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Advocacy Action: Help update U.S. road standards for safer streets

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An 800+ page federal document that has cemented unsafe road designs in our communities is being updated.

You can help make our streets safer by weighing in on the process. Trailnet and national partner organizations are calling on U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to overhaul the document to prioritize safety for people walking and biking.

Our sample comments are below, Friday May 14 is the deadline to add comments. You can submit your comments here.

Background on the MUTCD

This spring the Federal Highway Administration is reviewing an enormous document called the MUTCD (Manual on Traffic Control Devices). This manual provides traffic engineers with regulations and guidance for items like signage, markings, and roadway design for all U.S. roads.

Side by side comparison of two situations: one is a rendering of a street crossing with a colored crossing, painted bike and bus lanes and a stop of pedestrian sign with the text NOT ALLOWED, the other is a seven lane road with two adults' and a child in the median tryin to cross with the text MUTCD compliant
NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials)

For the first time in 10 years, the MUTCD is up for review. Now is a great opportunity for the public to weigh in and help fix a document that fails to address everyday street safety. Regulations in the MUTCD consistently undermine the safety for people walking and biking while prioritizing convenience for people driving cars.

This failure is evident in how our current road design standards continue to create an environment that is unsafe for people walking and biking. In St. Louis County and St. Louis City, total deaths (walking, biking, and driving) have been steadily rising since 2010, with over 170 deaths in 2020, the highest in that 10-year period.

NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials)

Priority Areas in need of Immediate Fixing: Trailnet agrees with other likeminded organizations like NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials), America Walks, and The League of American Bicyclists. Together we agree that in order to prioritize safety for people walking and biking, a complete overhaul and rewrite of the MUTCD is desperately needed.

This rewrite must address key priorities like:

  1. The 85th Percentile Rule: The MUTCD advises traffic professionals to use an outdated metric called the 85th percentile rule. This rule sets speed limits at the speed where most people (85% of drivers) drive normally. Meaning that based on the size and type of road and given normal flows of traffic 85% of people drive below that set speed limit.
    This creates a cycle where each time speed limits are reviewed they are progressively increased. We know from NACTO’s City Limits document that “relying on [this type of] system focused on driver behavior, rather than a defined safety target to set speed limits, significantly limits the ability to reduce traffic deaths.” This “Rule” should no longer exist and should be phased out of the MUTCD.
  2. Pedestrian Signal Requirements: The MUTCD does not require pedestrian-specific crossing signals to be installed at existing or new traffic lights. It instead relies on measures like previous pedestrian deaths and the number of people crossing  to warrant new pedestrian signals.
    Additionally, the MUTCD doesn’t allow other factors such as: expected pedestrian traffic or the number of people who drive to cross busy streets instead of walking to justify adding signals for people walking. Currently, for a signalized pedestrian crossing to be added to a school, the MUTCD requires that there already be 20 children willing to risk their lives at crossing the street in an hour, before a signal can be added to protect them.
  3. Crosswalks Guidelines: The MUTCD severely lack proactive safety regulation covering the installation and use of crosswalks. For a new signalized crosswalk to be installed, a location must have 93 people cross the street per hour or have had 4 or more pedestrians crashes in a 3-year period. The MUTCD also does not allow for colorful crosswalks within the roadway, even though high visibility crosswalks have been proven to enhance pedestrian safety, while also contributing to neighborhood vibrancy. 
  4. General Lack of Standards for Pedestrian Safety: Throughout the MUTCD there are several sections that mention pedestrian safety measures. However, a lot of those measures are not a federal regulation, but mere guidance that is not legally required for traffic professionals to adhere to.
  5. Regulations that Deter Important Bike/Ped/Transit Projects: Within the MUTCD there are several regulations that can potentially deter things like bike lanes and bus rapid transit projects. For example, there are specific design requirements for bike lanes that cross driveways and certain intersections. Bus rapid transit projects often require expansive and expensive traffic studies that delay these types of projects, which prohibits cities from making strides to expand their public transit networks.
NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials)

