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New Edition of the MUTCD

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New Edition of the MUTCD

Old 12-19-23, 09:55 AM
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New Edition of the MUTCD

On Tuesday, December 19th, 2023, the 11th Edition of the US Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was published by the USDOT Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This is the first all-new edition of the MUTCD in 14 years, and culminates well over a decade of research, experimentation, evaluation, and testing of existing and new signs, markings, signals, beacons, channelizers, and other devices. This also follows a three-year period of rulemaking and regulatory review, where over 100,000 comments were submitted on the draft material.

The new edition of the MUTCD is the national standard for all signs, markings, and other traffic control devices for roads, streets, highways, and bikeways across the US per 23 CFR 655 as of January 18th, 2024. States are required to either adopt the national MUTCD or develop a FHWA-approved state supplement or MUTCD within two years of the effective date above.

Although devices that affect bicyclists are found throughout the MUTCD, the Part of the MUTCD that focuses on bicycle facilities is Part 9. Part 9 in the 11th Edition is over twice as big as the 2009 Edition, contains substantial new information, and incorporates several Interim Approvals such as for bicycle signals and turn boxes.

Links:
MUTCD website: https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/
Part 9: https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/11th_Edition/part9.pdf

Disclaimer and Disclosure: I am currently under contract to a nonprofit organization (NCUTCD) that advises FHWA on MUTCD content. I also served as chair of the NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee from 2002-2017. NCUTCD does not own or control the MUTCD, and operates in an advisory capacity through the public input process. for more information on NCUTCD, see https://ncutcd.org/aboutus/. This comment / announcement / thread does not represent the options or positions of NCUTCD, FHWA, or any other organization.
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Old 12-19-23, 10:19 AM
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In case the question comes up: in the announcements and other info, FHWA has indicated that a revision to the MUTCD will be forthcoming in due time to incorporate the provisions of PROWAG, adopted by the US Access Board earlier this year. This will be a complicated process on FHWA's part, so it may not happen immediately, but it is expected to go into rulemaking at some (undefined) time in the future.
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Old 12-19-23, 03:55 PM
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Unless I missed it, you buried the most important part, "share the road" signs are no longer approved. And it seems like they modified the "bicycles may use full lane" sign to use a picture of a bicycle.
But I only know what I saw on social media.
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Old 12-19-23, 04:51 PM
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Originally Posted by unterhausen
Unless I missed it, you buried the most important part, "share the road" signs are no longer approved. And it seems like they modified the "bicycles may use full lane" sign to use a picture of a bicycle.
But I only know what I saw on social media.
"Share The Road" was originally added to the MUTCD in 1997 at the request of farm equipment interests. In the ensuing 26 years, it's been noted there have been many widely different interpretations of "share" by road users, producing varying results.

The Bicycles Allowed Use of Full Lane is a legend change from the current Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign. The stated reason from FHWA is that in their judgment the older sign legend could be interpreted as a warning message, while they state the revised message is more consistent with regulations on road use. Both signs used bicycle symbols.

There are many more changes, so I didn't try to emphasize any specific ones. There may be a presentation developed by FHWA or NCUTCD highlighting significant changes in Part 9 and other Parts, but these are not yet available.

A list of specific changes and FHWA's stated reasons for those changes can be found in the docket at https://downloads.regulations.gov/FH...tachment_1.pdf
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Old 12-20-23, 09:15 AM
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I thought getting rid of share the road signs was pretty consequential given how often cyclists complain about it. It's nice to know that they do actually listen, and I assume that's a sign that bike lobbying works, although I haven't seen anyone claim credit for it.
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Old 12-20-23, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by RCMoeur
"Share The Road" was originally added to the MUTCD in 1997 at the request of farm equipment interests. In the ensuing 26 years, it's been noted there have been many widely different interpretations of "share" by road users, producing varying results.
Wow, that's some interesting history...I had no idea



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Old 12-20-23, 12:45 PM
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Originally Posted by unterhausen
I thought getting rid of share the road signs was pretty consequential given how often cyclists complain about it. It's nice to know that they do actually listen, and I assume that's a sign that bike lobbying works, although I haven't seen anyone claim credit for it.
Updating the MUTCD is more of a research and engineering analysis process than a political or lobbying process. This makes sense given its importance as a standard & guideline applicable to all US roadways & bikeways open to public travel. FHWA is required to seek public input when revising the MUTCD through the rulemaking process, but a lot of the proposed material is developed by research such as through NCHRP, recommendations from organizations such as NCUTCD, ITE, NACTO, and others, approved experiments by public agencies, and internal FHWA analysis.

It's a long process to revise the MUTCD, and the process has many levels of deliberation and review, but the process makes sense as the final product may end up being a national standard for many decades, and so thorough analysis and input from experts, organizations, the full range of road users, and the public is a good thing in that it can result in the most appropriate technical guidance making it into the final edition.

In the case of "share the road", as noted earlier it originated with farm equipment interests as a plaque to be used with vehicular warning signs. Agencies saw this as a plaque that could be used with bicycle signs to advise road users of bike use, and that was when the reports of "varying interpretations" (e.g. drivers yelling at bicyclists legally using a roadway that "they weren't sharing!!") started coming in. However, discontinuing the Share the Road plaque had to wait until improved signs with clearer messages (such as Bikes May/Allowed Use Of Full Lane and 3-foot overtaking signs) could be developed, tested, and implemented.
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Old 12-20-23, 05:36 PM
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I thought I'd help some to read RCMoeur's posts Yes, I had to look them all up

MUTCD
Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

FHWA
Federal Highway
Administration

NCUTCD
National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

ITE
Institute of Transportation Engineers

NACTO
National Association of City Transportation Officials.




