October 19, 2016 - Saara Snow is Adventure Cycling's Travel Initiatives Coordinator and Kerry Irons generously volunteers for Adventure Cycling.
Signing bicycle routes is as critical to the success of the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) as marketing is to any business — if no one knows it’s there, what’s the point? The vision for the USBRS is that it will connect the U.S. with numbered and signed bicycle routes, and all you’ll have to do is “follow the numbers.” Signs not only guide bicycle travelers, but they also alert motorists to watch for bicyclists, increase tourism appeal, and send a visual cue that the area is supportive of bicycling.
However, the reality is that the USBRS now exceeds 11,000 miles of routes, but less than 30% of those miles are signed. The reason for that is the same issue that plagues all bicycle projects: lack of funding. Funding U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR) signs is simply not a top priority for state and local road agencies. So how do we move forward on achieving the vision for a signed bicycle route network given this enormous constraint?
There is a model that Adventure Cycling has tried and now succeeded with on two USBRs in Michigan — USBR 20 and more recently, USBR 35. Between these two routes, nearly 750 USBR signs have been installed on local roads, trails, and streets in Michigan.
Here’s the nitty-gritty on how it worked in Michigan on USBR 35.
Michigan’s portion of USBR 35 runs 505 miles from Indiana, near New Buffalo, to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan following the Lake Michigan shore. When the route was designated in 2013, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Natural Resources (MDNR) installed over 130 signs (26% of the total 500 signs needed) on the state-owned portions of the route. But these state agencies can’t place signs on the portions of the route that include city streets, county roads, and non-state trails. So while MDOT did prioritize funding USBR signs (thanks MDOT!), it didn’t cover the entire route, and there was little chance that all 33 of the local agencies that owned remaining parts of the route would be willing to buy signs themselves.
So, Holland, MI resident and longtime USBRS Volunteer Coordinator, Kerry Irons, set about finding a combination of funding sources to make up that gap. On behalf of Adventure Cycling, he applied for and was awarded grant funding from the DALMAC Fund, supported by the annual Dick Allen Lansing to MACinaw bicycle ride. He also reached out to ask for donations from local tourism bureaus and bike clubs, including the Beachtowns group of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, the Three Oaks Spokes, West Michigan Coast Riders, and Macatawa bike clubs. Through this outreach, Kerry was able to raise $15,000 of funding to purchase signs for the route.
With these funds, Adventure Cycling bought over 500 USBR 35 route signs, and the associated north/south and directional arrow plaques, and had them delivered to Kerry’s house. He contacted the 33 local agencies along the route and asked them to install the signs. The estimated cost to local agencies to install the signs was about $30,000 in labor, materials, and equipment time. While the level of enthusiasm of those local agencies varied widely, in the end they all agreed that the safety and informational value of signing the route justified the expenditure. Kerry then hand-delivered the signs to each agency.
And voila! U.S. Bicycle Route 35 went from relative obscurity on the MDOT and Adventure Cycling websites to being seen by every pair of eyes that travels along the route, regardless of whether they’re on a bike or in a car.
Each USBR will vary on how many miles are state-owned vs. locally-owned; how many signs are needed; what kinds of local funding sources exist; how supportive state and local agencies are; and, most importantly, whether a local volunteer is willing to step up and take on such a big project. But this method has worked in Michigan and can work in other states too — and Adventure Cycling is here to help make it happen.
Travel Initiatives Coordinator, Saara Snow, co-wrote this blog post with Adventure Cycling volunteer, Kerry Irons. Kerry has been a volunteer for ACA for over 12 years and has coordinated development of the U.S. Bicycle Route System since 2010. He is retired, lives in Holland, MI, and makes a point to ride his bike every day that it’s above 45 degrees and there isn’t snow on the ground.
All photos by Chuck Haney
May is National Bike Month! The U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) has resources to make your May and everyday more bicycle friendly. Support our efforts and donate $5, $10, $50 to help build the largest bicycle network in the world! Donate Today!