boxes, bike signals, appearing around the world, but rarely in the United States and not here in Philadelphia?
The reason is because up to now, the federal government doesn't approve of these kinds of innovative designs; it won't allow federal dollars to be spent on them unless conducted as an "experiment."  The two main guidance documents that are used by the feds and state DOTs for approved facilities: the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) "Guide for Development of Bicycle Facilities " (1999) and the FHWA's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices are slow to be updated with approvals for these types facilities that are proving to work well at making streets safer for bicyclists, thus holding back their implementation.

Cities who want to try innovative bikeway designs have to go through a lot of red tape before getting approval, which serves as a deterrent to those cities, such as Philadelphia, who rely on federal dollars for repaving.  This is a huge lost opportunity, as Philadelphia's streets only get repaved every 15-20 years and the City is in the middle of a multi-million dollar repaving program using federal stimulus funds. 

Rendering of bike lane on  new South Street Bridge
In order to install green bike lanes on the South Street Bridge for example, the Streets Department has had to develop an "experimental study" in order to get approval from PennDOT and the FHWA.  Needless to say, when the Bicycle Coalition has asked for colored bike lanes to be installed on other streets and bridges, the request is rejected because of the lack of federal approval. 

According to a post yesterday on, U.S. DOT may "soon give 'interim approval' to these designs, which would expedite their use across the country."  Portland transportation officials and Representative Earl Blumenauer, OR-D, have been lobbying Secretary La Hood.   Specifically, they have been asking FHWA to "work in cooperation with the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO, the city version of AASHTO), provide interim approval for several new (in the U.S.) bikeway designs, work with NACTO to develop the forthcoming "Cities for Cycling Urban Bikeway Design Guide" and implement the findings of an FHWA-sponsored fact-finding mission to bike-friendly cities in Europe that took place in May 2009."

This is an exciting development.  We hear that a Cities for Cycling (a project of NACTO that Philadelphia's Office of Transportation is part of) event is in the works for the fall in Philadelphia.  We hope by then some advancements on this front will have taken place.