Go anywhere in the USA by bike?
September 27th 2018
Car drivers need to go places. Cyclists often need to go those places too. So time after time, cities make the same mistake, building bike lanes into the highest traffic roads.
Such a plan fills the checkboxes of cycling infrastructure, but it’s not the best way to get people out on bikes, and it’s not in the best interest of drivers either.
And now for something completely different…
Suppose we approached cycling infrastructure the complete opposite way?
We’d start out with safe cycling roads that go in useful directions and then connect them into a useful network.
That exists today. And it’s nationwide, with over 13,000 miles of designated roads already.
The routes in the U.S. Bicycle Route System aren’t bike paths. These are interlocking, relatively safe, small back roads shared with drivers. And together, they can take you coast to coast.
Building the world’s largest official cycling route network in the world.
In 1973, an adventurer named Lys Burden had just completed an 18,000-mile cycling trip from Alaska to Argentina with her husband and another couple and was looking for the Next Big Thing. Given that background, a simple coast-to-coast cycling trip seemed relatively easy, as long as she could piece together enough safe and consecutive east-west roads for a TransAmerica trip. Maybe it could even be a big event.
The more Lys Burden researched the idea, in preparation for the country’s bicentennial celebration, the bigger it got. Finally, on May 14, 1976, Bikecentennial began, with 4,100 participants–1,750 of whom signed up to ride the entire trail.
Riding a national enthusiasm for cycling in the late 70’s and the success of Bikecentennial, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) announced the creation of the USBRS just two years later, and the first two roads in it four years after that.
And then… crickets… for a quarter century.
Race Across America (RAAM), another cross-country bike race on bigger roads with van support–and finish times under 9 days!–has been going strong since 1982. But the idea of a safe national network stalled at just two roads, including a several-state route named Route 76 after Bikecentennial.
Behind the scenes though, an AASHTO task force was diligently at work, and in 2008 published an ambitious corridor plan.
What’s the local value of a national network?
That’s the plan, anyway. Now comes the heavy lifting of getting the plan through the democratic process, locally, road by road. Each section of road must be reviewed for location, connecting trails, suitable surfaces, traffic safety, and any improvements that may be needed. Stakeholders must be brought in, both for and against, with needs understood until the community is united behind this addition as a local asset.
That’s a lot of local work before the signs ever go up! Why even try? Here are six reasons to support the USBRS in your town:
- Economic benefits. Bike tourism contributes $93 billion/year nationally to local economies. Like yours?
- Greater national visibility. Put your town on the map. Literally.
- Easier navigation. Signs matter.
- Increased safety. Safety in numbers, all on the better roads for bikes.
- Better bicycling facilities & connections. When you evaluate routes, they are better supported.
- Happier, healthier communities. It gets you out, enjoying your freedom, blood pumping… what’s not to love?
The USBRS today–an active work in progress.
42 years after Bikecentennial and ten years after the AASHTO proposal, the plan is very much a work in progress, yet very active as well, with five states adding mileage in 2018 alone. (Click map to see routes in greater detail).
There’s a whole country to explore, and more of it available by bike every year. All you need is a great touring bike that rides well, carries a load, and folds into your tent or hotel room for convenience. What are you waiting for?
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.