“Yes you can — it’s in the MUTCD”

When bicyclists ask a Public Works Dept. to do something around a city, they often get the response “No we can’t, it’s not in the MUTCD.”

But what they’re not telling you is that there’s lots of approved signs and markings for bicycles that they can use, but they’re not telling you about it.

I’m presenting this as a workshop, Thursday Feb 17, Physical Sciences and Engineering Library, 4 – 5:30 pm.  Come for all or any of it, and see all these mysterious documents for yourself.

– Ted Buehler

The MUTCD is a long-winded, technical manual on what signs and markings can go on roads.  It’s the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.”  The theory is that a all markings should be uniform, so a yellow stripe or green sign means the same thing everywhere.  And its very car-oriented.  Not much in there for bikes.

Fortunately, the MUTCD *does* have a modest number of signs and designs that bicyclists can ask for, and receive.  Many “problems” on bikeways and with bikeway designs are where the designs are out of compliance with standards.  These problems can be identified, reported, and Public Works will happily fix them.

Bikeway design standards are scattered through a half dozen different plans and design manuals, the MUTCD and others.  If you want to get something built or something changed, it’s helpful to know what’s in the manuals and what isn’t.  On Thursday we’ll wander through all these documents to see what they have, and what they don’t have, and everyone will have a better idea as to what they can and can’t specify in bikeway improvements.

It’s fun, it’s empowering.

Afterwards we’ll ride around Davis and see what’s in compliance and what isn’t.  Bring a tape measure, camera, or other useful measuring and reporting devices.

4 – 5:30 pm, Thusday Feb 17th, Physical Sciences and Engineering
Library, main floor reference section.
Ted Buehler

We’ll look at a few of these — some are only available electronically, but there’s enough of them with hard copies that you can get a feel for the whole family of documents.

5 Responses to ““Yes you can — it’s in the MUTCD””

  • We’re still on for the library. I’m thinking if it’s still raining we’ll just go downtown for dinner and chat rather than go on a ride. There’s plenty of stuff we can measure and evaulate from downtown sidewalks.

    Ted Buehler

  • Successful workshop — we had 5 or 6 folks in the library, laid all the documents out on the table, and wandered through them. A good time was had by all. Standards, guidelines, and best practices.

    Then we rode out to West Village and saw the terrible new roundabouts, then in to B St where we determined that the freshly laid pavement was out of compliance with the California Highway Design Manual, then dinner at Crepeville, where we bumped into both Joe Krovoza and Tara Goddard.

    A good time was had by all.

    Watch this space for further updates — Robb is going to post a link to the latest version of the California MUTCD, which includes approval of Sharrows in 5 different road configurations. And we’ll add other links to as we find them.

    Ted Buehler

  • Here is where you can go to see the draft CA MUTCD that will change the sharrows standards:


  • Hello Ted,
    I am a Phd student at Pennsylvania State University in transportation engineering. I have several topics in my mind for my dissertation but honestly I really like to work on bicycling field and contribute to the growth of bicycling in the U.S. ;I believe that if people see bicycling as a serious mode of transportation, it will solve a lot of our problems in urban areas. I would like to work on bikeways signage systems but I am not sure where to begin. I wonder if you can help me on this and if you are aware of any problems with bikeways signage systems or not. Basically I am looking for a research topic for my dissertation and I prefer to work on bicycling field and it’s signage system. I will appreciate it if you could help me on this.


  • Aidin,

    Yes, I have a few ideas on it.

    Bikeway signs aren’t very sophisticated, but as bicycle traffic increases, the number of routes increase, and the congestion increases, there’s various ways that bike paths and lanes will need to be marked.

    The MUTCD gains a few new bicycle signs every 10 years. But they’re added on a piecemeal basis.

    A couple research ideas:
    * Examine the relationship between existing car signs and bicycle signs. Are there uniform ways in which the two relate to each other? Of instance, bicycle signs are generally smaller versions of the larger sign. That is an easy quantitative difference. And typical car signs can be replaced with bicycle signs, such as “slippery road ahead” with the car symbol replaced with a bicycle symbol.

    Other differences are greater. Wayfinding for bicycles in the MUTCD is primitive. Simple directional signs or rather dull “dated” looking bikeway numbering signs. For car routes, wayfinding is much more sophisticated, with advance warning, lane recommendations, etc. But cities can only put in simple wayfinding because that’s all there is in the MUTCD.

    So, the research idea would be to examine the relationship between car and bike signs, identify the qualitative and quantitative differences between the two, and outline it in a formula. * Shrink sign from 24″ x 36″ to 18″ x 24″, shrink front from 7″ to 5″” etc. This would provide a template for easy addition of additional signs in the bicycle realm.

    Then, identify means by which wayfinding can be better incorporated into bicycle transportation networks. How does the MUTCD compare cars with bikes? How could the car systems be applied to bikes?

    Another aspect is that bike markings do well painted on streets, car markings not so well. What types of car signs are used as bicycle pavement stencils? And what additional stencils might be developed in this same pattern?

    And, you could visit “progressive” municipalities that don’t follow the MUTCD for their bicycle signage system. And/or Canadian/European cities that have their own Uniformity amongst their own Traffic Control Device systems.

    And, you could interview bicycle users to see what types of signs they find useful, what signs they don’t understand, and what situations catch them off guard and should have signs.

    Also, there needs to be a whole new signage system to warn bicyclists of streetcar tracks in the street. Portland OR now has streetcars on 3 and 4 lane 1-way streets. Where bicyclists used to simply merge left to make a left turn, they now find themselves in the middle lane of a street with no way to safely continue merging to the left.

    Another problem is the lack of channelization on the street. Highways have lanes of standard width, and cars stay in their lanes except when executing a lane change under predictable conditions. Bicycles are now dense enough in Portland OR and Davis CA that there’s mayhem on the streets as people pass in unpredictable ways. This isn’t “signage” but it is “traffic control devices” in that it’s striping on the pavement. A system needs to be developed.

    You can also see innovative signage and pavement markings in the newly released “NACTO” Urban Bikeway Design Guide — the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Formed to bypass the clumsy, autocentric revision process of the MUTCD, and form an alliance of cities that will use a different type of uniformity.

    Some ideas.

    Contact me at ted101@gmail.com , I’d be happy to think further about the matter.

    Ted Buehler

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