It should be mentioned that a majority of these comments and areas for improvement are shared among organizations like NACTO, America Walks, Trailnet and other similar biking and walking advocacy organizations. The fact that many national organizations have shared similar criticisms to this document shows the weight in how several regulations and standards impact the safety of people walking and biking on our streets. For more information on other MUTCD comments from those other organizations, we suggest these resources:

Trailnet is also realistic in the fact that a complete overhaul and rewrite of this document will take time to create and approve, and we believe that many of the current proposed amendments, are better than continuing with the 2009 version. As such we have crafted some specific suggestions to these amendments that could be incorporated while a full overhaul of this document is undertaken. You can read our specific immediate suggestions here, with the perspective that a full overhaul is still very much needed. 

People’s lives and safety are jeopardized by the current document. While the proposed amendments make things marginally better, FHWA and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg should act with conviction and expediency to  overhaul this document. Every minute wasted subjects our most vulnerable road users to the faulty logic within this document that prioritizes the convenience of people driving over the lives of people walking, biking, and trying to cross the street. 


Below is a comment template that you can copy, paste, and input into the Federal Register’s comment portal. Feel free to customize this letter with some of the specific advocacy pushes that are important to you.

Friday May 14 is the deadline to add comments. You can submit your comments here.

Sample Letter Text

Federal Highway Administration 

US Department of Transportation 

1200 New Jersey Ave S.E. 

Washington, DC 20590

RE: Serious concerns about the MUTCD in its current form

Dear Acting Administrator Pollack and Secretary Buttigieg,

As a supporter of Trailnet, and a person who _________, I am commenting to elevate certain concerns about the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Here in St. Louis we have seen an increase in traffic fatalities and crashes over the last 10 years and federal standards and guidelines (like those in the MUTCD) have done little to regulate how roadways should be designed to promote bicycle and pedestrian safety, and in many cases have actively worked against it. These fatality rates are not unique to St. Louis, these trends are being seen across the United States and other like minded advocates like myself welcome an MUTCD that works for all road users, not just those using a motorized vehicle.

Documents like the MUTCD perpetuate out-of-date street design guidance and absurd regulations that prioritize the efficiency of moving traffic over the safety of people walking and biking. I join Trailnet and other transportation advocacy groups like America Walks, NACTO, and the League of American Bicyclists, to ask that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices be completely rewritten with a focus on enhancing pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Specifically, revisions to the MUTCD need to focus on:

  • Prioritizing safety over speed. This means relying less on the 85th percentile rule and more on safety for all road users. 
  • Standards that put the safety of people walking first on signalization and markings at intersections. This includes requirements for crosswalks and pedestrian signals at all intersections, relaxing regulations on colored crosswalks, and increasing the time pedestrian signals last, among other things.
  • Supporting pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects that improve mobility for those users,in a way that doesn’t delay project timing, incur unnecessary costs, or deter these projects in general. 

In conjunction with Trailnet and many others, I formally ask that the Federal Highway Administration rewrite the MUTCD in a way that prioritizes safety for people walking and biking, and allows traffic engineers and professionals to effectively plan and design roadways that encourage people to use core transportation options like walking, biking, and the use of public transportation.

Thank you, 

[your name]

Dangerous by Design

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How does St. Louis rank in comparison to other metropolitan areas in terms of pedestrian safety? Where is the most dangerous place for pedestrians in the country? Answers to these questions can be found in the most recent Dangerous by Design report, released in January by Smart Growth America.

The report has been produced for several years and identifies metropolitan areas and states that are most dangerous for people walking. The January report uses pedestrian fatality data from 2005-2014 to rank cities and states by

  • pedestrian deaths per 100,000 in population
  • a “pedestrian danger index,” calculated as the share of commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.

Of the 104 metro areas ranked in the report, the two largest cities in Missouri, Kansas City and St. Louis, rank 45th and 52nd respectively. Florida has been the most dangerous state for pedestrians for the past four years, and it now has 8 of the top 10 most dangerous cities for pedestrians. In the past decade, over 46,000 people have been killed by motor vehicles while walking. The poor, the elderly, and people of color – those who are less likely to own cars or drive – make up a disproportionate share of the victims.

