A traffic manual ‘to fall asleep by’ stirs road rage

An 862-page manual governing traffic signs and signals that one analyst calls “a good book to fall asleep by” has ignited a pitched battle over how the federal government approaches transportation policy.

On one end are backers of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, who include some of the roughly 350 volunteers who spend hundreds of hours offering feedback to the Federal Highway Administration, which issues the book.

On the other are pedestrian advocates, bicycle coalitions and advocates for multimodal transportation. They say the manual, first published in 1935, is a relic of an era when the automobile was king.

Both sides say the premise of the manual is solid. It’s why stop signs look alike and a driver from Texas can travel to Chicago and recognize the same signs and signals in both places.

But the manual that was described as sleep-inducing by a person close to its production is now undergoing its first update since 2009, and much has changed since then. Micromobility in the form of scooters and rental bikes has skyrocketed; motor vehicles are increasingly autonomous.