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…On Proposed Bush/Obama Regulations.

Posted by Steve on January 18, 2009

A year ago, the Bush Administration announced a set of sweeping, far-reaching changes to Federal regulations that affect (with no hyperbole whatsoever), on a daily basis the lives of every single person in America who ventures outside their house. This comprehensive rewrite of Federal regulations received minimal media attention, and lost in the shuffle is the fact that though the Final Rule hasn’t yet been announced, there is absolutely no question that the Obama Administration will enact these rules, in substantially identical form to what the Bush Administration proposed, some time in 2009. Oh, a few adjustments may have been made due to public comment – and you know, we had a full seven months to send in comments, and if you’re like me you didn’t provide one because you didn’t even know about it – but for the most part, the 552 pages of rewritten text, 417 pages of redrawn figures, and 79 pages of reconstituted tables that the Bush Administration proposed in January 2008 are pretty much what the Obama Administration will finalize this year. Dire stuff.

And what is this late-breaking news? Why, only the Proposed Amendments to the MUTCD! That’s right, we’re going to get a 2009 Edition, which will replace the 2003 Edition with Revisions 1 and 2, Dated 2007 (which replaced 2003 Edition with Revision 1, Dated November 2004 which replaced 2003 Edition, which replaced Millenium Edition, which replaced 1988 Edition, ad nauseum back to the original in 1935).

This is great stuff, people. And don’t think for a second I was exaggerating when I said the changes affect everyone who leaves their house. “But I ride a train to work!” you object. Ah, then you’ll be affected by the new “Section 4C.10 Warrant 9, Intersection Near a Highway-Rail Grade Crossing”, not to mention any Part 10 changes. You ride a bus? New signs for bus lanes in Part 2, new markings for them in Part 3. Ditto bike lanes, and toss in any changes to Part 9. You’re a pedestrian? Different signs in Part 2, different markings in 3 (including some new guidance on how to do a mid-block crosswalk), they’ve redone the signal warrant for peds to be based on plotted volume curves instead of a volume threshold and taken the gaps element out of the warrant altogether, and there’s a whole new device, in a whole new Chapter 4F, “Pedestrian Hybrid Signals”. I think it should be obvious that any changes to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is going to affect people who drive.

And come to think of it, the renumbered Chapter 4G’s got changes to signals (including a new Hybrid Signal) for Emergency Vehicle driveways, so that’ll affect even people who don’t leave their house. Indirectly, but still.

So, there’s those changes proposed, and many are coming. And before you get to thinking they’re trivial stuff for transportation weenies, think again. Take one proposal: to change the pedestrian walking speed from 4 ft/s to 3.5 ft/s when timing traffic signals. This is a big deal, since it affects the minimum amount of time the sign has to say “WALK”, and how much time we have to give the green parallel to that “WALK” signal – even if there aren’t cars there that need it. Adding a whole new sort of thing for drivers to see and obey – those hybrid pedestrian signals, that’ll be two red balls next to each other with a yellow ball below their centerline – is a big deal.

Sure, there’s little things you probably won’t notice, like no longer having “2-Way” or “3-Way” plaques under STOP signs (and I would’ve sent in a comment opposing that change for the 2-Way plaques, had I known to), or a narrow “Keep Right” sign for the tips of narrow medians (silly looking, but reasonable). But the big things…

I’m not opposed to the idea of the hybrid pedestrian signal, but I don’t like how they work. The vehicular display is blank (lights are out) and the ped heads have solid “DON’T WALK” until a pedestrian pushes the button to cross the street. Then, one yellow light starts flashing, then it goes solid. Ok, flashing’s a little weird, but it draws attention to the lights coming on, and we all know what a solid yellow light means: solid red’s coming, get ready to stop. Low and behold, the two side-by-side red balls will come on solid, and the pedestrian’s “DON’T WALK” will change to “WALK”. Excellent, it’s consistent with what everyone knows and is familiar with: solid red means you must stop, “WALK” means you have right-of-way to cross the street (which won’t stop some jackasses from honking at you or just plain nearly hitting you). Here’s the thing: when the ped clearance starts up and their display changes from “WALK” to a flashing “DON’T WALK” (you know, “sprint across the street”), the two solid reds will become flashing reds. That’s what I don’t like: flashing side-by-side red balls have a use already: at-grade rail crossings. Now, the thinking is that having them on the hybrid pedestrian signal will indicate that the lights are getting ready to turn out and the drivers are about to be able to go again, but I think all they’ll do is confuse drivers. I think instead, the solid reds should stay until the “DON’T WALK” goes solid, and then the reds should just go out. No flashing reds at all.

Had I known to, I’d have sent in a comment to that effect.

Oh well.

Anyway, sooner or later President Obama and Secretary… Damnedifiknow (hey, I’ll admit, only Secretary of Transportation ever who I can name is Norman Mineta) will put out the final rule (the MUTCD’s legal status has been previously explained on this blog) and the 2009 Edition will come out. Now you know about it, and now you can take a look at the proposals for it yourself.

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