Complete Streets: FHWA’s Revision to 13 Controlling Criteria for Design

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has released a Notice for a request for comments regarding Revision of Thirteen Controlling Criteria for Design, in order to updates its policy on design criteria for streets. Currently, there are 13 controlling criteria for design, and formal design exceptions are required when any of the 13 are not met. The FHWA intends to streamline these criteria as well as their application, and to clarify when design exceptions are required. Prior to final changes, the FHWA is soliciting comments from the public, which must be received on or before December 7, 2015. To submit your comment, click here.

Somerville pedestrian mall
Somerville, NJ Pedestrian Mall

These changes could be a boon for Complete Streets. By allowing more flexibility in the design process, building streets that are context-sensitive as well as bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly will be easier. Complete Streets policies already strive do just that. For example, the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets policy requires that the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit users are addressed unless there is supporting documentation against inclusion that is justifiable.

All comments through the Notice will be considered when revising the controlling criteria and the documentation required for design exceptions. This Notice for comments is based on results from recent research that evaluated the safety and operational effects of the 13 controlling criteria, which was found to be outdated. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 783, Evaluation of the 13 Controlling Criteria for Geometric Design, found that the current criteria had little influence on the safety and operations of urban roadways. The report stated that the criterion was better suited for rural roads, freeways and high speed urban/suburban roads.

To help rectify the undue restrictiveness of the criteria, the FHWA is concurrently looking to adopt the standards of the 2011 edition of AASHTO’s A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, which provides comprehensive and flexible design standards. FHWA is also moving toward a performance-based practical design in the decision making process, which will allow for more design flexibility and a higher level analysis when determining the best the most appropriate design for a community that gives them the most value and benefits while minimizing costs. With these changes, New Jersey’s cities and counties should find it easier to move forward with implementing their Complete Streets policies.

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