An Interstate Bicycling System

by Winona Bateman, via Yes! Magazine,

A system of bicycle routes to connect the nation? It’s happening. “People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

When U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made this announcement at the National Bike Summit last March, he became an instant superstar with bicycling advocates who work hard to create and maintain cycling routes as part of their local, state, and regional transportation networks.

In July, Secretary LaHood took it a step further—embracing the creation of a U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS), a project that will connect many of the existing (and envisioned) bicycle routes around the country into an official, national network of cycling routes, linked coast-to-coast across state lines.

LaHood wrote, “The U.S. Bicycle Route System is not just a bunch of bike paths; we’re talking about a transportation system. It will facilitate travel between communities and to historic and cultural landmarks. It will give people living in more rural areas a way to travel into a nearby urban area by bicycle. Urban and suburban residents will have better access to rural recreation areas. And—like our interstate highway system—it will facilitate long-distance travel by bicycle, whether across one’s state or across the country.”

If implemented as planned, the U.S. Bicycle Route System will become the largest official cycling network on the planet, encompassing more than 50,000 miles of routes. These routes will be officially recognized by state and local Departments of Transportation (DOTs), and in some cases, marked with signs. Because the system will link existing infrastructure whenever possible—including roads, bike paths, and trails—building the network will be cost-effective.

Local benefits

Twenty-two states are now actively working on U.S. Bicycle Routes. In some states, cycling advocates have taken the lead, developing the route and coordinating minimally with their state DOT until ready to apply for designation. In others, the state DOT and its bicycle/pedestrian coordinator are trailblazing, collaborating with volunteers and cycling and trail organizations.

“I am seeing tremendous excitement from the cycling community and the local communities that these routes will touch,” said Ginny Sullivan, special projects director for Adventure Cycling Association and lead staff on the USBRS.

One reason communities are excited to be part of the national system is the economic boost it may bring to local economies. In Michigan, for example, towns along proposed USBR 20 have actively lobbied for their communities to be included on the new route.

“We’ve asked each city, village, and county that owns any piece of USBR 20 to pass a formal resolution of support for the project,” said Scott Anderson, a volunteer for Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance and a leader on USBR 20. “Every resolution I’ve seen has specifically mentioned economic development.”

Many states that already boast significant biking infrastructure have seen the benefits of bicycle tourism. North Carolina’s estimated annual impact from bicycle facilities in its northern Outer Banks region is $60 million and 1,407 jobs. A Wisconsin study [pdf] estimates that bicycling contributes $1.5 billion to the state annually—and $530 million comes from bicycle travel. According to the Great Allegheny Passage Economic Impact Study [pdf], multi-day cycle tourists spend an average of $98 per day in businesses along the trail. La Route Verte in Quebec spans 2,400 miles and generates $160 million annually in economic returns.

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