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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 67 · No. 1 > Bikeways and Pathways

July/August 2003
Vol. 67 · No. 1

Bikeways and Pathways

by Andy Clarke

Accommodating bicyclists and walkers will promote a healthier transportation system, a healthier environment—and healthier Americans.

"Today's transportation professionals face a daunting challenge," says Associate Administrator Cindy Burbank, head of Planning, Environment, and Realty at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). "We are expected to provide a world-class transportation system that moves freight and passengers efficiently and safely, while protecting the environment, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, guarding against earthquakes and terrorism, supporting economic development and livable communities, involving all parts of the community, creating jobs, improving intermodal connections and accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians. All with limited resources."

Intuitively, most people recognize that bicycling and walking are good for the environment—energy-efficient, clean, quiet, low-impact—and both require little space. Yet as recently as 1990, former Federal Highway Administrator Tom Larson said, "In this country we have practically written [bicycling and walking] off as a means of transportation." In the same speech to the National Conference on Highways and the Environment, Larson noted the contrast between "what I see here with what I've observed firsthand in European cities, such as Amsterdam, where the idea is to accommodate bicyclists."

Bicyclists on the Mount Vernon Trail cross over an access road to Reagan National Airport in Arlington, VA. The trail was a major evacuation route from the Pentagon, also in Arlington, on September 11, 2001.
Bicyclists on the Mount Vernon Trail cross over an access road to Reagan National Airport in Arlington, VA. The trail was a major evacuation route from the Pentagon, also in Arlington, on September 11, 2001.

Pedestrians in Arlington, VA, benefit from signs reminding motorists to yield.
Pedestrians in Arlington, VA, benefit from signs reminding motorists to yield.

The Numbers Tell the Story

Even today, after unprecedented levels of expenditures on bicycling and walking under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the percentage of commuter trips made by walking has fallen to less than 3 percent, and bicycling to work remains stubbornly at 0.4 percent of journey-to-work trips. So the tough question that needs to be answered is: Should we continue to accommodate bicycling and walking?

Arguing the question on numbers alone is problematic. To begin with, the usage data are limited, especially at the local levels. The journey-to-work data from the census, for example, ignore partial walking and bicycling trips made to access transit. Even more significant, only one-fifth of all the trips that people make are for commuter trips to work.

Recent Omnibus Surveys by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reveal that there are a lot of people out walking and bicycling. An average of 33 million adults rode a bicycle an average of 6 days during the 30 days prior to the survey, and approximately 140 million adults made walking trips in the month prior to the survey. Although the data do not fully capture the situation, the one number that everyone can agree on is that crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists routinely account for some 13 percent of annual traffic fatalities in the United States. In 2001, almost 5,000 pedestrians and more than 700 bicyclists were killed in incidents involving motor vehicles. This figure alone should focus our attention on the vulnerability of nonmotorized travelers in the current transportation system.

Good Public Policy

Leaving the numbers aside, there are many other compelling reasons why bicycling and walking should be an integral part of the transportation system. An increasing number of agencies and communities are accommodating bicycling and walking as a routine component of their transportation projects and programs.

"Achieving higher levels of bicycle and pedestrian use would have profoundly beneficial effects on a broad spectrum of public policy areas," says Martha Roskowski, executive director of America Bikes. "Congestion and parking problems would be reduced; air quality and energy independence would improve; run-off, noise, community fragmentation, and other motor vehicle induced environmental impacts would diminish."

Improving public health and overcoming a national epidemic of obesity and lack of physical activity have emerged recently as powerful arguments for encouraging bicycling and walking. Even homeland security would benefit from a more diverse travel mix that would include the capability to evacuate urbanites quickly on foot and by bicycle, as was demonstrated on September 11, 2001.

Transportation and Public Health: Working Together to Save Lives

Bicycling and walking provide active lifestyle opportunities for people of all ages. Photo by Dan Burden, Walkable Communities Inc.Bicycling and walking provide active lifestyle opportunities for people of all ages.Photo by Dan Burden, Walkable Communities Inc.

Thanks to the Clean Air Act, and initiatives such as the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, half of the U.S. population lives in areas that meet national standards for air quality. Transportation and public health professionals are working together to build on this progress.

The two professions also work closely to reduce the annual death toll of 42,000 and 3 million injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes.

The public health community identified the lack of routine daily physical activity—such as walking and bicycling to work or shopping or to visit friends—as a major reason for the growth of our national girth. Sixty-four percent of adults in the United States are either obese or overweight, a figure that has increased so dramatically in recent years that obesity and diabetes now are considered epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that lack of physical activity causes 300,000 premature deaths each year in the United States.

As a result, transportation professionals increasingly are being asked to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities into the design of our streets and highways to promote a more active lifestyle. The Federal Highway Administration believes that such facilities should be considered an important and integral part of our transportation system.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a major national health foundation, established an "Active Living" initiative to address this issue. The organization seeks to build physical activity—especially walking and bicycling—back into our daily lives through research, technology transfer, leadership development, and community models. To learn more about the initiative, visit www.rwjf.org.

Existing Federal And State Policy

Two documents published by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) make it clear that Federal policy is to promote bicycling and walking as a matter of routine. In 1994, USDOT delivered the National Bicycling and Walking Study to Congress containing the ambitious goal of doubling the percentage of trips made by foot and bicycle while simultaneously reducing crashes involving the two modes by 10 percent. These objectives remain a national policy goal today.

