FHWA Announces Greater Flexibility for Street Designers

FHWA Announces Greater Flexibility for Street Designers


Recently, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced that the list of “Controlling Design Criteria” on lower-speed streets would go from 13 to two. This announcement will dramatically ease federal design standards for many neighborhood streets and roads and provide greater flexibility for transportation planners, including landscape architects, in designing multimodal transportation projects, Complete Streets, and other urban transportation networks. 

In 1985, the agency established “13 Controlling Design Criteria” in an effort to create a simple, hard-to-break list of basic guidelines for street design. If communities wanted to design outside these criteria by, for example, reducing lane width to add a bike lane, street trees, and other traffic calming devices, they were forced to apply for an exception, which could be an arduous and time-consuming process. After a thorough review, FHWA determined that most of these guidelines were only appropriate for rural roads, freeways, and other high-speed roads. For federally-funded streets with traffic speeds below 50 miles per hour (mph), only “design loading structural capacity” (how much weight a bridge can bear) and “design speed” (how fast traffic is expected to be able to move safely) will now be regulated. 

Last fall, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued the proposal to ease the design guidelines and requested comments, receiving 164 comments on the issue. During the comment period ASLA applauded FHWA’s efforts in removing barriers that have prevented many transportation planners and designers, like landscape architects, cities, and communities of all sizes from designing and building transportation networks that are safe and accessible for all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians. ASLA also noted that the proposed rule would allow for flexibility to create narrower lanes, which provides greater opportunity for bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and integrated vegetation management projects. 

Learn more about FHWA’s Revisions to the Controlling Criteria for Design and Documentation for Design Exceptions here.


Kevin Fry
Director, PR and

JR Taylor
PR Coordinator