top of page

NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide Review

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Hi, I'm Sean Mottles, a new contributor to BUX. I have a BA in business and decision management, and I'm interested in the science behind urban planning policy and implementation. I'm based in Amsterdam but originally from Los Angeles (USA), where I advocated for cycling infrastructure and public space improvement.

The manuals that are being reviewed are available on the Bicycle Infrastructure Manuals website for viewing.

Manual Info

Title: Urban Bikeway Design Guide, Second Edition

Publisher & Jurisdiction: National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), United States of America

Publication Year: 2014

Page Count: 260 Cost: $55 print / Free online chapters

Language: English

Rating (out of 5 stars)

Innovation – Process ☆☆☆

Innovation – Design ☆☆☆

Document Layout & Figure ☆☆☆☆☆

References ☆☆☆☆☆

Impact Factor / Adoption ☆☆☆☆

Overall ☆☆☆☆

Detailed Review

Innovation – Process

How is this design manual innovative in terms of processes? Does it include consultation with

users of bicycle infrastructure and also integration of marketing, planning, and design


Taking inspiration from existing infrastructure in cycling cities around the world, the updated Urban Bikeway Design Guide finally brings the perspective of a person on a bicycle to an American planning guide. Each treatment includes a list of comfort benefits for the user, though unfortunately it omits the drawbacks some designs have, as well as three features (required, recommended, optional) for implementation. This guide focuses exclusively on active bicycle facility designs with no attention given to policy development or implementation, and frequently gives wide estimations on what amount of vehicle traffic/speeds to take into account when assessing a street. The authors encourage professionals to use best judgment to ensure the application makes sense for the context of each treatment, and acknowledge that many situations are complex and that the treatments should be tailored to each situation.

Source: NACTO

Innovation – Design

What innovative designs are in this manual? More importantly, is this manual promoting designs that are known to be unsafe or uncomfortable for cyclists? Where innovative designs are found, where have these designs been implemented? What will it take to implement these innovative designs within the jurisdiction of the manual?

Collaborating with existing cycling cities, the authors are able to bring well tested and safe bicycle infrastructure like protected cycle tracks, median refuge islands, bicycle signaling, and route signage to car-centric US cities. Unfortunately, traditional unprotected painted bike lanes that are both against the curb and in between parked cars and moving traffic, shared lane markings (“sharrows”), and unprotected intersections are also included.

Designs that are familiar to those knowledgeable about Dutch cycling infrastructure are also incorporated: raised continuous sidewalks and crosswalks, raised protected cycle tracks, chicanes and median islands to regulate car speeds, and traffic filtering based on vehicle per day counts.

The attention to detail given to features that complete a comfortable user experience, like signal detection loop patterns, pros and cons of different colored pavement materials and how/when to apply them, incorporating greenery into the streetscape to help with water management, disabled access considerations, and taking into account public transport and conflict points for cycle tracks or protected lanes is something every person on a bike can appreciate.

Source: NACTO

However, continuing to include genuinely unsafe designs without recognizing their negative

consequences looks like a missed opportunity to discourage use at a large scale. Bicycle

parking or storage facilities is also overlooked, an important piece of a truly complete bicycle


Jurisdictional Context & History

Where and when was this manual conceived. What is the history and its predecessors? What national and provincial laws does this manual operate within? Where are the biggest influences from?

Since 1935 when the first Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was published in the US, bicycle infrastructure was not considered in any national level planning guide. To address this, the first version of the Urban Bikeway Design Guide was released in March of 2011 by NACTO, a coalition of the Departments of Transportation in North American Cities, updated in 2014. Created from a worldwide literature search of existing design guidelines and real-life experience and announced by the former New York City DOT head Janette Sadik-Khan, this guide provides important infrastructure designs crucially absent from the other major American manuals for cities across the USA. The Consulting and Project Review teams are from a wide variety of backgrounds, with input from cycling cities like Copenhagen, several consultancies, and collaboration with many North American Departments of Transportation.

Document Layout & Figures

Comment on the aesthetic and functional qualities of the manual. Does this manual provide

guidance in a useful and user-friendly layout for designers?

The design of the manual is clean and organized, easily readable by non-professionals. Each section has an abundance of real world example photographs and descriptions explaining how the infrastructure works in various scenarios. Design Guidance renderings are comprehensive and labeled in a consistent format including Required Features, Recommended Features, and Optional Features.

Source: NACTO


Does this manual reference where their ideas come from? Does this manual reference research studies?

A great job is done listing the locations of example photos, providing a full list of cities in the US that have implemented the type of bicycle infrastructure that is being discussed in each section, listing the individual names and organizations of Project Review and Consulting teams, and has an extensive references chapter. The NACTO website includes a free electronic version of each chapter, their references, as well as a Case Study Finder tool, allowing you to look up specific infrastructure designs that can be narrowed down further by city/state.

Impact Factor / Adoption

To what extent has this manual impacted the landscape of bicycle infrastructure design? Where has the ideas of this manual been adopted, both in vertically (National -> provincial -> city) and horizontally, (cross-city transfer of ideas, or Dutch to North America). Has other infrastructure manuals followed suit?

No longer done independently of national recommendations, “the number of protected bicycle lanes across the country has grown exponentially”. Filling the voids in the MUTCD and AASHTO is an important endeavor that this manual sets out to rectify. Through this freely available work, NACTO has created an accessible national standard on the design and implementation of bicycle infrastructure in the US, even resulting in the Federal Highway Administration issuing a memorandum officially supporting the use of this guide in 2013. All of the guide’s treatments are in use internationally and already in many cities around the US, demonstrating a big step in making modern, safe bicycle infrastructure more common throughout the car-dependent North America.


A well made manual that includes many of the important features that make good experiences of bicycle infrastructure. While it still includes unsafe designs, the official endorsements, freely available online resources, and expanding adoption is a huge improvement over the previously existing guidance for planners and transportation professionals. I give the Urban Bikeway Design Guide 4 stars.

Design manuals give best practices. Do you want to know the mechanics behind why some cycling infrastructure works while others will not be used? BUX teaches urban mobility professionals this in our courses. We also advise organizations looking to transform their street design approach.




Follow along when there is a new blog post, course, or news. Sign up for our newsletter below.👇

bottom of page