The report emphasizes that better street design will play a critical role in improving safety for people walking. Arterial roads, such as Manchester or Kingshighway in St. Louis, are particularly dangerous for pedestrians. These roads were designed for fast moving vehicles, often have sections that lack sidewalks, and have limited safe crossing opportunities for people who are walking. Arterial roads consign people traveling on foot to second-class status.

Trailnet has worked tirelessly for passage and implementation of Complete Streets policies in our region. A Complete Street is one that is designed with all users in mind: motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, the elderly, and the disabled. Making streets welcoming and safe for all users promotes active lifestyles, and helps to build communities that are vibrant, economically strong, and appealing to residents and employers.

 

Ask Gubernatorial Candidates About Transportation Funding

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Earlier this year the Missouri General Assembly created the $20 million Missouri Moves Fund. It was an historic first because bicycle and pedestrian projects were finally eligible uses for state transportation funds.  Last month, however, Governor Nixon moved to withhold Missouri Moves funds after a series of veto overrides by the legislature created budget shortfall implications.

Gov. Nixon stated the Missouri Moves program was not a solution to a long-term issue of funding the state’s growing transportation needs.  Missouri needs stable, long-term, user fee-based transportation funding and Missouri Moves only provided a one-time infusion of general funds.  A 21st century transportation system requires state funds for multi-modal uses, not just road projects. As MoDOT explained in the Missouri Moves Frequently Asked Questions, multi-modal transportation helps road users by reducing congestion and demand for car travel on roads and bridges.

Governor Nixon is leaving office soon. The two leading candidates running to replace him need to know that Missourians support funding for walking, bicycling, and transit.  Trailnet urges you to contact candidates Chris Koster and Eric GreitensTell them:

  • State funding for walking, biking and transit is important to you.
  • Road user-based sources are the most appropriate and stable for the state’s long-term transportation funding needs.

Walk Bike Ambassador Profile: Chris Freeland

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Chris Freeland power cleans his bicycle after completing Trailnet's Ride the Rivers Century

Chris Freeland power cleans his bicycle after completing Trailnet’s Ride the Rivers Century, making everyone else feel extra weak. Way to go, Chris!

Trailnet’s 12 Walk Bike Ambassadors are located throughout the St. Louis region. They help address walking and biking issues in their communities and assist Trailnet in advocacy campaigns and events. We’re excited to tell you about their recent successes!

Chris Freeland has deep roots in the Tower Grove East (TGE) neighborhood of St. Louis.  He’s lived there for 16 years, is a past president of the TGE neighborhood association, and has built many productive relationships with elected officials and other TGE neighborhood residents.  Tower Grove East is an area where many residents walk, bike and use transit.  A passion for bike safety was one of the factors that motivated Chris to apply to Trailnet’s Walk Bike Ambassador program.  Chris has increased many TGE residents’ bike safety awareness and bike route IQ by organizing group rides from the neighborhood to the Riverfront Trail and back.  He also reached a personal milestone this year by completing his first 100-mile century ride in Trailnet’s Ride the Rivers event. Next year Chris will be designing a community bike ride route for Trailnet to tour libraries of St. Louis, which is a natural for someone who works as a librarian at Washington University!  Chris will also work with Trailnet on TGE community outreach when the City completes a design proposal for traffic calming improvements on Louisiana Ave.  In his spare time Chris and his husband, also named Chris, are often busy with their soap making business.  Their product can be found at a number of local stores in the Tower Grove area, and at various community events.

Dutchtown’s Walk Bike Ambassador

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Wendy Campbell is an enthusiastic person who has “never met a stranger.” She is outgoing, generous, and thoroughly engaged in her community, the Dutchtown neighborhood of south St. Louis.

Wendy’s primary mode of transportation around Dutchtown and throughout the city is her bike; she says she “feels like a little kid again” every time she rides. And Wendy’s kids are often riding bikes right along with her. They all surely inspire others to get on two wheels for some good fun and real health benefits!

Wendy Campbell and Froebel student volunteers at Dutchtown Traffic Calming Demonstration

Wendy’s main focus in her work with Trailnet has been traffic safety. Before becoming a Walk Bike Ambassador, Wendy worked with Trailnet on a Safe Routes to School program at Froebel Literacy Academy, and promoted community awareness of traffic calming tools and benefits in Dutchtown and other city neighborhoods.

