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NACTO to Take Safer Street Designs to Developing World Cities

Last year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials brought us the Urban Street Design Guide, and now it’s going global.

A Delhi traffic jam. Traffic collisions kill about 250,000 per year in India. Photo: Wikipedia

During the organization’s national conference in San Francisco last Thursday, NACTO chair and former New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced that it will be developing a “Global Street Design Guide” to help developing nations set standards for safe, livable streets.

Executive Director Linda Bailey said the guide will take principles from NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide and adapt them for cities in places like India and East Asia. Streets and travel patterns in those nations are very different than in America, with much higher levels of walking and scooter use, for instance, as well as the looming threat of rapid growth in private automobiles.

“The U.S. is already influencing heavily many developing countries,” Bailey said. “The idea is to try to skip over any lag time… Under the same principles as the Urban Street Design Guide, how does this work in a country that has a very different mode split?”

The organization hopes to release the guide in early 2016. NACTO will also be working with a group of selected global cities interested in implementing safer street designs, much like the organization has done in the U.S., Bailey said. NACTO noted that 1.2 million people die globally from traffic collisions and that the guide is seen as an international public health tool.

“One of the things that’s exciting about working in an international context is you already have a high pedestrian mode share,” said Bailey. “Just making things more comfortable for pedestrians could make a huge difference.”

The design guide is being supported in part by the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety.

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NACTO Street Design Guides Now Official Policy in SF

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday voted unanimously to establish the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street and Urban Bikeway Design Guides as official policy for all city agencies, as proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

The NACTO guides, which provide designs standards for parking-protected bike lanes like this one in New York City, are now official guidelines for all SF agencies to follow. Photo: Utility Cycling

“Safe and livable streets start with smart street design reflecting the needs of all users,” Wiener said in a statement. “Safe streets and livable neighborhoods require the three ‘e’s — education, enforcement and engineering. Importing NACTO’s urban design policy will guide us to deliver on that third e — engineering — by ensuring we design streets for all users, including not just cars but also pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists. For San Francisco to have a more sustainable future, we need an environment that encourages and allows people to safely and enjoyably walk, bike, and use transit, in addition to driving.”

“Engineering is the most important because it naturally educates every user of the street,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, applauding the adoption at a hearing on Monday.

At yesterday’s board meeting, Wiener said adopting the guides is “what we should’ve done a long time ago.” The SFMTA already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but other city agencies that play a role in street design will now be able to rely on the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets.

The NACTO guides “give us the toolbox and the tactics to make streets safer, more livable, and more economically vibrant,” said Darby Watson, section leader for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision, at Monday’s hearing. ”Both guides have been fully vetted through a peer-to-peer working group of city engineers and planners sharing and developing these guidelines specific to urban places.”

A press release from Wiener’s office noted that “one of the NACTO guidelines adopted includes the policy that individual lane widths on most streets not exceed 10 feet.” As walkable urban design luminary Jeff Speck wrote on CityLab this week, wider lanes encourage drivers to speed and make streets more dangerous.

“While most existing lanes in San Francisco are 10 feet or less,” Wiener’s press release said, “certain departments recently attempted to require that streets approved for the Candlestick and Hunters Point Shipyard be widened to include travel lanes that were 13 feet wide.” The leading “certain department” pushing wider streets in that development area has been the SF Fire Department.

In two weeks, the NACTO Designing Cities Conference will be hosted in San Francisco, from October 22 to 25. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin is currently the president of NACTO.

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Wiener Moves to Make NACTO Street Design Guides Official Policy for SF

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Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced a bill that would make the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ guides for Urban Streets and Urban Bikeways official city policy. The SFMTA Board of Directors already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but Wiener’s legislation would establish them as official guidelines for other agencies to use, including the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, and the SF Fire Department.

Supervisor Scott Wiener riding on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC

“The MTA is not the only agency that’s designing streets,” said Andres Power, an aide for Wiener and previously the Planning Department’s manager of the parklet program. “The idea is to have a sense of what it is that is our collective city policy.”