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Old 12-20-23, 05:41 PM
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Didn't intend to be a poor communicator, but thanks for adding the mini-glossary.
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Old 12-24-23, 04:54 PM
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I gather that folks in a lot of advocacy organizations are going through it; it's over 1,300 pages, so it'll take awhile before analyses start coming out.

In the good news/bad news pile, the new edition de-emphasizes the hated "85th percentile" rule, but it's still there.
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Old 12-24-23, 08:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Korina
I gather that folks in a lot of advocacy organizations are going through it; it's over 1,300 pages, so it'll take awhile before analyses start coming out.

In the good news/bad news pile, the new edition de-emphasizes the hated "85th percentile" rule, but it's still there.
There is indeed a lot to look at. There is a 30-day window for comments closing January 18th, but Final Rule comments typically focus on Administrative Procedures Act issues (such a major change after the comment deadline without public input).

Many professionals are happy that FHWA has clarified that the MUTCD is not a design manual. It defines devices and specific treatments and sets out basic parameters on their use. Other references are much more thorough and useful for roadway design.

In my professional practice, the 85th percentile free-flow speed value is a very useful indicator for identifying the prevailing speed on a roadway. And if something about that roadway doesn't change substantially, it's very likely that speed will be the same in the future. Unfortunately, changing the numbers on signs doesn't really meaningfully change travel speeds.

One eventual Safe System goal is "self-explaining roads", where the roadway is designed and managed so that users choose and travel at an appropriate speed so there's a matchup of expectations between the desired and measured speed. National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 07-36 is working on this, and has issued a request for proposals for researchers to develop this project.

One useful current tool for setting posted speed limits is NCHRP Report 966, developed by several transportation research professionals with whom I've worked with through the years. There are others as well.

In the Final Rule and supporting documents, FHWA has stated that one possible action is to remove speed zoning guidance from the MUTCD entirely, and have the MUTCD focus on the definition and installation of speed signing, and let more-comprehensive references such as NCHRP Report 966 and others guide practitioners and agencies in determining appropriate posted speed limits. In its docket comments, NCUTCD supported such an action. We'll see if that is included in a future MUTCD revision.
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Old 12-25-23, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Korina
I gather that folks in a lot of advocacy organizations are going through it; it's over 1,300 pages, so it'll take awhile before analyses start coming out.

In the good news/bad news pile, the new edition de-emphasizes the hated "85th percentile" rule, but it's still there.
Is it hated because it is perceived to set speed limits too high?
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Old 12-25-23, 01:54 PM
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Originally Posted by jon c.
Is it hated because it is perceived to set speed limits too high?
Hated by whom? My guess is that at least as based BF posts, high speed limits are "hated" by some urban dwellers who would advocate that ownership or access to private automobiles be limited to as few people as possible.
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Old 12-26-23, 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by jon c.
Is it hated because it is perceived to set speed limits too high?
Swiped from a Wikipedia footnote:

Minor, Nathaniel (September 15, 2023). "A lower speed limit could be coming to a Colorado road near you". Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved September 15, 2023. Traditionally, U.S. traffic engineers use the '85th percentile' method that sets limits at the speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers travel in normal conditions. This federally approved approach has been used by state and local transportation agencies since at least the '60s, but street safety advocates and city transportation officials deride the method because it usually leads to higher speed limits and faster speeds, which is associated with more serious crashes.
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Old 12-26-23, 03:11 PM
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@RCMoeur, I'm looking forward to seeing what NACTO has to say about it, as they're the ones who have do deal with it.
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Old 12-26-23, 03:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Korina
Swiped from a Wikipedia footnote:
One Wikipedia policy is reliance on "published works." This can result in activist web articles being given equal credibility as peer-reviewed journal articles.

As noted above, the 85th percentile free-flow speed is a useful piece of data. The disagreement seems to be in how it is used after it is assessed, typically in several areas:

1. Is the speed appropriate for the roadway and its context?
2. What speed is appropriate?
3. How do you achieve motor vehicle user compliance with that speed? And as experience has shown, declaring a road to have a certain speed limit and posting signs has not been effective in achieving this, unless the posted speed is already close to the 85th & in the pace. Gotta do (a lot of) something else to get the actual speeds to change, and more data is needed on effective strategies.
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Old 12-26-23, 03:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Korina
@RCMoeur, I'm looking forward to seeing what NACTO has to say about it, as they're the ones who have do deal with it.
NACTO's statement: https://nacto.org/2023/12/20/mutcd-11-reaction/

NACTO is a member of NCUTCD, and has city agency staff on several technical committees.
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Old 12-26-23, 07:50 PM
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Originally Posted by RCMoeur
3. How do you achieve motor vehicle user compliance with that speed? And as experience has shown, declaring a road to have a certain speed limit and posting signs has not been effective in achieving this, unless the posted speed is already close to the 85th & in the pace. Gotta do (a lot of) something else to get the actual speeds to change, and more data is needed on effective strategies.
Or you can run radar with such frequency that regular users are cowed. We have one road like that locally with a 45 mph limit where the 85th would have to be 55, Six lane divided road with a large median, light to moderate traffic, relatively straight with clear sightlines. The only reason I can see for the speed limit is to generate revenue with speeding tickets. Which I understand set you back over $300 these days with fees and surcharges.

I can't say I encounter many roads where the speed limit seems unreasonably high. I actually hadn't realized this was considered much of an issue. There are issues locally with residential streets that become heavily traveled due to development so the residents complain about people speeding down their road. But that's more an issue of roads unsuited for the volume and nature of traffic rather than a speed limit issue. Although the solution is generally speed bumps and islands.
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