Local efforts are the backbone of a national cycling network

U.S. Bike Route 1 crosses U.S. Bike Route 76 near Ashland, Va.

Credit: Dana Carolyn

The November 2016 issue of Planning magazine had a detailed and well-written article entitled “Bikes Across America” about the efforts to build a national cycling network across the United States.

Now that I’m a transportation planner at the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, I can see how much coordination and work is behind this type of tall task. A national bike network will take decades to complete, but each locality and region can help speed things up with incremental improvements.  

Planning magazine does not publish its articles online for free, so I cannot link to this article, but I’ll include a few excerpts from the article to help explain:

The Adventure Cycling Association‘s “most ambitious project is the development of the U.S. Bicycle Route System, a large-scale, interstate network of routes for cyclists that will eventually include more than 50,000 miles and meander through all 50 states and most major metropolitan areas (to date there are 11,000 miles doesn’t needed in 24 states).

By connecting urban centers to suburban and rural areas throughout the country — using a combination of already existing trails and low-traffic streets and highways — the goal of the USBRS is to provide safe, easily navigable routes to encourage more people to ride bicycles.

One of the main work tasks with job is to further the efforts to develop a regional bike network in the Richmond area, including the national East Coast Greenway. Designated routes through Richmond for the ECG already exist, but many of the selected roads were built for motor vehicles at speeds too fast for cyclists, especially young riders.

U.S. Bike Routes 1 and 76 also pass through the Richmond region, crossing just west of Ashland. Those routes are mostly on-road, meaning they travel on the same roads as motorized vehicles. We’ve also got the Virginia Capital Trail, which is a a fantastic separated, multi-use trail that connects Richmond to Jamestown. The Capital Trail has also provided a new bypass connection for the U.S. routes with the designation of U.S. Bike Route 176 from Charles City County to downtown Richmond.

The best part for Richmond with these national and regional networks is that it encourages more spur trails and the development of more connections. I’m lucky to be in a position to help steer some federal funding into projects that could create a better bike network in the Richmond region. I’m also lucky that we have local and statewide organizations like Bike Walk RVA and the Virginia Bicycling Federation to help advocate for more improvements. While national bike routes can help expedite funding, the majority of the work starts at the local level.

More from Planning:

Over the past six years donations to Adventure Cycling’s USBRS project to jumped from $20,000 to $150,000, which not only demonstrates the viability of the program but also shows an increased interest from touring cyclists, bicycle advocacy groups, and proponents for active transportation. This enthusiasm coincides with planners, members of metropolitan planning organizations, and state department of transportation officials responding to populace that wants safer and less congested corridors for commuting and more opportunities for healthy activities. Further, the shift from suburban to urban and from car-centric to car-free lifestyles plays a role in the demand for more bicycle-oriented infrastructure a comprehensive national bicycle network is certainly an important element within this movement.

“Safer and less congested corridors for commuting” – that captures my job in a nutshell. While creating a national bike network is nice, allowing the average cyclist in the Richmond region the opportunity to travel by bicycle – perhaps to connect to a job, school, another mode of transit, etc. – is the ultimate goal.

While many urban planners are rapidly developing their communities’ transportation networks discontinuity with him those routes, particularly from the city to the suburbs and the suburbs to the countryside, are the greatest potential roadblock in creating a unified nationwide system.

I live in Henrico County, not far from the Richmond city line. In 2016, I’ve cut more than 2,500 miles of vehicle miles traveled by riding my bike instead of driving. I bike to work often and ride to errands, meetings, soccer games and whatever else I can make work. Most of the biking I do is on regular roads, but as often as I can, I make the choice to ride on neighborhood streets or roadways with slower speeds – away from dangerous interactions with motor vehicles.

Quite often in my bike rides, there will be a section of the route I’ve chosen that involves mixing in with fast-moving vehicles in a narrow corridor. That is what we need to fix. If planners are able to work with local officials to improve the connections between the safest and least congested corridors, it would make it a lot easier for people to choose to ride a bike more often.

The article included great comments from Byron Rushing, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Atlanta Regional Commission Metropolitan Planning Organization (a position similar to mine with the Richmond MPO):

“Counter intuitively, one of the problems with bicycle project as they seem too small especially in bigger metro regions…when you start to be able to say: ‘look at this cool connection. It’s a four-mile length of rail/trail and, but it connects to a national network and,’ then it begins to elevate small projects to that level of national importance that really gives them the attention they need.”

Not every trail can be as glamorous and high-profile as the Virginia Capital Trail, even the smallest bike connection has the potential to remove a barrier to potential cyclists and become a tremendous asset to the region’s transit network.

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