We probably haven’t seen the last of engineers who insist on designing local streets like surface highways. But at least now they can’t claim their hands are tied by federal regulations.
The rule change eliminates a major obstacle to safe street design around the country. The old rules applied highways design standards — wide lanes, no trees — to streets that function more like main streets, with terrible consequences for safety and walkability.
In October, FHWA proposed eliminating all but two of the old standards on streets designed for speeds under 50 mph, citing a lack of evidence that the rules improve safety. Now, those changes are official.
Ian Lockwood, a consultant with the Toole Design Group and formerly the transportation director for West Palm Beach, Florida, said the changes are important. The new rules open the door to treatments like road diets, bike lanes, and street trees — the kind of street designs that lead to a safe pedestrian environment, not high-speed traffic.
“This allows the designs to better support the place and not so much how fast people can drive through it,” he said.