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Interstate Bicycle Highway System is on its Way

RP Siegel | Tuesday June 28th, 2011 | 5 Comments

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.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Webster/1073837078 James Webster

    Finally! Great news for the USA. I don’t know about others but it’s time to ride

  • http://www.NatureBag.ORG Bill Newbrough

    James, this is great news. However, even as an avid biker for many years, I must call you on your thesis that recreational bicycling might be energy saving. It is rare to see even the most serious cyclists riding their bikes to the trail heads. Usually it is energy gulping SUV’s that are toting a bike or 2 short distances to the riding trails that sometimes would be easily reached by 10 minutes more on 2 wheels! By the way, try a carbon neutral (or negative) Nature Bag on your next ride & let me know what you think. Some bikers like that air can circulate through & beneath the Nature Bag, minimizing the hot damp areas created by other types of bags.

  • http://www.adventurecycling.org/usbrs Ginny Sullivan

    As the staff coordinator for the U.S. Bike Route System, I want to thank RP, the USBRS is a really exciting project that is both collaborative and innovative with grassroots support at many levels. A quick correction, Velo Quebec manages the La Route Verte system in partnership with their ministry of transport.
    And Bill, one of the various benefits of the USBRS is that it will enable people to bike to their trails by linking regionally – and through suburbs.
    Thanks for the post and the comments.

  • Brian Dunn

    I propose for parts of this system a limited sub-system of covered all-weather enclosed bikeways with a piped-in 20 mile an hour tailwind in both directions (or, for specially licensed equipment and riders, maybe even a 50 mph tailwind!!). With some training and good equipment, in the high-speed version you could sustain 70mph speeds to your destination, rain or shine – or just poke along at 60mph if you felt like relaxing. With the right implementation, this would be an instant worldwide tourist destination for the bike-riding masses. Of course, this would be most easily implemented in flat areas, but even in my hometown Boulder-Denver corridor, a relatively hilly location, I bet you’d find enough takers to sweat up the hills – especially because of the built-in air conditioning effect of the tailwind!

  • eyeswideopen2c

    They have too, as UN Agenda 21 is ushered in we will no longer be allowed private cars….nor private property, nor rural living…I imagine these bicycle highways will connect all our nice “habitats” together…