July 22, 2015
Cities are where some of the most exciting developments for cycling are taking place, such as bike share, separated bike lanes and intersections, bike trains, etc. But urban areas are usually more commonly known for bike commuting rather than bike touring, and most bicycle touring routes tend avoid cities in favor of scenic, low traffic, rural routes.
However, cities are major bucket list destinations for many touring cyclists and provide exciting, culturally rich attractions and activities to explore by bike. Unlike the Adventure Cycling Route Network, one goal of the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) is to link cities across the country, and the currently designated 8,992 miles of U.S. Bicycle Routes travel through many major cities, including Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, Miami, and Nashville. Future USBRs will connect other major cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Phoenix, and St Louis. So what can urban areas do to accommodate touring cyclists and encourage them to visit?
1. Create Multimodal Connections
Most touring cyclists have faced the conundrum of how to get their bicycle from where they are to where they need to be to start or end their journey. Whether it’s a train, bus, or plane, more often than not cyclists run into major hurdles transporting their bicycles, from having to box their bike, to paying exorbitant fees, to no accommodations at all for bicycles.
However, there are a number of cities that have addressed these issues. Portland, Oregon has an incredible light rail system that allows bikes on board. San Francisco’s BART train recently revised their policy restricting bicycles during peak hours and now allows bikes on board at any time. The MARC train recently announced a new bike car, which will allow cyclists to travel with their bikes between Baltimore and Washington DC. Soon, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited will provide roll-on access for bikes to urban destinations between Washington DC and Chicago, as will the Vermonter between DC and St Albans, Vermont.
In addition, airports are often way outside of cities, so bicycle infrastructure in and around airports would also encourage bicycle tourists to start or end their tour in a certain place. Cities such as Baltimore, Vancouver, and Salt Lake City are connected to their respective airports via bicycle facilities. The airport in Portland, Oregon has a station with a stand and tools for boxing or reassembling bikes. This makes it simple for a traveler to check his/her packed-up bicycle on to the plane, put it back together at the airport, and ride on into town.
2. Create a Network of Bikeways or Greenways
With the rise of bike share and increased bike commuting, cities are starting to grasp the benefits of designating bikeways and creating bicycle infrastructure. St Louis has the developing Great Rivers Greenway system; Indianapolis is creating 200 miles of bike facilities; New York City recently gave many of its streets a bike friendly makeover; Pittsburgh is creating a Better Bikeways network; even cities like Phoenix and Houston that have a reputation for being less bike-friendly are now creating bicycle plans. These kinds of bicycle plans can help keep cyclists on roads and parts of the city that are safe.
There are several resources available to planners and engineers to guide bicycle facility planning. The Federal Highways Administration lists three in particular, listed below.
3. Provide Wayfinding
Wayfinding is a crucial component of getting cyclists to use facilities and designated routes––you can build it, but they won’t come unless they know that it exists and how to get to it. Providing consistent and easily navigable signage to and from the bike path, trail, or bike route, as well as letting touring cyclists know how to get to the services they may need, like grocery stores, restaurants, laundromats, libraries, bike shops, post offices, etc., and even the time it takes to bike there, is a win-win for everyone. Cyclists find the services they need with minimal stress, and cities benefits economically from touring cyclist spending money. The best example of this is the Trail Towns program along the Great Allegheny Passage in Maryland/Pennsylvania. The program helps towns along the bike trail optimize the economic benefits from bicycle tourism through these kinds of wayfinding and other methods. While the towns that participate are by no means “urban," the kinds of benefits they are experiencing from catering to touring cyclists would be no different in an urban setting. Wayfinding may be even more important for larger cities, given their size and complexity for bicycle navigation.
More and more people are moving into urban areas and U.S. Bicycle Routes are slowly developing connections between major cities. People tell us all the time that they want to bike from Chicago to DC or from San Francisco to New York and soon they will have the routes to do so. Now is a great time for city planners to start thinking about what it’s like to get around through the eyes of a visiting cyclist and how they can work towards making it easier.
This guest post was written by Jon Wergin who quit his job, sold his car, and rode his bike across the country. A year later he is working as an intern at Adventure Cycling and earning his degree in transportation planning. Jon is the newest member of our crew and is contributing a series of blog posts about bicycle tourism topics and the U.S. Bicycle Route System.
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!