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Pedaling Toward National Bicycle Planning Guidelines


Last night in Washington, DC, the Brookings Institution and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) kicked off Cities for Cycling, a new effort to catalog, promote and implement the world’s best bicycle transportation practices in American municipalities. As Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program Director Bruce Katz put it in his introduction, the event was host to a rock star panel, with Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and David Byrne, former frontman of the band Talking Heads and long-time cycling advocate.

The Cities for Cycling initiative was born out of the need for comprehensive, functional national guidelines for urban bicycle planning.  Federal and municipal officials agree that bicycling is good for cities.  Providing safe, comfortable, convenient bicycle facilities is a cost-effective way to improve mobility, livability and public health while reducing traffic congestion and CO2 emissions.  However, no federal strategy or framework for bicycle planning exists.  The cities that have made strides in this area have basically gone it alone.  Dozens of innovative pilot programs have been tried, but their outcomes have not been disseminated or cataloged.  Some American cities, such as New York, Chicago and Seattle are now implementing designs that reach beyond the limited guidance provided in the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials’ Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities and a key Federal Highway Administration that mandates allowable traffic control devices across the country (MUTCD).

Despite the lack of guidance, enthusiasm for urban bicycle planning remains strong.  Bike networks are easy and inexpensive to implement, and can contribute to a municipality’s environmental and health goals.  Rep. Blumenauer shared some of Portland’s bike successes: for instance, its residents spend less of their household budgets on transportation than the average American, the city holds over 4,000 bike-related events each year, generating $100 million in economic activity, and the city has been able to increase its bicycle mode share by 400% in the last two decades for the cost of one mile of freeway.  Cities for Cycling aims to facilitate these types of successes in other cities across the country.  The initiative’s eventual goal is to incorporate its catalog of best practices into a new MUTCD, which would specify precise national standards for the design of bicycle infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Cities for Cycling is building a collection of design guidelines and facility manuals for urban bicycle infrastructure on its websiteEmerging Best Practices Sheets highlight a few of the engineering techniques being deployed by NACTO members to make bicycling safer, more comfortable and more convenient.

Now, for those of you that were scanning this post for mentions of David Byrne: you can check out his new book, Bicycle Diaries, which was also plugged at last night’s event.

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