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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-035
Date: May 2011

Pedestrian and Bicyclist Traffic Control Device Evaluation Methods


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).

Two signs from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) are pictured. The top sign is a bike lane sign, with a white bike icon on a black background above black words “BIKE LANE” on a white background. The bottom sign is yellow with “SHARE THE ROAD” in black.

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)

  • A concise statement of the interpretation being sought. 

  •  A description of the condition that provoked the need for an interpretation.

  •  Any illustration to help clarify the request.

  •  Any supporting research data that are pertinent to the item to be interpreted.

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)

  •  The shared lane pavement marking for bicyclists (also known as a sharrow), which was adopted in the 2009 MUTCD (see figure 4).(1)

  •  The pedestrian hybrid beacon (also known as a High intensity Activated crossWalK (HAWK) beacon), which was adopted in the 2009 MUTCD (see figure 5).(1)

  •  The rectangular rapid-flashing beacon (RRFB) for uncontrolled crosswalks, which was not in conformance with the 2003 MUTCD but has undergone further testing and received interim approval (see figure 6).(3)

This photo shows an example of a shared lane marking, or sharrow. It consists of a bicycle outline underneath two chevrons.

Figure 4. Photo. Example of a shared lane marking.

This photo shows a High intensity Activated crossWalK (HAWK) beacon on a street. Beacon heads consisting of two red lenses above a single yellow lens are located on both the masthead and a roadside pole. The red lenses are illuminated. Signs reading “CROSSWALK STOP ON RED” are positioned near the beacons, and a sign reading “PEDESTRIAN CROSSING” hangs from the masthead.

Figure 5. Photo. Example of a HAWK.

A pole mounted at the side of a roadway near a crosswalk bears the W11-2 pedestrian warning sign, which shows a silhouette of a person walking to the left. The sign is a yellow diamond with a black border, and the silhouette is black. Below the sign, there is a rectangular rapid-flashing beacon (RRFB) with two yellow lights, and the light on the right is activated. Below the sign, there is a rectangular yellow sign with a black border and a black arrow pointing diagonally downward to the left toward the crosswalk. Above the W11-2 sign, there is a photovoltaic panel.
© Texas Transportation Institute

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.

This illustration shows the process for requesting and conducting experimentations for new traffic control devices. The process begins by the requesting jurisdiction submitting a request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). FHWA reviews the request. If the request is not approved, the requesting jurisdiction responds to questions raised by FHWA before sending the request back for review. If the request is approved, the requesting jurisdiction installs the experimental traffic control device. After installation, the requesting jurisdiction evaluates the experimental traffic control device and provides the FHWA Division and Headquarters with semiannual reports. The process is finished by the requesting jurisdiction and provides FHWA with a copy of the final report.
© Texas Transportation Institute

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)

  1. A statement indicating the nature of the problem.

  2. A description of the proposed change to the traffic control device or application of the traffic control device, how it was developed, the manner in which it deviates from the standard, and how it is expected to be an improvement over existing standards.

  3. Any illustration that would be helpful to understand the traffic control device or use of the traffic control device.

  4. Any supporting data explaining how the traffic control device was developed, if it has been tried, in what ways it was found to be adequate or inadequate, and how this choice of device or application was derived.

  5. A legally binding statement certifying that the concept of the traffic control device is not protected by a patent or copyright. (An example of a traffic control device concept would be countdown pedestrian signals in general. Ordinarily an entire general concept would not be patented or copyrighted, but if it were it would not be acceptable for experimentation unless the patent or copyright owner signs a waiver of rights acceptable to the FHWA. An example of a patented or copyrighted specific device within the general concept of countdown pedestrian signals would be a manufacturer's design for its specific brand of countdown signal, including the design details of the housing or electronics that are unique to that manufacturer's product. As long as the general concept is not patented or copyrighted, it is acceptable for experimentation to incorporate the use of one or more patented devices of one or several manufacturers.)

  6. The time period and location(s) of the experiment.

  7. A detailed research or evaluation plan that must provide for close monitoring of the experimentation, especially in the early stages of its field implementation. The evaluation plan should include before and after studies as well as quantitative data describing the performance of the experimental device.

  8. An agreement to restore the site of the experiment to a condition that complies with the provisions of this Manual within 3 months following the end of the time period of the experiment. This agreement must also provide that the agency sponsoring the experimentation will terminate the experimentation at any time that it determines significant safety concerns are directly or indirectly attributable to the experimentation. The FHWA's Office of Transportation Operations has the right to terminate approval of the experimentation at any time if there is an indication of safety concerns. If, as a result of the experimentation, a request is made that this Manual be changed to include the device or application being experimented with, the device or application will be permitted to remain in place until an official rulemaking action has occurred.

  9. An agreement to provide semi-annual progress reports for the duration of the experimentation, and an agreement to provide a copy of the final results of the experimentation to the FHWA's Office of Transportation Operations within 3 months following completion of the experimentation. The FHWA's Office of Transportation Operations has the right to terminate approval of the experimentation if reports are not provided in accordance with this schedule.


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.

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration