By now, most urban transportation planners have a working knowledge of on-street bike design basics — there’s your standard bike lane, your cycle track, your bicycle boulevard. That’s largely due to the seminal 2011 Urban Bikeway Design Guide from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which was formally embraced by the Federal Highway Administration in 2013.
Now, NACTO has released a more comprehensive update aiming to help cities implement those design basics. “Designing for All Ages and Abilities” recognizes that bike lanes aren’t built in a vacuum — and demonstrates how vehicle speed and traffic volume will determine which treatments most effectively go where.
That’s not to say that it encourages planners to design around the car. In prioritizing “all ages and abilities” (i.e., children, seniors and people with disabilities alongside more confident riders), the guide is very clear: Often, officials will need to target traffic flow, and the report calls reducing motor vehicle speeds to 20-25 mph a “core operational strategy.”
“Reducing speeds can also make it easier to enact other safety changes,” the report states, “such as changes to intersection geometry, signalization, turn lanes, and turn restrictions.”
But the guide also attempts to meet planners where they’re at: on real, and often multi-modal, city streets. It recognizes that not every street needs a separated cycle track. Conventional and buffered bike lanes are fine, sometimes — but to encourage families with children or people with disabilities to bike on them, planners will need to do things like reducing vehicle speed, or reducing curbside conflicts (particularly freight and bus pull-outs). On other streets, if vehicle speed is high and will remain high, a separated track is the way to go.
NACTO design guidelines have previously tackled a diverse range of street design hot spots, including transit and stormwater management alongside bicycling. Their latest report is available in full here.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.