Here is a news item that is close to my heart. The US is moving forward on a plan to develop a national interstate bicycle highway system. The US Bicycle Route System (USBRS) is being implemented on a state by state basis, either by state departments of transportation (e.g. Alaska, Arizona, California), volunteers working with trail and bicycle associations (e.g. Indiana, Oregon, Maine), or work teams made up of advocates and agency stakeholders dividing up jobs and work load (e.g. Arkansas, Illinois).
The plan, which originated in the 1980s, to build a system of interstate bike paths has come back to life after lying dormant for 30 years. Two stretches of bike interstate have already been established: U.S. Bicycle Route 1 from Virginia to North Carolina (initially planned to run from Florida to Maine) and U.S. Bicycle Route 76 from Virginia to Illinois (initially planned to run from Virginia to Oregon), but new routes may soon cover the whole country. Map here.
Recently, the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved six new routes. Four of these will be in Alaska, one will span Michigan’s lower peninsula and one will go from New Hampshire to Maine. Another 15 have made it past the planning phase. The ultimate goal is to have a nationwide system of bicycle routes, and 42 states have expressed support for the plan. AASHTO also provided a $5,000 technical assistance grant to Adventure Cycling to help states grow the system.
The plan was developed initially by defining 50 mile wide corridors of national and/or regional significance. Forty-two states have exhibited some level of participation in the process.
With more people than ever bicycling (44.7 million in 2008, up 11% from the previous year), demand for a system like this has never been higher. Bicycles provides a healthy, affordable, environmentally friendly form of transportation. According to Adventure Cycling, “The goal of the U.S. Bicycle Route System is to provide the opportunity for more people to travel by bicycle, especially for medium and long-distance travel.”
Some might argue that a system like this is not really saving energy, because most people will be using it for recreation and not as a substitute for motorized travel. I would suggest that, while that might be true in many cases, you have to ask what other forms of recreation this might be offsetting. When you consider how many popular forms of recreation require substantial amounts of energy, it seems likely that real savings will occur. Secondly, this kind of recreational opportunity will attract more people to cycling (which is already the 7th largest recreational activity in the country), some of whom will use it instead of driving a car, for running errands around town if not commuting.
Systems like this are already in place in several other countries including:
- the United Kingdom, where the National Cycle Network connects more than 12,000 miles of routes and trails for millions of travelers
- VeloLand Switzerland, which includes 9 national and 53 regional routes
- Vélo Quebec’s VeloLand Switzerland is a 2,400-mile network that generates more than $160 million annually in economic returns
Finally, as someone who bicycles every chance I get, I would like to add, that cycling is as much a state of mind as anything else; one that causes people to slow down and tune in to the world around them, even as they improve their health and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. And if that’s not moving us in a more sustainable direction, I don’t know what is.
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.