THE QUEST CONTINUES - U. S. Bike Route System
After several hopeful but slow starts, the push to get a national bicycle route system (or USBRS) in the United States seems now to have reached a critical mass. Briefly reviewing, the year 1976 celebrated a Bikecentennial Trail which was initiated by the bicycling group with the same name. They were the predecessor organization to today’s Adventure Cycling Association.
More impetus was added in the early 1980s when two routes were actually designated and signed - given road numbers and signage - but then the tide for a national bike route movement seemed to have stayed out awhile.
Just seven short years ago, in 2003, an important transportation organization with the abbreviation AASHTO stepped in, or rather stepped in again. They are the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. They were instrumental in getting the two current routes designated in 1982, and with urging from Adventure Cycling, they formed the critical task force in 2003 to research more about what other routes might be possible.
Adventure Cycling provided staff assistance and various agencies and groups were consulted as well. Part of AASHTO’s mission statement explains their involvement with bike routes: “The purpose of the U. S. Bicycle Route System . . . is to facilitate bicycle travel on appropriate roads, paths and highways over routes that are desirable for interstate bicyclists.”
In sum, we now have two official routes, as mentioned, and most likely more on the way. The existing east-west route is Number 76, so far stretching from Virginia, through Kentucky to Illinois. There is also a north-south route, Number 1, in eastern Virginia-North Carolina.
In early July this year, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood threw critical support behind the movement. Before LaHood was in the picture, however, Adventure Cycling and others were well into doing the ground work in their six-phase outline that lays down the pre-production steps to making the USBRS a reality. As a result of this tedious research process, wading through what bike routes and possible bike routes already existed, what routes were feasible, and other considerations, a map was then compiled which depicts what the task force’s research showed to be probable priority routes, along with possible alternate corridors. “Corridor” in this case has a broad and tentative definition: it’s a 50-mile wide proposal of where a route might go.
These proposed bike corridors have also now been assigned numbers by AASHTO, just as roads and interstates have, but which apply specifically to the bikeways system. The AASHTO Task Force notes that “. . . selection of specific paths, roads and highways will be left to each state DOT, working with other agencies and organizations.”
Major cross-Indiana routes proposed on the map include Bicycle Routes 35 and 50. Routes 36 and 40 are two others, proposed in the Lake Michigan south shore region and through Fort Wayne , respectively.
Bike Route numbering systems work much like other road numbers, in that even-numbered routes generally lead east-west, while odd-numbered roads run north-south. Route 35, like Interstate 75, begins in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Sault Ste. Marie, continues via ferry across the Straits, and through downstate Michigan .
It crosses to Indiana in the Michigan City area, then to Kentucky. At this time, the southern Indiana corridor suggests following U. S. Highway 31. Bike Route 35 will cross the Ohio River at Louisville, proceed on south to Tennessee, and to the Mississippi River Trail (Bike Route 45), which can then peddle you toward New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico or the Mississippi coast.
Hoosier Rails to Trails Council is currently working to become the “point man” for the state of Indiana, attending conferences, meetings, and researching routes to help organize the local effort and move it forward. HRTC Vice-Chair Richard Vonnegut is in the process of putting together a team for the Route 35 project. Indiana ’s Department of Transportation Bike-Ped Coordinator, Jerry Halperin, noted that “I think through time our partnering process with the Rails to Trails Council will enable us to develop several routes.” HRTC hopes to soon have a second team working on Bike Route 50.
Imperative in this process is to partner with neighboring states’ bike/ped (bicycle/pedestrian) co-ordinators, so that links across state lines work well. For example, at one point, a question arose from Michigan as to whether Route 35 was to swerve west toward Chicago or head more or less straight south when it reached Indiana. Similar alignment issues will be required along other bike routes.
The east to west Route 50 is among the longest proposed, stretching from the District of Columbia, through Indiana , and on to the San Francisco region. The National Road Heritage Trail is part of this route. Again, keep in mind, these are proposed bikeways, and no final, carved-in-pavement system is yet in place, nor is any group claiming that.
Another important debate in this process is use of these routes by non-bicycle travel modes, specifically cross-country hikers. Backpackers are not prohibited from using the USBRS. A recent Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee included conflict avoidance between these two groups in its agenda. Suffice to say, the issue points up that there is a long way to go before the National Bike Route System is wrinkle-free.
In any case, the National Bike Route System is definitely a work-in-progress, but a work with a good head of steam built up by now. Stay posted on its developments and see related article.
Article by J. P. Conrad