This summer Wendy knocked on many doors in the 20th ward of Dutchtown and talked about active transportation and traffic safety to hundreds of potential voters during her successful campaign for committeewoman in her ward.

Dutchtown benefits because Wendy Campbell is an active resident there, and Trailnet is well-represented by Wendy as a Walk Bike Ambassador.

Remembering victims of traffic violence

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RWS2On May 18, a diverse group of bicyclists and pedestrians gathered on the steps of the Missouri History Museum for the Ride and Walk of Silence, a commemoration of individuals who have been killed or injured while walking or bicycling on our public roads.

RWS1In 2015, there were 21 pedestrians and one cyclist killed in crashes involving motor vehicles in the City of St. Louis. A reported 198 pedestrians and 85 cyclists were injured. In St. Louis County, 10 pedestrians were killed and 215 injured, while 95 cyclists also filed reports of injury.

“Even one death is too many,” said Trailnet Executive Director Ralph Pfremmer. “The rate of traffic violence in St. Louis is unacceptable.”

RWS3This year marks the thirteenth anniversary of the first Ride of Silence, which took place in Dallas, Texas. This initial event was organized by Chris Phelan, friend of endurance cyclist Larry Schwartz, who was killed after being struck by the mirror of a passing school bus. The Ride of Silence now takes place on the third Wednesday in May across the U.S. and internationally.

Four years ago, 23-year-old Amber Wood was killed while crossing the street in front of Broadway Oyster Bar near downtown St. Louis. The car that killed her was speeding so fast that she was thrown 80 feet and killed instantly. Wood’s mother, Georgie Busch, was on hand to talk about her personal loss and the importance of safe roads for everyone.

“My daughter Amber was enjoying an evening in downtown St. Louis,” Busch said. “She crossed a street thinking she was safe, but a reckless driver going over 70 mph took her life in an instant, and kept right on going.”

Pfremmer highlighted the work Trailnet does to prevent more crashes like this from happening.

“This is one of the reasons reducing traffic injuries and deaths remains one of Trailnet’s highest priorities,” said Pfremmer. “Crashes are preventable, not inevitable. Trailnet is advocating for traffic safety to be addressed as the public health problem that it is.”

Following the gathering at the History Museum, over 20 cyclists and 19 pedestrians bicycled or walked through city neighborhoods in silence in remembrance of those who have been lost.

Driver’s Guide to Active Transportation

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St. Louis now has more than 200 miles of bike lanes and trails, and the goal of the  Gateway Bike Plan is to nearly double that number in the next two years. The number of bicyclists taking advantage of these facilities has also increased. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people commuting by bicycle in St. Louis nearly tripled, and the number of people taking to the roads and trails for fun and recreation has increased dramatically.

Although these improvements are a great start, bike lanes can only increase the safety of bicyclists if both motorists and cyclists understand how to negotiate these facilities safely and responsibly. When statistics on pedestrian deaths are considered, this makes the need for responsible driving habits even more urgent. Twenty-one pedestrians were killed in St. Louis City last year, the highest number in thirty years.

Trailnet partnered with Great Rivers Greenway, Alta Planning and Design and the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation to create a Driver’s Guide explaining proper operation of a motor vehicle on roads with bike lanes and other features designed to protect pedestrians and bicyclists. If you would like to learn more about types of bike lanes, signals, road markings, and how to operate your two- or four-wheeled (or two-footed) vehicle safely, give our Driver’s Guide a look.

Have a new or soon-to-be driver at home? Please make sure and share this important information with them.

Thanks to         and   

Ask Mayor Slay, “What’s the plan for preventing crash injuries and deaths?”

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Last year there were 21 pedestrian crash deaths on St. Louis streets – the highest total in 30 years of MoDOT records. Crashes also claimed the lives of one cyclist and 31 people in vehicles. In January, Trailnet’s executive director wrote to Mayor Slay about the City’s growing traffic violence and requested a meeting to discuss some solutions.

