Posts Tagged ‘MUTCD’

“Would Sharrows work in Detroit?”

Monday, August 16th, 2010

That question was recently posted on the Detroit Bikes email list.

Perhaps it’s best to first answer the question, “What are sharrows?”

Sharrows are standard pavements markings as shown on the right. They are used on roads that are designated bike routes where there is not enough pavement to include a bike lane. The sharrows provide guidance to the cyclists on where to ride on the road. Cyclists should ride through the center of the marking.

Of course these pavement markings also let drivers know about the presence of cyclists.

All signs and pavement marking designs and uses are defined by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). We’ve listed the MUCTD information at the end.

Would Sharrows work in Detroit?

Yes, but only in limited instances, primarily when:

  • There is not enough road width for bike lanes (even after a Road Diet)
  • There is either no on-street parking or high-use on-street parking

Most city of Detroit roads do not meet the above checklist.

There is enough room for bike lanes on a majority of roads. For example, a recent non-motorized planning analysis found that over 90% of the roads in Detroit’s near east side would support bike lanes without any widening. The planner said 50% is considered excellent in other cities. He’s never seen a street network more readily available for bike lanes.

On Detroit roads without enough room for bike lanes, the parking is typically sporadic and not high-use. Why is this a big deal? On streets with parking, the sharrows would be located 11 feet from the curb. But, if there are rarely any parked cars on a road, does it make sense to ask cyclists to bike 11 feet from the curb irregardless? Probably not.

But there are some Detroit streets that could benefit from sharrows. For example, the curved entrance ramps from Jefferson and the Macarthur Bridge (to Belle Isle) could use sharrows to lead cyclists to and from the bike lanes.

Another good use of sharrows is to provide continuity to a bike lane when some sections of the road become too narrow. We’ve heard excuses that a road can’t have bike lanes because one short section is too narrow. Sharrows eliminate that excuse.

Of course the Detroit suburbs may also have more opportunity for sharrows since their roads are less overbuilt compared with Detroit’s.

Currently the cities of Flint and South Haven have sharrows with at least a couple others looking into them.


Cycling for Cities: A Detroit Perspective

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Earlier this month, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) started a new Cities for Cycling project with a kick off event in Washington DC, which we were able to attend.

But first, what is NACTO? While the more popular American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is for states, NACTO is the equivalent for large U.S. cities. NACTO has 14 member cities, including Detroit.

Their mission is to “encourage the exchange of transportation ideas, insights, and practices among large central cities while fostering a cooperative approach to key national transportation issues.”

The Cities for Cycling project mission is to “catalog, promote and implement the world’s best bicycle transportation practices in American municipalities.”

Bicycling is good for cities. Providing safe, comfortable, convenient bicycling facilities is a cost-effective way for American municipalities to improve mobility, livability and public health while reducing traffic congestion and CO2 emissions.

Cities for Cycling focuses on implementing world-class bicycle transportation systems through design innovation and the sharing of best practices. American municipalities are increasingly pioneering new designs and adapting international best practices to local conditions. To assist this local-level leadership, the Cities for Cycling project works to share and promote state-of-the-art practices that ensure safe traffic conditions for all modes of travel.

Why Cities for Cycling?

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner and NACTO president Janette Sadik-Khan also gave another reason for this project. (more…)

Road design class for bicycling comes to Detroit

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Mike Amdsen discusses possible improvements to the bike lane in front of GM's RenCen headquartersThe Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has a training program for traffic engineers and planners that centers around designing roads for cycling. This year that program came to downtown Detroit.

What makes this program so effective is it’s led by John LaPlante, inarguably America’s leading expert in bicycle facility design. LaPlante is the primary author of the AASHTO guidelines for the development of bicycle facilities. He’s also a key figure in bicycle signage standards (via the MUTCD from the FHWA) and AASHTO’s pedestrian facilities design guidelines.

Laplante worked for the city of Chicago for 30 years include a stint as the Acting Commissioner of Transportation. In this role he was responsible for the planning, design and construction of all roads, bridges and mass transit facilities in the city of Chicago including their bicycle network.

Also leading the training class was Michael Amsden, the Bikeways Planner for the city of Chicago. Mike led us on a six-mile bike tour that made planned stops where he discussed options for improving the bike-friendliness of streets and intersections. Those stops included the mysteriously appearing and disappearing bike lane along Atwater and the super scary Broadway/Gratiot/Randolph intersection.

