If Tennessee Can Adopt Livable Street Designs, So Can New York State DOT

States and cities across the country have adopted standards from the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, a blueprint for safe, multi-modal streets that made its debut last fall.

NACTO guidelines call for streets that accommodate all users. Is NYS DOT interested? Image: Urban Street Design Guide
NACTO guidelines describe how to design streets that working for walking and biking. Is NYS DOT interested? Image: Urban Street Design Guide

New York City is among those cities that have incorporated NACTO guidelines, and this month Tennessee became the sixth state to do so. But Matthew Norris of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign notes that New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut haven’t embraced NACTO principles.

It’s encouraging to note that until recently, places such as metropolitan Nashville were on a similar trajectory to much of the nation by building infrastructure that promoted suburban sprawl development, but have since responded to the demand for walkable, higher density development by planning for growth along existing corridors and downtowns. Analysis of recent commercial real estate trends shows that walkable urban and suburban places demand a 74 percent rental premium over auto-dominated suburban areas. Likewise, 85 percent of all recently built rental apartments have been built in walkable urban places.

The NACTO design standards are more conducive to walking and biking than those endorsed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which still don’t include treatments like protected bike lanes. AASHTO design guidelines remain the model for state DOTs in the New York City metro region

“While complete streets efforts are advancing in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, policy implementation has not been as progressive or efficient as it could be,” writes Norris. “State departments of transportation in the tri-state region should follow the lead of Tennessee (as well as Washington, Massachusetts, California, Utah and Minnesota) in order to create the type of safe, walkable and vibrant corridors that residents are demanding.”

Streetsblog has asked NYS DOT if it intends to adopt NACTO standards. We will update this post if we get an answer.

  • HamTech87

    This is a huge deal for those of us trying to see Complete Streets in our suburban municipalities in New York State. Our suburbs are often as dense as cities, especially in and around the downtowns, and street design should reflect this by promoting transit, cycling and walking.

    But another problem in counties outside of the 5 boros is that transportation engineers have a windshield perspective, since their homes and offices are in car-dependent places. How we live shapes how we think, and these engineers think as drivers.

  • Aron

    The picture almost looks Dutch. What is this madness.

  • Paul

    Let’s remember that Tennessee has MUCH farther to go to become a pedestrian & bike friendly state than NY. Elements of people friendly street are so glaringly absent in TN, a state which has largely adopted the Atlanta development model, and with a culture of blatant tailgating and speeding at a minimum of 10mph over the limit (because they know tickets are not issued for 10 over). In reality, there are two Tennesees, the old and the new. The old Tennesse is eminently walkable, but has been neglected and relegated to the poor. The “new” Tennessee consists of sprawling strip malls, office parks, and cul-de-sac housing developments away from a hollowed out urban core (West Knoxville, all Clarksville). Land is cheap, that’s where the money is, and the result is a “donut effect”. The winding arteries of the new TN are often 2-lane farm roads not designed for heavy traffic (of course, no sidewalks). And when new 4 lane main roads (actually, highways) are built, they usually have lack sidewalks, because nobody walks, or bikes for that matter. Of course, mass transit is pretty much a token measure joke.

  • Thomas Hormby

    Spot on analysis

  • This is a good overview of why it’s so ridiculous that NY has not adopted the NACTO guidelines yet.

  • Kevin Love

    OK… I’ll take that as a challenge. 🙂

    At the top of the picture, we see a cyclist riding in a bike lane that is in the door zone of adjacent parked cars. It is very non-Dutch to have a street design where the most dangerous place on the entire road to ride a bike is in the bike lane.

    Also the top-to-bottom street appears to be a high-car-traffic volume one-way street with a cycle lane only going one way. This is also very non-Dutch. One-way streets are set up profoundly differently in The Netherlands than in the USA. One of those differences is allowing counterflow cycle traffic. See:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2010/02/one-way-streets-in-uk-and-netherlands.html

    Very much non-Dutch is an unprotected cycle path through an intersection that looks like it has sufficiently high motor vehicle traffic volumes that the CROW standards demand protection.

    Also the “penis head” cyclist stencils are very non-Dutch. As is the whole paint scheme. For example, there would be “Dragon’s Teeth” in NL to show right-of-way.

  • Kevin Love

    As I have pointed out before, the NACTO guidelines are substandard, in some cases dangerously so. We should adopt the Dutch CROW bicycle traffic design engineering standard.

    I have provided a detailed criticism of the NACTO guidelines on Streetsblog before, and others with far greater expertise that I have also commented. See, for example:

    http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/state-of-the-art-bikeway-design-or-is-it/

    But just one fact excludes NACTO from serious consideration by mature adults: As shown in the drawing above, NACTO endorses door zone bike lanes where the most dangerous place on the entire street to ride a bike is in the bike lane.

    What is with this “let’s re-invent the wheel and get it totally wrong” concept? The Dutch CROW standards have been translated into English. All we have to do is use them.

  • Aron

    I am actually Dutch. I was talking about the fact that it looks like it has been designed with pedestrians and cyclists in mind, with the raised side street crossings and such. I know about the bike lane, but believe it or not, many streets still have bike lanes in the door zone here. It’s usually not a space issue, but one of trees. If you want seperate bike paths, you have to move them, which usually comes down to replacing them. Many residents would be opposed. But it looks to me like the street on top on the picture seems to be a one-way local neighbourhood street, so it wouldn’t even need a seperate bike lane. Just a counterflow lane and brick paving. Those play a huge factor in slowing down motor vehicles. Oh and they’re called shark’s teeth.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, shark’s teeth! Yes, there are many examples of older infra in NL that do not meet modern standards. But what really saddens and disappoints me is something like the NACTO standards that actually endorses profoundly dangerous infra such as door zone bike lanes.

    Since you are Dutch, I feel no qualms about linking to a fietsberaad consultant’s report at:

    http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/document000161.pdf

    Note how he takes pains to explicitly discourage (expliciet ontraden) bike lanes next to parked cars in the first place. But if one absolutely must do so, there has to be a 75 cm safety zone to keep people away from opening car doors.

  • BBnet3000

    Let me assure you that the problem you mention in your second paragraph remains a problem in the 5 boros. The most shocking part is that lots of people have a cars-first perspective who don’t even own one or drive often themselves.

  • Aron

    That’s all fine and dandy but Fietsberaad is not a governing government body and does not decide on infrastructure. They give advice and recommendations. So that’s why I have never seen a cycle lane with a 75cm buffer. I have recently seen one with a 20-50cm buffer in Amsterdam where a road (that is also a main cycling route) got repaved. But just because these organisations give recommendations and decide on cycle standards, doesn’t mean these recommendations are followed or that the current infrastructure gets replaced/improved over night. It also doesn’t mean that what they promote is the current standard everywhere in the country. The door zone cycle lanes are still being implemented all over the country.

    By the way, here is a recent document about some of the cycling policies/designs of the City of Amsterdam in English
    http://www.amsterdam.nl/publish/pages/617263/planam-04-2014_web.pdf

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