• The most important committee for bicycling you’ve probably never heard of

    by  • July 16, 2014 • Engineering, Traffic Control • 8 Comments

    Warning: only read this article if you have a strong stomach for acronyms.

    ncutcdThe 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.






    • National Committee on Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee

    LAB Calls for MUTCD Reform

    Contraflow Bike Lanes on “Family Streets”

    Bike Lanes Through Intersections


    James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware. He is a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (by whom he was named the 2014 Professional of the Year, Nonprofit Sector), the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Delaware Bicycle Council. He serves on the board of directors of Delaware Greenways and the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance and as the co-chair of the policy committee of the Advisory Council on Walkability and Pedestrian Awareness. He holds engineering degrees from Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin and is the only registered lobbyist for cycling and walking in Delaware. He helped create, and continues to lead Bike Delaware's participation in, the Walkable Bikeable Delaware campaign. During his tenure as Bike Delaware's executive director, Delaware advanced in the national Bicycle Friendly State rankings for five years in a row, farther and faster than any other state, ever.

    8 Responses to The most important committee for bicycling you’ve probably never heard of

    1. Pingback: Contraflow Bike Lanes Finally Get Nod From U.S. Engineering Establishment | Streetsblog USA

    2. Pingback: The MUTCD and A.R.S. | Arizona Bike Law

    3. Bill Davidson
      July 29, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      Contraflow? Seriously? That is the stupidest idea I have ever seen. Has anyone on this committee actually observed video of what happens in contraflow bike lanes? There’s a reason why riding against traffic is illegal in every state. I am convinced that the committee is trying to kill bicyclists.

      Portland has shown that bike boxes are a failed experiment.

      Intersection bike lanes are idiotic. When on the right edge, they are forcing bicyclists to ride straight through on the right side of drivers who will be turning right. They reinforce and contribute to the right hook collision. Center of the road bike lanes might actually be worse because people are even less used to worrying about straight through bicyclists on the left side of left turning motorists.

      Bike signals are probably safety neutral, but they decrease overall traffic throughput for everyone. Can they at least be optional for bicyclists? Can we use the regular green?

      • Burnt Reynolds
        July 29, 2014 at 7:25 pm

        Valid points, shitty, shitty attitude.

      • Bikeway engineer
        September 7, 2014 at 12:26 am

        Contraflow –
        1/ has been shown to be as safe or even safer than riding with traffic. You can see and avoid what is coming at you far better than what is coming from behind
        2/ allows cyclists to go where they may not otherwise be allowed to go.
        3/ Is really not much different than cars passing each other on 2way roads. Except that at intersections divers often don’t look the “wrong” way but the cyclist can be alert and watch out for that.
        The benefits outweigh the risks.

        Bike boxes work for me an many other cyclists. They legitimise something so that drivers don’t whinge when we get in front of them where it’s safer since we are more visible there.

        Intersection bike lanes are fantastic since they keep cars out of our way so we can get a clear run to the front in traffic congested areas. Drivers who fail to look or over take cyclists are going to drive badly with or without bike lanes but at least some might think a bit more when bike lanes are provided.
        If you don’t like bike lanes at intersections then feel free to sit at the back of the traffic queue in the exhaust zone, miss the green and hold up all the cars behind you. I’m sure the drivers that get held up by you won’t mind & will appreciate your solidarity efforts.

        In most cases bike signals are not necessary as bikes can just go the normal green. Bike signals should only be used if extra phasing / time is allocated for some site specific reason.

        If you don’t like these facilities that most cyclists like, then simply don’t do use them. But don’t push your fears onto everyone else.

        • Amy Wilburn
          November 15, 2014 at 11:18 pm

          Contraflow lanes are a positive because of 2). That is, they allow cyclists to ride on roads where they would otherwise not be permitted, and under some circumstances, this can be the safer option. But your statement that it is safer to have cyclists behaving like pedestrians and facing traffic? Um no. There are lots of reasons for this (motorists aren’t looking for vehicles traveling in the “wrong” direction, cyclists can’t stop on a dime or jump to the side like pedestrians because–drum roll here–they are wheeled vehicles and not pedestrians, speed of the two vehicles is added together instead of subtracted making for less time to react and a more severe collision, and the list goes on). Good idea to get a rearview mirror. You wouldn’t drive a car without one, so why would you drive a bike without one? Bike boxes, yes, very nice, as long as folks are aware of their limitations. Bike lanes to the right of a right turn lane? Not good. How bad depends on the terrain, volume of traffic and the way the road is constructed. Best practice is still evolving when it comes to bike facilities. Your pseudonym is bikeway engineer. Who are you and what are your credentials? In any case, I agree with you that people should not push their own fears onto others. There has been way too much of that going on in Delaware.

    4. Luis Da Fonte
      September 4, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      A two way street always has one against the other, in contraflow.
      Being a two way street, properly signaled as such, contraflow is only when go out the proper lane.
      Is the case.
      The problem here is accept that lane is for people riding bikes.

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