The NACTO guides provide the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets. Notably, Caltrans recently endorsed the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, clearing the way for established standards for protected bike lanes in California.

Wiener hopes to have the legislation approved in time for the NACTO Designing Cities Conference, which will be hosted in San Francisco from October 22 to 25. It will be the first time the national event is held in SF, one year after SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin was named president of the organization.

Power said the NACTO guides will help complement SF’s Better Streets Plan, which was adopted citywide in 2010. Whether the BSP has been consistently implemented is an open question, but it mainly provides design guidelines for sidewalks, not roadways.

The NACTO guide adoption could provide more leverage for city officials to counter protests from the Fire Department against narrow roadways that create a safer, slower street environment. SFFD has fought projects that include roadways narrower than the minimums set in national fire code recommendations designed for suburbs.

Wiener plans to introduce further legislation to continue his efforts to reform the city’s street design and fire codes, Power said.

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Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

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How American Cities Are Making the Transition to Protected Bike Lanes

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Eastern Cesar Chavez Street. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Of all her trips pedaling around during her San Francisco visit, one of Martha Roskowski’s most harrowing was the stretch between the SFMTA building at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue to a venue at Folsom and Second Streets, where she was slated to speak about making cities more bike-friendly. “It was my little moment of, ‘Oh my god I’m late,’ and ‘I’m going to die,’” she said.

Downtown San Francisco is “still a pretty scary place to ride a bike,” said Roskowski. “I mean, if you have local knowledge, and if you’ve got the map, and you know exactly where to cut through, you can navigate this city. But we really need to do better in our cities. We can do better.”

Martha Roskowski. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

Roskowski is the director of the Bikes Belong Foundation’s Green Lane Project, an effort to facilitate partnerships between six American cities implementing protected bike lanes. The project’s goal, she says, is to give these cities a boost by sharing best planning practices and research on the benefits of protected bike lanes. In short, the idea is to help “good” bicycling cities become “great,” she said.

At a forum last night hosted by the SF Bicycle Coalition, Roskowski shared her thoughts on San Francisco’s progress compared with the five other Green Lane cities: Austin, Memphis, Portland, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Praising the SFMTA’s recently-released Draft Bicycle Strategy, she noted San Francisco’s grand vision, which is hampered by time-consuming planning processes and a lack of commitment to fund bicycling.

“I think of all of our cities, you guys have the potential to really change the course of this city,” said Roskowski. “If you’re willing to stand up and say, ‘Yes we will do it.’ It will take some money — in the grand scheme of money, it is not astronomical amounts. If you look at the Bicycle Strategy, and you look at what the investment would take to get to the Amsterdam/Copenhagen level, it’s a drop in the bucket of the ‘great big spending’ of the city. It’s really a question of priorities, and we the people drive the priorities of our communities.”

That sentiment was echoed by SFMTA board member Joél Ramos at the forum. During his study trip to Copenhagen last year, funded by Bikes Belong, Ramos described the striking sight of an elderly couple bicycling arm-in-arm in a protected bikeway on a major thoroughfare. ”We can completely change the paradigm of the cycling experience with these cycle tracks,” he said.

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NACTO 2012: Leading City DOT Commissioners Talk Transportation Politics

“To me, the single most fascinating element of politics is the alchemy by which something becomes an issue,” said Chris Hayes, MSNBC host and moderator of the commissioners’ panel on the politics of transportation at the October NACTO Designing Cities conference.

The panel, captured in its entirety by Streetfilms, featured NYC DOT’s Janette Sadik-Khan, Chicago DOT chief Gabe Klein, San Francisco MTA director Ed Reiskin, Boston transportation commissioner Tom Tinlin, and Philadelphia deputy mayor of transportation Rina Cutler.

To get things rolling, here’s Hayes, a lifelong New Yorker and self-described bike-riding partisan:

At the most micro level, transportation is incredibly political … But at a broader level it’s completely absent from our national political conversation. And this is bizarre.

Select highlights from the 53-minute panel after the jump.

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