Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) arrows logo

Interpretation Letter 9- 75(I)-Bike Paths_RI

PDF Version, 1.2MB

You will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the PDF on this page.

DOT Logo

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

400 Seventh St., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590

May 25, 2004

Refer to: HOTO-1

Mr. Mark C. Jewell
148 Bernon Street #2
Woonsocket, RI 02895

Dear Mr. Jewell:

Thank you for your May 7 letter to the Federal Highway Administration's Associate Administrator for Operations, Jeffrey F. Paniati, concerning the safety and operations of shared-use paths in Rhode Island (RI). Mr. Paniati has asked me to reply to your letter.

We understand and share your concerns related to the RI State policy that requires pedestrians to "walk on left, facing bicycles." This requirement is potentially very confusing to pedestrians because it is different from the behavior that is expected of them on shared-use paths in other States.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is the national standard for the design and application of all traffic control devices, including regulatory signs and pavement markings. However, the MUTCD does not govern the States and local jurisdictions in their authority to enact laws, regulations, and policies to regulate the use of roads and paths under their jurisdiction by pedestrians and other users. While we cannot require changes in RI State laws or regulations, we welcome the decision of the RI Department of Transportation to review their policy and consider changing it. We believe that the safety and convenience of all path users in RI would be best served by having the paths regulated in the same manner as other States, particularly the adjoining States.

The pavement markings on 1he path shown on the photos you sent appear to be particularly confusing and they do not conform to the MUTCD standards. The MUTCD specifies that a yellow centerline on a shared-use path shall only be used to separate two opposing directions of traffic flow on a two-way path. However, the symbols and arrowheads being used seem to indicate 1hat both lanes operate in the same direction. Regardless of whether or not the "walk on left facing bicycles" regulation remains in effect in RI, we recommend that these confusing and nonconforming markings be removed.

For reference purposes, we have numbered and titled this request as "9-75(I)-Bike Paths_RI." Please refer to this number in any future correspondence. If you have any questions, please call Ms. Guan Xu at 202-366-5892. Thank you for your interest in improving the safety and operation of RI bike paths.

Sincerely yours,

/s/ Regina McElroy

Regina S. McElroy
Director, Office of Transportation

May 7, 2004

Mr. Jeffrey F. Paniati, Associate Administrator for Operations
Federal Highway Administration
400 7th Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590

RE: Shared Use Paths / Bikeways

Dear Mr. Paniati:

I write to you today seeking your assistance in what I believe to be a safety/operational concern on shared use paths / bikeways in Rhode Island. Although I currently work for the National Park Service, I write to you today requesting your assistance as an individual resident of Rhode Island.

Currently, in Rhode Island, pedestrians are directed to "walk on left, facing cyclists" on all shared use paths (figures 1&2) (all RI paths have been federally funded). I believe this protocol is unsafe and not in accordance with design and safety recommendations as outlined in documents such as the MUTCD.

Another significant concern is the issue of uniformity. Currently, two bikeways are under construction and will soon reach the Massachusetts and Connecticut state lines. These neighboring states subscribe to the standard rules of the road where all users stay to the right and pass on left when clear. The Massachusetts Highway Department and Connecticut DOT have informed RI that they believe a yellow center line delineates the direction of travel not the mode of travel. As RI's burgeoning bikeway system becomes an interstate system this issue will become a major safety concern.

Earlier this year, on separate occasions, I met with Governor Donald Carcieri, RI DOT director James Capaldi and RI DEM director Fred Vincent to discuss this issue (correspondence enclosed). The outcome of which has been a letter from RI DOT stating that this unusual protocol is consistent with State law and does not violate the MUTCD. The DOT did state that they recognize that there "may be some confusion" on the bikeways and they will research this issue further.

After those conversations, I met with RI- FHWA Division Administrator Lucy Garliauskas, to express my concerns and her office believes it is not their place to force DOT to change at this time.

To date, a few organizations have written to the DOT director to express their interest in seeing RI change their "walk on left" protocol including the RI State Health Department, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the East Coast Greenway Alliance (letters enclosed).

Thank you for taking the time to consider this issue. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have 401 965-9590.

Enclosed you will find some additional information on the history of the "walk on left" protocol.


Mark C. Jewell