In the mid-1800s, when bicycles were the preferred vehicle for local transportation, the League of American Wheelmen (now League of American Bicyclists) pushed for paved roads so that cyclists and other road users could travel from town to town and from farm to market without mud and muck hindering their progress. This "Good Roads Movement," founded by the League, later gave birth to the road transportation network that serves our economy and way of life today. While the automobile began replacing horse-and-buggies and bicycles as the preferred mode of transport, bicycles continued to see some use and have always had a place on the roads.
The idea of building a network of routes for bike travel was introduced in a 1968 article that appeared in American Cycling magazine “200,000 Miles of Bikeways to Become a Reality within Decade” (PDF, 2MB). In the early 1970s, about the time that Adventure Cycling Association (known then as Bikecentennial) was born, people were traveling beyond their local neighborhoods to places across the country to “discover the real America.” (Learn more about Adventure Cycling's history.)
Many countries across the world have been working for decades on creating connected bikeways. the European cycling network provides an example of what the U.S. Bicycle Route System might look like.
U.S. Bicycle Routes have existing since the 1980s when the American Association of State and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) became involved in designating U.S. Bicycle Routes. This influential organization has long been the go-to organization for road and highway designations and provides transportation agencies with guidelines that protect the safety and well-being of road users. In 1978, AASHTO formally recognized U.S. Bicycle Routes, and in 1982 two national routes were established: U.S. Bicycle Route 1 in Virginia and North Carolina, and U.S. Bicycle Route 76 in Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois. (“Biking by Route Number” (PDF, 568k) AASHTO Quarterly, October 1982).
Despite the significant interest in long-distance bicycle travel and the establishment of the 41,420 mile Adventure Cycling Route Network, the U.S. Bicycle Routes System lay dormant, and no other routes were established (until 2010).
In 2003, AASHTO revived the vision, and its Task Force for U.S. Bicycle Routes was established. In 2005, Adventure Cycling Association began offering staff support to the project, and from there, things really took off.
Read the USBRS 101 information to learn about the U.S. Bicycle Route System's growth during the last decade.
Photo by Kathy Versluys