Three Ways Urban Areas can be Bike Travel Friendly

July 22, 2015

A newly painted bike facility on a street in Pittsburgh, PA

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.

U.S. Bicycle Route System - Connecting Cities by Bike

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.


Salt Lake City’s Bikeways Map showing suggested routes in to town and to the airport.


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.

  • The primary resource for bicycle facilities is AASHTO's Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, available in print and digital formats for a fee. Its 200 pages cover bicycle facility implementation from design all the way to ongoing maintenance for nearly any context.
  • The National Association of Transportation Officials provides an Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Drawing from real world examples, this interactive online guide is a great resource for planners to visualize what could work best in their community.
  • The Institute of Transportation Engineers publishes recommendations for bicycle facilities in its Design Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach. The Institute recognizes the importance of bicycles in multi-modal transportation systems, and includes bicycle facilities in its recommendations. 
Cyclists take in information provided along the GAP in Frostburg, MD


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. 


Top and bottom photos by Saara Snow. Second phot by Maya Cycles and Salt Lake City Bikeways map provided by Salt Lake City Transportation Division

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!



John Hunka July 24, 2015, 12:23 PM

I live in New York City, where it is now possible for bicycle tourists to camp at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn ( New York City has an extensive network of bike lanes and bike paths. Someday, I hope Adventure Cycling will consider developing a fully supported tour that begins at Floyd Bennett Field, goes into Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, uses the Hudson River Greenway on the West Side to reach the George Washington Bridge, and continues north to the Catskills and beyond. It would be Adventure Cycling's first urban-oriented tour.

Mike Sanders July 23, 2015, 1:17 PM

The Antrak schedule for the Cascades service between Eugene, OR; Portland, OR; and Seattle contains this:

"Bicycles: Trains 500 thru 517 are equipped with a limited number of bike racks for carrying unboxed bikes. Reservations are required; service charge applies. The passenger brings the bike to and picks it up from the baggage car. Certain connecting 'Thruway' buses also carry bikes. Consult agent."

A similar service is available on the Capitol Corridor service between Sacramento and San Jose via Oakland, CA.

Amtrak should be encouraged to add bike service on the major transcontinental routes, as well as the Coast Starlight (Seattle-LA), City of New Orleans (NO-Chicago) and East Coast lines.

Creed McPherson July 22, 2015, 3:14 PM

I would like to see Amtrak allow bikes at all stations. I was just at Sandpoint Idaho and found out I have to go to Spokaane to get on. What other towns have this problem. This would greatly improve their tourism.

greg forrester July 22, 2015, 8:38 AM

I agree with Fergie on #4 and add allow 24/7 access. There are too many areas that prohibit bike path use at night.

5. Provide bike routes that are not loaded with stop signs. It gets frustrating when you have to stop at every road and in some cases every driveway crossing.

Fergie Meek July 22, 2015, 7:53 AM

I agree but I would also add a fourth point:

4) Keep bike paths/trails open all year. In many cities the trail network is considered only for use as a leisure activity and not a real commuter choice. Here in Fort Wayne, IN the trail network is essentially closed from Nov-Mar and also anytime it rains heavily.

People won't be encouraged to give up car commuting if they can't be sure they can get to their work/shops/whatever.

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