Advocacy How To: Road Design Review

Earlier this morning, I repeated my occasional admonition to show up at public meetings if you want bicycle facilities included in new roads. What I’ve never done, though, is explain what to do at those meetings. Fairfax Advocates for Better Biking (FABB) in Virginia have created this guide: the “Guide for Reviewing Public Road Design and Bicycling Accommodations.”

Planning process workflow: Guide for Reviewing Public Road Design and Bicycling Accommodations for Virginia Bicycling Advocates

First of all: Show up

I’ll write more later on the importance of just showing up, but in the nutshell: they can’t hear you if you don’t show up. There have been a number of occasions when I have been the only person to show up at a public hearing. Caltrain puts as much emphasis on bike facilities as they do because cyclists often have such an overwhelming presence at Caltrain board meetings — we let the board members know we’re very interested in their business. Last month, the California Transportation Commission didn’t plan to award any money for purchasing the Santa Cruz Branch line for a proposed rail-trail project, but 22 bike advocates traveled to Sacramento on Amtrak to present their case, while two people signed up to speak against the proposal (and meekly declined to speak at their turn). The Commission went against staff recommendation to provide $10 million for the rail purchase.

Wide Curb Lane 14 feet

Showing up and pressing flesh with bureaucrats planners is no guarantee of success, but failure to show is a guarantee you will never be heard.

Your involvement

Planning, approving, and constructing road projects is a long process that presents many opportunities for bicycling advocates to provide input into the final outcome. FABB’s new guide outlines ways bicycling proponents can get involved in the process of designing, approving, building, and retrofitting roads to ensure that bicycling accommodations are integrated into the plans where needed. Although geared for Virginia, many of the ideas contained in the report could be applied to other locations as well.

Example of engineering drawings showing road plan

The 32-page booklet covers the basics of understanding engineering plans and also outlines various roadway features (such as intersections, roundabouts, wide curb lanes, and bike lanes) that could be shown in the plans. Design standards and guidelines, design and safety issues, and a checklist for each of these features help advocates review and comment on road design plans.

Case Studies

After you look at a few of these plans, a few thing start to pop out at you. For example, what’s wrong with the shared lane (“sharrow”) marking that’s used as an illustration in the Guide?

Page 14 of this new bike planning guide advises us to refer to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) for guidance on sharrow use. The MUTCD is the Holy Bible used by engineers for all “traffic control devices” — signs, lights, pavement markings, reflective coatings, and even safety cones. Each state has their own official version that they’ve adopted (and which you should refer to in your bike advocacy efforts), but for simplicity we’ll refer here to the latest Federal edition. Small town planners and engineers can’t really be expected to know the minutiae of every tiny little detail of what’s available in the MUTCD and other Federal, State, and local laws, which is why they need input from you and I.

“Traffic Controls for Bicycle Facilities” are covered in the MUTCD Section 9; shared lane markings are described in Section 9C§7 which reads, in part:

If used on a street without on-street parking … the centers of the Shared Lane Markings should be at least 4 feet from the face of the curb.

The sharrow shown in the illustration is only about 30 inches at the very most from the curb, and reinforces the discriminatory gutter bunny bike positioning that many motorist-minded people have. For it to be used for its intended purpose of “[alerting] road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy”, that marking should be at least another foot or two out into the lane.

Walmart Super Center

Here’s another for instance: Walmart planned to build a large supercenter at the north end of Longmont, Colorado. I reviewed their plans before final Planning & Zoning Commission approval and noticed they planned to install a couple of wave racks for bike parking. I happened to know something the P&Z people didn’t know, however: Longmont municipal code 15.05.060 on “Pedestrian and bicycle access and connectivity.” Check out paragraph 4 of this wonderful piece of work, courtesy of a city bicycle task force from the 90s (highlights by me):

4. Bicycle parking.

    a. Amount. Commercial, industrial, civic, employment, and multifamily residential uses shall provide bicycle facilities to meet the following standard: i. A minimum number of bicycle parking spaces shall be provided, equal to five percent of the total number of automobile parking spaces provided by the development, but not less than one space.
    b. Bicycle parking location. For convenience and security, bicycle parking facilities shall be located near building entrances (and no further than 100 feet away from such entrance), shall be visible from the land uses they serve, and shall not be located in remote automobile parking areas. For multifamily developments, at least one bicycle rack shall be located at each building with eight or more dwelling units, as applicable. Such facilities shall not, however, be located in places that impede pedestrian or automobile traffic flow or that would cause damage to plant material.
    c. Design. Spaces for short-term bicycle parking shall provide a means for the bicycle frame and one wheel to be attached to a permanent fixture (designed for securing bicycles) by means of a lock. The required design is the “inverted U” rack (as indicated in the city design standards), unless the decision-making body approves an alternative design. The inverted U rack is equivalent to two bicycle spaces.
    d. Off-street parking credit for bicycle parking. In commercial and industrial zoning districts, provision of bicycle parking spaces that meet the requirements of this subsection may reduce the off-street vehicle parking requirements of section 15.05.080 by one parking space for each four bicycle parking spaces up to a maximum of ten percent of the total off-street vehicle parking requirement. In order to qualify for this credit, the total off-street parking requirement shall be no less than ten spaces.

Walmart’s plan fell short on quantity, location, and design. I gave my input at the P&Z meeting, and P&Z made my recommended changes a requirement for Walmart. I showed up on opening day at the new Supercenter to see dozens of inverted U bike racks located all around the front of the store.

The savvy cycling advocate

Showing up is half the battle of advocating for cycling facilities; knowledge is the other half. FABB’s new guide is a nice handbook providing information on learning about the public process of planning and building new roads and developments that may impact you as a cyclist. It gives guidelines on things to watch for in those designs. It’s a wonderful resource that you can download for free right here. FABB will also provide a free printed copy to bike advocacy groups on request.

This is helpful and important stuff, so please help get the word out about this new guide.

(A big thank you to Tom Wyland of Herndon, VA for this news.)

Some related books on the topic:


  1. Another tip — don't refer to us as “bureaucrats.” That term connotes a lot of things, none of which are going to put you in the good graces of these folks that you would like to convince, befriend, or influence.

  2. Thanks a lot for this resource. Lots of good stuff. I think turning up is part of the battle. In my battles, i am having some small wins. Signage is starting to change, and cost estimates are being done as part of a large highway development. The later was decided after the public consultations as the outcry from people was measurable.

    Just putting this out there, does anyone know of anything similar to the FABB for British Columbia?

  3. Thanks, i will check it out more. I think i have tried to contact them, but didn't hear anything back. Time to try again.

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