Last month the meeting at City Hall took place, though Mayor Slay did not attend. The Mayor’s Office declined Trailnet’s recommendation to implement a Vision Zero strategy, which more than 10 US cities have done in the past several years. The City said “no” to Vision Zero, suggesting it would be an empty promise to the public because it lacks the money for implementation. Trailnet responded by saying the City of St. Louis must have an action plan for preventing crash deaths and serious injuries, and progress should be clearly articulated to residents. The Mayor’s Office agreed to create an action plan, but we have no commitment as to when such a plan will be forthcoming.

So, we’re asking, “what’s the plan?” for addressing this public safety issue. Trailnet urges all concerned about the safety of those who walk, bike, and drive in St. Louis to ask City Hall this question. Tweet your concerns to @MayorSlay using #WhatsThePlan? or email slayf@stlouis-mo.gov and copy Trailnet. Let the Slay administration know that traffic deaths are preventable, not inevitable, and it’s time to act.

Trailnet’s April Champion, Susan Rollins

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SusanRollinsBikeBrightSince her first Trailnet ride ten years ago, Susan Rollins has participated in many Trailnet rides, has been a volunteer, and now serves as a member of Trailnet’s Board.

So what is so great about being on a bike? Susan’s reply: “Cycling keeps me sane; being outside with the fresh air on my face combined with the challenge of the ride calms my soul and gives me a peace that I can’t find anywhere else.” She plans to spend lots of time on her bike this year, including her first multi-day trip, starting in Savannah, Georgia and pedaling around the coastal islands, New York’s Five Boro Bike Tour, and Bike the Drive in Chicago. She also hopes to ride the length of the Katy Trail, and to begin commuting to work by bike at least a couple of days a week.

In her role as Executive Director of the St. Louis County Housing Authority, Susan sees the possibilities that bicycles have for easing the transportation challenges faced by many low-income residents. “Our clients do not have the dollars needed to purchase or maintain a car. So even if you have a job but lack transportation, how do you survive?” Rollins is convinced that creating communities where walking and biking are safe alternatives would provide access not only to jobs and school, but also to better food options and other vital facilities. “Ideally I would like all of our public housing children to own a bike and learn how to ride. I see them visiting libraries, recreational centers, and neighborhood pools. I see them visiting each other and feeling like a part of a community. I see myself riding with our children and showing them how access to transportation can take you to places you never thought existed.”

As a Trailnet Board member, Susan Rollins is dedicated to seeing that vision come true. She feels that realizing Trailnet’s goal of connecting our region through a network of protected bikeways and neighborhood greenways can make St. Louis one of the best places to live in the country. “It is only Trailnet that can put St. Louis on the map as a community that embraces walking and cycling. If we want to look like Indianapolis, Trailnet has the expertise to make that happen. If we want to look like Portland, Trailnet can make it happen. We just have to work hard to raise the funds to make this bold vision a reality.”

Missouri House committee to vote on bill that would allow motor vehicles on Katy Trail

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HB-2047

Last week Trailnet, along with other organized bike, pedestrian, and trail advocates, urged members of the Missouri House Conservation Committee to vote “NO” on HB 2047, which would allow motorized traffic (ATVs and golf carts) on the Katy Trail. The committee will most likely vote on the bill this week.

We sent our comments to the committee Wednesday, February 10, outlining the reasons behind our opposition. To see our full comments, click here.

At this time we only want to make you aware of the bill’s existence. No action on your part is requested since the bill may die in committee. The bill will likely lose traction because of its recently estimated fiscal impact to implement: it would cost the state over $40 million to accommodate ATVs and golf carts. This news may change the minds of the bill’s supporters.

Still, if the bill moves forward in the legislative process, we’ll send an advocacy alert to mobilize public opposition to the bill.

Shortly after our opposition email was sent to the house committee, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a story about the bill, and much more opposition to the bill was generated. We hope this dialogue continues. The Katy Trail is meant to cater to those who wish to enjoy active lifestyles in a natural setting without the dangers of motor vehicle traffic. We’re ready to work to keep it that way for the many benefits it provides to people and our economy. Stay tuned to our social media sites for updates.