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.
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.
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.
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!