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Developing a National Bicycle Route Corridor Plan

Phase 1: Data Compilation of National and Cross-state Bicycle Routes (Updated 3-22-06)

See the Adventure Cycling web page on the U.S. Bicycle Route Corridor Plan.
Download the full AASHTO report (pdf 1.01 mb) on the Bicycle Route Corridor Plan.

By Adventure Cycling Association

map of US showing bike route lines

Map of all the state routes, rail-trails, and nationally recognized bicycle routes (click to enlarge)

Background

The AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways convened an ad hoc Task Force in 2004 to develop a recommended national systems-level or corridor-level plan for use by State Departments of Transportation and other agencies in designating future U.S. bicycle routes. The Task Force's spec ficvision is:

To encourage the development of a coordinated system of U.S. bicycle routes across the country. The Task Force is charged with developing a recommended national systems-level or corridor-level plan for use in designating potential future U.S. bicycle routes.

As a member of the Task Force, Adventure Cycling Association offered staff assistance to support the project's mission. Since that time, the Task Force has created a plan of action which broke the project down into a series of six significant steps, the first being the subject of this report: Thi s project's purpose is: To collect, compile, and review information on existing and proposed multi-state bicycle routes designated by states, local jurisdictions, and other groups such as Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and the Mississippi River Trail.

ACA has completed these tasks and pulled this information together in the following report. Specifically, the report includes:

• An overview of existing national routes, cross-state routes, and bike trails over 50 miles in length

• A compilation of bicycle routes that use federal, state, county and municipal roads

• Trails that are or might be used as connectors between the above routes (and would be suitable for a wide range of bikes)

• Detailed accounts of state-designated bicycle routes (Attachment A)

• Feedback from those surveyed and a summary of issues identified

• Recommendations for future action

National and cross-state bicycle routes are illustrated in this report in a layered approach. Separate maps were created to demonstrate recognized national routes, cross-state routes and bicycle trails.

For a final overview, the various routes are then placed onto one U.S. map. Attachments include the field notes and state maps used to create the report as well as the bicycle trail information for each state.

Report Summary

Data was collected on nearly all states in the continental U.S., either by contacting the state bicycle and pedestrian transportation coordinator, consulting published materials, or contacting state-level non-governmental bicycle organizations. Twenty-six of the 48 states have designated cross-state routes of some sort, ranging from extensive networks to one or two routes. Additional routes are possible in most of those states that have designated only one or two routes. Based on cycling suitability maps and discussions with state level contacts, corridor concepts are proposed for an additional 13 states. Six more states have detailed suitability maps that would allow the designation of just about any corridor needed to match routes in adjacent states. Of the three remaining states (Alabama, Montana, and North Dakota), there was either no response or the state does not have the information needed to define route corridors.

National Bicycle Routes

Starting with the recognized cross country routes &emdash; the Mississippi River Trail, East Coast Greenway, and all cross country bike routes on ACA's National Bicycle Route Network &emdash; were assembled onto one map.

Cross-state Routes

In starting to gather information for the state routes, we sent a request for information to all of the state bicycle and pedestrian transportation coordinators via email on May 9, 2005 requesting information on any and all bicycle routes within their areas of responsibility.

After the email was sent, ACA followed up by telephone and email with each state. We also contacted the state and regional non-governmental bicycle organizations in order to get a complete picture of the routes that cyclists are using. These routes are included in the Excel file that accompanies this report (Attachment A). In addition, related notes are included in the spreadsheet. The compilation of state routes appears as follows:

There are a few states that have designated bike routes, but the majority of them have suitability maps. If a state had suitability maps, then we tried to find routes within that state which match up with the routes in the bordering states.

For Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia, proposed routes are shown based on discussions with state level contacts and based on their respective cycling suitability maps. This was not done for Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. Conversations with South Dakota's bicycle/pedestrian coordinator suggested that virtually any state road is a reasonable cycling route. In speaking with contacts in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska, these states have very dense networks of suitable roads. These states did not identify any recommended corridors, though there are a few "event routes" or publicized trails that are included. It is worth noting that these states could easily define routes that connect to routes in adjacent states. In Montana there are fewer paved roads and many are covered by ACA routes. In Florida there are were no cross-state routes from either the DOT or cycling groups beyond ACA and East Coast Greenway routes.

Bicycle Trails

Bicycle trails were included in this report to show possible connections between routes that exist on roads. Included on this section are long off-road routes such as the C&O Towpath and Allegheny Passage from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh and rail trails that are over 50 miles in length. The Rail-Trail Conservancy (RTC) database was searched for trails suitable for road bikes. The shorter trails in each state were reviewed as well, looking for possible end-to-end links and are included (though there are not many). There are 14 states with any substantial trails, though there are no real integrated systems. These may connect with other route possibilities. ACA’s National Bike Route Network does use a few of the rail-trails.

A few general observations on bicycle trails:

  • Although towpaths are typically hard-packed gravel, these were included on this overview because they are substantial in length and may connect corridors.
  • Some of the trails do not really exist as described in the RTC database. A typical example would be a trail that has a "planning length" that is longer than its current length.
  • Some of the trails that are rated by RTC for road bikes might not be suitable. Those trails were not included on this map. It may be that parts of the trail are road bike suitable and parts are not.
  • Local knowledge will be required to incorporate rail trails or other local bicycle trails in the corridor plan to consider these issues.

Next Steps

The above compilation of bike routes illustrates that there are numerous potential corridors. With this first phase of the project complete, the task force now has the data needed to proceed with the remaining stages of this project.

Step two of the plan is to use this assembled information to develop recommended corridors to comprise a logical national system of bicycle routes. These corridors will be called the U.S. Bicycle Route Corridor Plan. (We recommend this as a working title. Ultimately, the Task Force, AASHTO, or another supervising body may want to develop a name for this bicycle system that ensures the broadest appeal to the American public and policy makers.) The corridor plan will be used as the basis for state departments of transportation to propose the designation of coordinated bicycle routes through multiple states, however, the selection of specific paths, roads and highways will be left to each state DOT, working with other agencies and organizations.

Step three involves developing a logical system of designations for these U.S. bicycle routes and assigns an appropriate designation to each corridor. The designation system should include the opportunity for future expansion.

Step four is producing a map of the draft U.S. Bicycle Route Corridor Plan.

Step five is review of the draft Corridor Plan by members of the AASHTO Joint Task Force on Non-motorized Transportation, the Subcommittee on Design, and the Subcommittee on Traffic Engineering. Comments on the Corridor Plan will be considered and resolved by the Task Force.

Step six is review of the revised draft Corridor Plan by the Standing Committee on Highways for endorsement as an “official corridor plan” for U.S. bicycle routes. The endorsed U.S. Bicycle Route Corridor Plan may be used as a tool by State DOTs in proposing the designation of appropriate roads and highways as part of an interconnected system of U.S. bicycle routes. The Corridor Plan will also be used by the AASHTO Route Numbering Committee to assist in determining the eligibility of proposed routes for designation as US bicycle routes.

Conclusion and Recommendations

As the Task Force goes through the process of analyzing the data and creating a draft Corridor Plan, Adventure Cycling Association staff would be pleased to continue assisting in the process. We can provide background information as questions and issues arise, offer outreach to the various interest groups, and staff support in future projects as they evolve.

We think it is worth commenting that a great deal of positive feedback came forth during our research. In addition, when speaking about this project to Adventure Cycling members, to trails and scenic byway constituents at conferences throughout the country, and to other industry groups, the interest has been nothing short of enthusiastic. We encourage the Task Force to begin work as soon as possible on the next steps as well as development of an on-going status report that could be shared across all interest groups.

See the Adventure Cycling web page on the U.S. Bicycle Route Corridor Plan.

Download the full AASHTO report (pdf 1.01 mb) on the Bicycle Route Corridor Plan.

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