Bicycle and Pedestrian Design for Rural Communities

Transportation facility design is undergoing major changes across the United States as agencies struggle with finding the balance between providing for mobility and livability in their roadway design. While the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has long been the provider of guidance and standards for roadway design in this country (AASHTO, 2014; 2012; 2011; 2004a; 2004b), the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has recently published design guides for urban roadways and bicycle facilities (NACTO, 2012; 2013). AASHTO has responded to the increasing needs for transportation facilities to address livability issues and provide for non-motorized and transit modes have published numerous guides on Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) (AASHTO, 2004), non-motorized facility design (AASHTO, 2004; 2012) and the recent guide for design on on-street transit facilities (AASHTO, 2014). Still, many believe the emergence of the NACTO design guides as a direct response to perceived deficiencies in the design approach promoted by AASHTO. Regardless of the reasons behind the differences, it leads to a confusing picture of differing guidelines and, some feel, competing design ideologies. Rarely do the AASHTO and NACTO design approaches directly conflict with each, but they can lead to confusion nonetheless. For example, consider lane width guidance. The AASHTO guides suggest 12-foot lanes in most cases but consider 10- or 11-foot lanes may be “acceptable” in low speed urban situations (AASHTO, 2011). NACTO guides, on the other hand, suggest 10 foot lanes and consider 11-foot lanes only acceptable when there are large number of heavy vehicles, and even in those cases the 11-foot lanes should only be provided in the outside lane (NACTO 2012). While these two guides do not directly contradict each other, they are confusing for transportation designers in determining what is “best”. The confusion arising from the different design guides can be compounded in the rural communities where transportation design decisions are typically handled by staff from relatively small engineering and public works departments. These departments often require their engineers to engage in many areas of public infrastructure and may not have an engineer dedicated to transportation issues, let alone staff who are current in the rapidly evolving field of non-motorized transportation design. The AASHTO committee representation is made up of transportation officials who are responsible for the design, operation, and maintenance of state highways. AASHTO maintains a balance between urbanized and rural representation from state officials with regional diversity. NACTO’s 21 member cities area also regionally diverse but are mainly larger cities with populations over 500,000 up to 8 million (NACTO, 2015). The 17 affiliate member cities are smaller but are comprised cities with populations in the 50,000 to 100,000 range. When viewed from the representation angle, the choice between different design approaches is not straight-forward for rural communities. On one hand, AASHTO is primarily focused on highway facilities and may not provide enough flexibility and design options for the livability they desire, while the NACTO guides are primarily focused on large, urban areas that have much different issues than rural communities. The questions for smaller, rural communities are which design guide is best suited for their particular community and, if no single guide meets all their needs, how should the differences between guides be reconciled? Transportation “problems” are often associated with large, heavily populated urban areas in the form of excessive congestion and delay. Because of this, much of the emphasis of transportation design in the last several decades has been on creating capacity and increasing vehicle mobility. Viewed through this lens, it is easy to feel that the rural communities do not face very significant transportation issues. A more modern approach to transportation design, operation, and maintenance now realizes to a greater extent the link between transportation facilities and overall community livability. The concept of livability can be viewed through the six U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) livability principles (USDOT, 2013): (1) Provide more transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce the dependence on oil, improve air quality and promote public health. (2) Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation. (3) Improve economic competitiveness of neighborhoods by giving people reliable access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs. (4) Target federal funding toward existing communities – through transit-oriented and land recycling – to revitalize communities, reduce public works costs, and safeguard rural landscapes. (5) Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding and increase the effectiveness of programs to plan for future growth. (6) Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods, whether rural, urban or suburban. As can be seen from the list above, livability is a broad concept affected by many aspects of a community. For this research, the focus is limited to principles 1 and 6 involving transportation choices and walkable neighborhoods and the inherent connection between transportation and livability.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $85583
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Research and Innovative Technology Administration

    University Transportation Centers Program
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    Mountain-Plains Consortium

    North Dakota State University
    P.O. Box 6050, Department 2880
    Fargo, ND  United States  58108-6050
  • Project Managers:

    Kline, Robin

  • Performing Organizations:

    University of Wyoming

    Dept. of Civil and Architectural Engineering
    1000 E. University Avenue
    Laramie, WY  United States  82071
  • Principal Investigators:

    Young, Rhonda

  • Start Date: 20150509
  • Expected Completion Date: 20190930
  • Actual Completion Date: 20191031
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program
  • Source Data: MPC-473

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01579590
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Mountain-Plains Consortium
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT13-G-UTC38
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Oct 23 2015 1:50PM