Montana Department of Transportation

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Research Toolkit

Montana Transportation and Land Use

Planning and Policy Tools - Design Standards and Policy

Planning and Policy Tools - Design Standards and Policy

What are design standards and policies?

Land development regulations and design guidelines have been used successfully in many cities to encourage private developers to develop denser growth, which in turn promotes the extension of local street networks and the viability of multimodal transportation. Design standards and policies can be used to regulate specific physical elements of urban form and roadway design, such as the size, scale, and orientation of buildings, streetscape requirements, or the provision of sidewalks and bus shelters.

Traditional roadway design standards and policies consist of guidelines for highway and transportation engineers for provisions for autos and trucks (lane width, turning lane length, pavement materials, access points, etc). Newer ways of thinking about roadway design incorporate the needs of all roadway users, including pedestrians (sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks), bicyclists (bike lanes, signage) and transit riders (bus stops, shelters).

Why and where are they applied?

Design standards and policies are applicable to many types of transportation and land use plans and projects. Roadway design standards are usually established and enforced by the agency responsible for the approval, construction, and maintenance of the roadway network. Municipal roadway design standards are often based upon state and national guidelines, with some variations to account for local plans and policies. Consistency between national, state and local standards is important, particularly where a difference may affect traveler safety, traffic control and operation. Two key resources upon which many agencies rely are AASHTO's The Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (informally known as the "Green Book") and The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

Flexibility in design standards and policies is important to consider, however, in order to address variations in local contexts. Many design elements for pedestrian, bicyclist and transit, and localized auto travel are best addressed through a local scope. Because these elements affect the character of a community, they should be designed with local principles and priorities in mind. This line of thinking is the essence of context sensitive solutions, which is not just a design approach but an innovative way to approach the entire roadway design process. In addition, locally adopted land use design standards are an important element of context sensitive solutions, since they regulate the built environment surrounding the corridor.

Context sensitive solutions are most prominent in urban and suburban areas with a diverse street network, but rural areas benefit from context sensitive solutions as well, particularly as an approach to preserving scenic corridors and designing gateways to village centers along major highways. The concept of complete streets is applicable for all road contexts, and is especially important in communities where the population is aging and residents will need alternatives to single-occupant vehicle travel.

Where can I get more information?