I get a First Hand Lesson in Lawmaking


I get a First Hand Lesson in Lawmaking

I was asked two years ago to sit on the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTDC) Sites Open to Public Travel (SOPuT) Task Force. I was told by Paul Box, the head of the task force that he needed some non technical people from the parking community (Mike Swartz of Standard Parking was also in the group).  Seems the SOPuT was attempting to come up with some guidance, that would become law, for parking facilities on private property, as well as roads and streets that were on private property.

Paul said he wanted to keep it simple, since owners and developers weren’t traffic engineers and so Mike and I could make wording suggestions that would be understandable by non technical folk.

The NCUTDC provides input to the Department of Transportation (DOT)  Federal Highways Administration (FHyA) that publishes the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This is the ‘bible’ for traffic engineers across the country when they propose and design streets, highways, freeways and the like. Its why when you see a stop sign in Vermont, it is the same height, the same size, and the same shape and color as one in Arizona or Alaska. The manual is extremely technical, written in engineerese, and is more than 500 pages thick.

There were apparently two ways to go for the SOPuT. We could either create a new ‘part’ in the MUTCD or we could go through the MUTCD and make changes in appropriate places (width and color and locations of lines, size and requirements for notices and signs, etc etc etc). It was my understanding when I joined the task force in January of 2010, that a separate part was to be created. Fair enough.

So the 15 or so members of the task force spent the next two years culling, arguing, discussing, and writing new rules for parking facilities on private property. Input was taken from large developers and property owners (Wal Mart had some concerns, for instance, as any mandated change in signage would be extremely costly.)

The group of consultants, engineers and related folks worked through four in person meetings and an unknowable number of hours forming the final draft of the proposed new ‘part’ to the MUTCD.  Mike and I reviewed it and made some changes to make it more user friendly. We all met last week in DC to edit and review the final draft.

When the meeting last week started, the Vice Chair of the group made a short presentation. He brought up that he thought that perhaps a separate ‘part’ was not the way to go and that the changes should be integrated into the MUTCD. He then suggested that a separate ‘guidebook’ be created to give non technical folks help in finding their way through the MUTCD to the myriad of parts, chapters, sub chapters, and paragraphs that were specific to private property.He then went around the table and asked for input.

Understand what happens at these meetings — every members has their say, and during the process, each attempts to get their personal biases and requirements inserted in the task force’s work, which will become the law of the land. It is important, since when someone is injured or killed in an area affected by the MUTCD, lawyers will go back to the law to attempt to affix blame and damages. It is the courts that ensure that the laws are followed. It was a strange process. Paul, who is extremely knowledgeable and wise, is not computer savy. He does everything by letter and fax.  The rest of the group works through email and a web site that enables them to communicate. So there is no question that there was some confusion and stress as the process was underway.

When I was asked my opinion of what should be done (should be basically abandon the two years of work and interweave the changes into the base document) I said that if I was a developer, architect, or owner wanting to know what to do in my facility, I would prefer a separate ‘part’ so I could go there and get the clear information I needed. I was told that even if there was a separate part, they would have to refer back to other parts in the entire manual, and since they had to do that anyway, why not just do that and not add the separate part.  That they would provide a guidebook to for those folks who didn’t want to or couldn’t deal with the manual, and all would be right with the world.

We voted 8-4 (I was one of the 4) to do away with the separate part we were working on and to begin a process of melding our requirements into the main document. At that point the Chairman resigned.  And it was asked who wanted to stay on the task force. I didn’t think I would have anything to add in this process.

I received the time line for getting the new information into the main document (it will probably be completed in 2015).  The process began in 2009, I joined the task force in 2010. So in the end, assuming that all goes as planned, it will take six years to make the changes required to put these rules in place.

They did propose to publish a guideline for developers, owners, and etc, but suggested that this group wouldn’t do it but would recommend some other committee in the chain take on this task.

Will they?  I don’t know.  My guess is that it is doubtful.  I have been told that the MUTCD is on line and all one has to do is search for “private property” and all the sections that apply will pop up. It sounds so simple.

But I wonder….




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John Van Horn

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