Warning: only read this article if you have a strong stomach for acronyms.
The most important committee for bicycling you’ve probably never heard of is the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) Bicycle Technical Committee.
Since 1972, the NCUTCD has been the formal advisory committee to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regarding any and all new traffic control devices and with regard to revisions of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the authoritative “bible” for all traffic control devices. But the committee actually predates the MUTCD and can trace its history all the way back to the 1930s.
In 1997, the NCUTCD added a technical subcommittee – the Bicycle Technical Committee (BTC) – and the League of American Bicyclists became a sponsoring organization of the NCUTCD in 1998. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals became an additional sponsoring organization just a few years ago (in 2009).
The FHWA warns that “[n]on-compliance of the MUTCD ultimately can result in loss of federal-aid funds as well as significant increase in tort liability.” As a result, nearly all state DOTs will not use any traffic control device not in the MUTCD, which is controlled by the FHWA. In practice, however, the FHWA follows the advice of the NCUTCD and the NCUTCD follows the advice of its BTC subcommittee when it comes to devices related to cycling. Thus, this little, obscure committee that you’ve probably never heard of actually ends up being really important!
Which is why it’s extremely gratifying to report that, after seeming to move at a glacially slow place for many years with regard to the adoption of new bicycling-related traffic control devices, the NCUTCD-BTC had an extremely productive meeting just a a couple of weeks ago and formally voted to endorse a whole package of devices that are not in the current MUTCD, including contraflow bike lanes, bike lanes through intersections and bike boxes. Bike signals were also approved.
Again, because the MUTCD is the “bible” – the authoritative and exclusive manual governing the use of all traffic control devices in the U.S. – this action by this obscure committee is truly significant. Here in Delaware, it means – when the new MUTCD next comes out – that DelDOT’s toolbox to make the state more bicycle friendly will get a lot bigger and more powerful. It’s not going to happen tomorrow or next week. But this is still really good news. I have not been the Bicycle Technical Committee’s biggest fan over the last few years. But the committee did good at their last meeting, and deserves our thanks.
James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware.