U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations
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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-035
Date: May 2011
Pedestrian and Bicyclist Traffic Control Device Evaluation Methods
CHAPTER 2. WHEN TO PERFORM AN EVALUATION
Evaluations are required for any new traffic control device and for applications of devices that do not comply with the provisions of the 2009 MUTCD.(1) However, an agency may perform an evaluation in other instances as well. The 2009 MUTCD contains alternative versions of some devices as well as option and guidance statements that require engineering judgment in order to be applied. An agency may also want to perform an evaluation among several MUTCD-compliant alternatives in order to select an application in its jurisdiction. While this report focuses on evaluating new devices or applications, the same principles of research design and execution would apply to evaluations of existing devices.
MUTCD Section 1A.10 requires any agency seeking to use a nonstandard traffic control device or a nonstandard application or placement of a traffic control device to obtain permission from FHWA to evaluate that device.(1) A measure of engineering judgment is permitted in MUTCD, allowing some flexibility for traffic engineers (see MUTCD Section 1A.09), but this does not extend to the use of nonstandard devices without requesting experimentation or interpretation.(1)
At times, it may be difficult to determine if a variant of a traffic control device is consistent with MUTCD, such as a nonstandard warning sign design for a unique situation not explicitly included in MUTCD (see figure 3). Minor sign design variants, applications, or placement variations that are not contained in MUTCD do not need to be tested as long as they do not conflict with a standard provision in MUTCD. Any variation from a standard normally requires permission from FHWA for testing along with an evaluation plan. If an agency is uncertain whether testing is necessary, it should contact FHWA for an interpretation of MUTCD or to determine if an evaluation is needed. Communication submitted electronically receives more prompt attention than mail-in communication (see the resources section of this report for contact information).
Figure 3. Illustration. Example of signs not included in MUTCD.
If an agency has a question about a new application for a standard device, the official meaning of a standard device, or allowed variations of a standard device, a request for an official interpretation can be made to FHWA, which keeps a public database of all requests for (see chapter 6 of this report).
MUTCD Section 1A.10 states that the following information should be contained in a request for interpretation:(1)
If an agency wants to use a nonstandard traffic control device or make use of a nonstandard traffic control device application or placement that goes beyond a simple interpretation, it must submit a request for experimentation for that device and then conduct a formal evaluation under permission granted by FHWA. Devices that have been evaluated by another agency and rejected by FHWA should not be tested unless there is a new variation or application that warrants further evaluation. If an agency can show that a prior evaluation of a rejected traffic control device was flawed or incomplete, FHWA may consider further testing. If a new traffic control device or application is undergoing testing by another agency and the testing is incomplete, a second agency can seek permission to conduct further testing and submit an evaluation plan.
Examples of bicyclist and pedestrian traffic control devices that were not in conformance with the 2003 MUTCD and that underwent such experimentation include the following:(3)
Figure 4. Photo. Example of a shared lane marking.
Figure 5. Photo. Example of a HAWK.
Figure 6. Photo. Example of an RRFB.
Only a public agency (or private toll authority responsible for the operation of a road) can request permission to experiment with a new traffic control device or application. The agency can partner with a manufacturer, vendor, consultant, or research agency to test a device and conduct the evaluation. In fact, for a public agency lacking the expertise in statistical analysis techniques, making a partnership with another entity is highly desirable. The use of a consultant, research organization, or university skilled in this area might greatly enhance the ability to conduct an accurate and meaningful evaluation. The process for requesting and conducting experimentation for new traffic control devices or new applications of traffic control devices is shown in figure 7. It is important to note that if a new device or application will undergo only laboratory or closed-track testing and will not be placed on a road open to public travel, there is no requirement for FHWA experimentation approval.
Figure 7. Illustration. Process for requesting and conducting experimentations for new traffic control devices.
Requests to FHWA for permission to experiment with a new traffic control device or application should “include consideration of field deployment for the purpose of testing or evaluating a new traffic control device, its application or manner of use, or a provision not specifically described” in MUTCD (Section 1A.10, Support statement paragraph 08).(1) Chapter 6 includes information on how to access examples of requests to experiment, letters requesting interpretations, and evaluations.
MUTCD Section 1A.10 states that requests should contain the following information:(1)
If FHWA requests that the testing agency terminates the experiment at any time during the experimental period, the experimental device or application must be removed, and the location(s) must be returned to a condition that is in compliance with the 2009 MUTCD.(1) This can be costly and can create a public relations problem or potential liability concern. Agencies must be aware that FHWA can terminate an experiment or eventually adopt the new traffic control device in a manner that is inconsistent with the proposed experimental application during the final rulemaking process. This can cause adverse political fallout or embarrassment to an agency that has not considered this possibility and has not informed agency management and political leaders.
An experiment cannot proceed unless the FHWA Director of the Office of Transportation Operations grants the requesting agency approval for the experiment. This means the installation of a new traffic control device or new application or placement that is not consistent with the current MUTCD cannot occur without FHWA approval. FHWA may request additional information or clarification or request a modification in the traffic control device or experimental design before granting or denying a request for experimentation.
FHWA may grant an interim approval for the use of a device. Interim approvals are granted by an official memorandum, which is posted on the MUTCD Web site. They are typically given between revision cycles of MUTCD, and the device is incorporated into the next revision of the manual.
Traffic control devices that have already been given interim approval by FHWA do not require a formal evaluation, but the FHWA Office of Transportation Operations must be contacted for permission to use the device under interim approval. While a formal evaluation is not required, it is always beneficial to other agencies and the traffic engineering community to conduct an evaluation to assess driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist performance, behavior, compliance, and safety with the new device. FHWA may modify the application or design of a new traffic control device under interim approval when the final rulemaking occurs.
Topics: research, safety
Keywords: research, safety, Evaluation methods, Guidelines, MUTCD, Pedestrian treatment, Bicyclist treatment, Traffic control device
TRT Terms: research, safety