Representatives from the city of Detroit (5!), Wayne County, SEMCOG, Royal Oak, Corktown, MDOT and others were in attendance. Extra kudos go to the city of Detroit staff since the class coincided with the city’s first unpaid furlough.

Nearly all of the training was from the MUTCD and soon-to-be-release updated AASHTO bicycle guidelines.

One common theme was it’s best to implement bicycle facilities without removing much on-street parking. Removing parking only makes enemies and there usually are alternatives.

For example, some low-volume roads with on-street parking cannot accomodate bike lanes because they are not wide enough. If the parking is sporadic, one could simply stripe 7 foot parking lanes and add bike route signage. Most of the time, bikes would have access to an entire 7 foot lane, and with limited traffic, could easily skirt around parked cars. This is similar to Lincoln in Birmingham, except there should not be bollards (i.e. posts) in the road.

LaPlante also reinforced the message that in most cases sidepaths should not be built and designated for bicyclists. I noted that many Oakland County communities, including Oakland County itself, called sidepaths “safety paths.” LaPlante response was, “Safety paths? That’s an oxymoron.”

A big thanks goes to John Stroh III and his staff for providing an excellent meeting location at the Stroh River Place along the Detroit RiverWalk.

Here is our Detroit bike route (which we mostly followed) along with photos. You’ll likely want to view the map in a larger window in order to see the photos.

View Training Wheels – Detroit in a larger map

Rolling Stops for Bicycles

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Bicyclists in Idaho have enjoyed a law that other states are now trying to adopt.

In Idaho, bicyclists can legally treat stop signs as yields under many conditions when it won’t adversely affect others, including pedestrians.

The benefit for bicyclists is threefold:

  • It conserves momentum, making bicycling easier
  • It conserves time, making bicycling quicker and more convenient
  • It adopts the common existing practice, making bicyclists more law abiding

Bicycle advocates in Oregon recently tried to get the same law in their state. Spencer Boomhower made a great animation that explains the proposed law.

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

Unfortunately the effort was for naught. The bill died in the Oregon House.

Could we get this law in Michigan?

It would be an extremely valuable law change for those living in older communities that improperly use stop signs as neighborhood traffic calming. It would be equally valuable in Detroit where traffic levels have dropped dramatically since the 1950s yet the old traffic control devices remain in place.

Unfortunately there are obstacles.


Sign photo from BikeJax

In speaking with the League of Michgian Bicyclist staff, they don’t see this as a priority.

And, since this Idaho law is not in the Uniform Vehicle Code (upon which most states based their road laws), it would take considerable effort to get this passed in Lansing much less supported by the Michigan State Police.

One alternative idea is to post some signs along popular or designated bike routes with modified stop signs. This modification could indicate bicyclists would only need to yield whereas others must stop. It’s unclear how easy this alternative signage would be to implement. Regulatory signage has to be in the Michigan Manual on Traffic Control Devices before it can be installed on a road. The bike yield sign shown on the right is not in our Manual.

Piloting this short term signage solution may provide enough data to justify changing the law.

So there are no easy answers, but they’re rarely are. We need to continue to push for changes that making bicycling an easier, safer, and more convenient mode choice in Michigan.

Sharrows Mark Shared Lanes for Bicyclists

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

sharrow pavement marking for bike routesThey’re new and still experimental, but are expected to become formalized signage method by next year.

They’re called “sharrows” and they are pavement markings that help mark bike routes on roads. These are a complement to bike lane pavement markings. The difference is bike lanes are separated facilities (from motor vehicles) where shared lanes have both cars and bikes.

According to draft MUTCD language, the benefit of sharrow pavement markings are they:

  • Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle,
  • Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane,
  • Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way,
  • Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists, and
  • Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

There are limits to their use.

  • They should not be on roads where the speed limits above 35 MPH.
  • They should not be on shoulders or in bike lanes

Sharrows may also produce cost and time savings.

Sometimes roadways are simply not wide enough for a bike lane.   Sometimes road diets (converting an exising lane of travel into bike lanes) are not practical or possible.  And even when a road diet might be the solution, some cities require traffic studies in advance.  These studies can cost $10K to $30K.  The value of a separated bike lane facility may not justify these costs when a shared lane would work equally well.  And sharrows provide a new and improved means for marking them.