Three Steps to Designating U.S. Bicycle Routes

January 24, 2018 - Laura Crawford is Adventure Cycling's U.S. Bicycle Route Coordinator

One of the key tenets of the U.S. Bicycle Route System is the fact that each route is officially designated. But what does that mean? Designation may sound complicated and technical, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating — so we thought we’d break it down to its most simple elements.

Step 1: The Idea

All U.S. Bicycle Routes start with a big idea; in this case, the idea comes in the form of a dotted line on the National Corridor Plan. Those dotted lines represent possibilities, or rough locations where someone has identified opportunities for good cycling.

And just like the committee you might organize to plan an event in your community, U.S. Bicycle Routes start with a team of volunteers, advocates, tourism officials, and department of transportation representatives — all of whom come together to identify a draft route and key stakeholders.

Step 2: The Buy-In

Before a draft route can become a U.S. Bicycle Route, we need to secure the support of all jurisdictions along the way. Someone somewhere owns every patch of pavement that a route follows, and those owners need to approve the route using their facility. Whether it’s a city, a county, or a trail group, we contact each jurisdiction to talk about the route and work through any issues or re-routes.

If that sounds time-consuming, it’s because it is; but it’s also one of the most important pieces of the designation puzzle. Securing jurisdictional support means that we engage communities in a public process, build goodwill from the ground up, and help agencies understand how to best maintain roadways for people on bikes.

Celebrating the designation of USBR 76 in Missouri.

Step 3: The Stamp of Approval

It’s not an exaggeration to say that it can take months or years to gain all of the jurisdictional approvals; but once that support is in hand, the rest of the process usually moves quickly.

Up until this point, most (or all) of the work can be done by volunteers. The last part, however, is up to the state department of transportation, who submits the application to AASHTO (the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials). Because all of the work has been done by this point, most routes are approved easily; but it’s this federal-level approval that sets U.S. Bicycle Routes apart from all other bike routes.

And, that, in the simplest explanation, is how we designate U.S. Bicycle Routes. We encourage you to learn more about the technicalities or reach out to become more involved.

Top photo Daniel Sahli | Photo 2 by Saara Snow


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!



Shawn E. Richardson March 12, 2018, 7:56 AM

Hello Laura, Before moving to Ohio, the Trans-America Trail which is known as US Bike Route-76 traversed across Kentucky and went through Bardstown, KY. Today, Adventure Cycling still recognizes the Trans-America Trail going through historic Bardstown, which is a beautiful historical town & home to My Old KY Home. However, the KY-DOT has "US Bike Route-76" bypassing Bardstown 20 miles to the south. Could there be some way to add "US Bike Route-76-Alternate" signs as to still have a signed route passing through Bardstown, KY for the Adventure Cycling Cyclists?

Laura Crawford March 12, 2018, 9:10 AM

Hi Shawn. Thank you for your comment, I understand your concern in having the route bypass Bardstown. If Kentucky DOT has opted to realign the route, we'll need to connect with them about mapping and signing an alternate route (the alternate, even if following the original route, will need to go through the same designation process with AASHTO). Feel free to reach out to them directly if you'd like, and I can help initiate this conversation as well. Thanks!

shawn e. richardson March 12, 2018, 11:41 AM

Your help & connection with AASHTO would be greatly appreciated. Since I still visit family in the Bardstown area each year, I would also be able to monitor the conditions of the roads which the Adventure Cycling maps follow for their Trans America Trail.


Bob Kissinger January 24, 2018, 6:56 PM

I fully support the development of the USBR System, but my confusion arrises when the USBR System does not coincide with Adventure Cycling Association's routes. I have seen this recently on two routes - The Northern Lakes Bicycle Route/USBR 35 between Charlevoix and Elk Rapids MI, and the Chicago to New York City Bicycle Route/USBR 50 between Columbus OH and Pittsburgh PA. In both of these sections, the two routes are not exactly the same. In the case of the USBR 35 route, it chooses to remain mostly on US31, which has (in my opinion) very dangerous sections. The ACA route avoids these US31 sections. I would think that the States would follow the ACA's lead in selecting the most bike-friendly routes.

Laura Crawford January 25, 2018, 9:29 AM

Hi Bob, thank you for bringing up the one big wrinkle of designating U.S. Bicycle Routes through a public process. Because official designation requires buy-in from each jurisdiction, sometimes we run into a situation where the preferred route is owned/managed by an entity that wishes to not participate for one reason or another. Adventure Cycling routes, however, do not need to go through the same public process, which is why the two routes diverge. In these instances, our hope is that we can show the positive impacts of U.S. Bicycle Route designation, and work with a jurisdiction to re-align a route onto a more preferable roadway. Feel free to shoot me a note if you'd like more of the backstory of USBR 35. Thanks!

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