New ITE walkable thoroughfares manual finalized, finds first application

City of Elgin expects benefits from recommended practices

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The groundbreaking manual for context-sensitive urban thoroughfares jointly created by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is a draft no more. This spring, after a final round of comments and revisions is being published as an official ITE Recommended Practice with a new name, “Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: Designing a Context-Sensitive Solutions Approach.”

One of the manual’s breakthroughs is its acknowledgment that urban thoroughfare design should closely match urban context. It is the first such manual to prescribe specific design variations for each thoroughfare type such as boulevard or avenue across each of the six zones of the rural-to-urban Transect.

Some key changes included in the new version of the CNU-ITE thoroughfares manual:

• Changes to ensure target and design speed of streets are identical and the collapsing of the two concepts in all descriptions and charts.
• The elimination of Chapter 11, a problematic proposed section on context-sensitive highways (which new urbanists argued have no place in urban neighborhoods) and the insertion of a few sections on transition zones throughout the document.
• The substitution of the phrase “Walkable” for “Major” in the title, reinforcing the intent of this report to provide guidance for walkable urban thoroughfares in environments that currently support walking, and those places where communities desire to create a more walkable context in the future. CNU members Ellen Greenberg and Phil Erickson also prepared a new introduction that better defines the purpose of the manual.
• A revised section on Emergency Response and street design prepared by CNU member Peter Swift and retired Milwaukee fire captain Neil Lipski.

A report with more detailed discussion of recommendations is forthcoming and will be presented at the ITE’s annual technical conference in Savannah, March 14-17th. CNU 18 attendees can also learn about it in a New Urbanism 202 seminar.

Demonstrating that there’s no chance of the manual sitting on shelves and gathering dust, CNU and ITE teamed up just weeks after the publication’s release on a two-day workshop in early February that served as the kick-off event of a longer pilot effort to apply the manual to the challenges of a real city — Elgin, IL. In addition to helping Elgin tame key streets and turn neighborhoods into valuable destinations rather than pass-through zones, CNU seeks to incorporate lessons from Elgin in creating models for applying the manual’s solutions in cities across the country. The project is supported by the City of Elgin.

Participants included Elgin Mayor Ed Schock, city planners and top development staff as well as CNU’s John Norquist, ITE Deputy Executive Director Phillip Caruso, new urbanist transportation engineers Lucy Gibson and Norman Garrick and Ty Warner, a top planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Schock and his administration have struggled with state and county departments of transportation and seen “the imposition of designs that not only have not added value, but they’ve actually stifled and inhibited commercial development and industrial development in the interest of just moving cars. It’s been very frustrating,” he said.

“Applying the manual in Elgin has been a fascinating exercise,” reports Gibson. “The Elgin Pilot will be a great companion resource to help inspire practitioners to use the manual to foster New Urbanism.”

View Gibson's presentation to the workshop attendees:

Guides published by ITE as “recommended practices” carry considerable weight within transportation design and engineering circles and are used to supplement the contents of the “green book” that is published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Engineers and viewed as the final word on street design by many engineers. Although the green book is rarely interpreted in ways that satisfy new urbanists, the new manual shows engineers that they can indeed create traditional urban streets (and street networks) without violating professional standards.