In February 2000, again under direction from Congress, FHWA issued a statement of policy on accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians. According to the policy, provision for bicycling and walking should be integrated into all transportation projects unless any of three reasons exist for not accommodating them. The three reasons are excessive cost, clear absence of need, or roads where bicyclists and pedestrians are not permitted
to operate.

FHWA based the guidance on existing State laws in Florida and Oregon, two States that are leaders in improving conditions for walking and bicycling. In addition, departments of transportation (DOTs) in California, Kentucky, and Tennessee subsequently adopted the policy guidance.

Available Funding and Technical Know-how

"Years ago, State and local agencies might have argued that there was no funding available to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians," says Rob Draper, team leader overseeing FHWA's Byways, Bike-Ped, Trails, and Enhancements programs, "and that the appropriate design solutions and technical knowledge weren't available to do the job. Both of these issues have become moot."

Bicycle and pedestrian projects are eligible activities under all of the major ISTEA and TEA-21 funding programs. In addition to the successful and popular transportation enhancements program, agencies have used Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funding to install bicycle parking and bike lane networks, National Highway System funds to build trails, Surface Transportation Program monies to improve sidewalks and crosswalks, Hazard Elimination funds to implement Safe Routes to Schools programs, and Scenic Byways funds to improve bicycle travel over long distances.

The technical knowledge and experience with bicycle and pedestrian improvements also have burgeoned in recent years. In 1999, for example, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) published a new edition of its Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, which is twice the size of the preceding edition. The guide is the starting point for most State and local transportation agencies when designing facilities for bicyclists, and it is one of AASHTO's best-selling publications.

A multiyear research program by FHWA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the 1990s yielded a number of valuable tools:

  • The Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool (PBCAT): a software program to help categorize bicycle and pedestrian crashes and identify potential solutions.
  • The Bicycle Compatibility Index: A Level of Service Concept, Implementation Manual (FHWA-RD-98-095), an FHWA tool to rate the likely comfort and safety of bicyclists in various roadway situations.
  • The Walkability Checklist: a six-page community assessment tool to gauge the walkability of a corridor or neighborhood created by USDOT, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), and the Partnership for a Walkable America. This tool is available at http://www.walkinginfo.org/pdf/walkingchecklist.pdf.
  • Safety Effects of Marked vs. Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations: Executive Summary and Recommended Guidelines (FHWA-RD-01-075) from an FHWA study evaluating crosswalks at uncontrolled locations and offering guidelines for their use.

In TEA-21, recognizing the need to disseminate the growing body of knowledge in this area, Congress mandated the establishment of the PBIC. Center resources include a series of Web sites, including www.walkinginfo.org and www.bicyclinginfo.org. The sites now are handling more than 40,000 visitors each month.

The PBIC also created a variety of tools:

  • Bike Lane Design Guide: a design manual for bicycle lanes by a partnership between the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the City of Chicago, and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation contains additional information about the merits of bicycle lanes in different situations.
  • Bikeability Checklist: a six-page community assessment tool to gauge the bicycle-friendliness of a corridor or community created by PBIC, USDOT, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Exemplary Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans: PBIC's online compilation of more than 25 references to some of the best bicycle and pedestrian planning documents in the United States. Go to this Web site for links to the documents: www.walkinginfo.org/pp/exemplary.htm.
  • www.pedbikeimages.org: a digital library of more than 2,500 bicycle and pedestrian images.
Today, bike racks such as this one can be found on almost half of the Nation’s transit bus fleet.
Today, bike racks such as this one can be found on almost half of the Nation’s transit bus fleet.

On this Anchorage street corner, the bulb-outs shorten crossing distances, prevent cars parking close to the intersection, and provide more space for wheelchair ramps.
On this Anchorage street corner, the bulb-outs shorten crossing distances, prevent cars parking close to the intersection, and provide more space for wheelchair ramps.

Design Manuals

Leading local transportation agencies are coming to understand that a successful, well-designed street accommodates multiple objectives and a diversity of users. In November 2002, the City of San Diego published the City of San Diego Street Design Manual 2002, which "offers guidelines for the design of streets that will create harmony and promote function for all users while respecting and supporting the needs of the surrounding community." The manual calls for appropriate facilities for bicyclists, pedestrians, and people with disabilities to be included at every intersection as a matter of course. The City of Sacramento is undertaking a similar process. See www.sandiego.gov/planning/pdf/intro.pdf and www.pwsacramento.com/traffic/streetrevisions.html.

The more traditional approach to providing design information for bicycling and walking improvements has been provided in stand-alone design manuals. Florida and Oregon, for example, have extensive and detailed design information available online and in published format. Both States also have invested time and energy in training their State and local design staff to use the manuals.

In the early 1980s, the New Jersey DOT adopted NJDOT Bicycle Compatible Roadways and Bikeways • Planning and Design Guidelines, a design and planning manual for accommodating bicyclists on the State's roads. A decade later, New Jersey was one of the first States to undertake a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian planning process under ISTEA, and, as part of that project, developed a companion publication, NJDOT Pedestrian Compatible Planning and Design Guidelines.

Bill Feldman, the State's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator during this period, says, "Even then, we realized our engineers were designing roads for motor vehicles first and then looking at the bicycle and pedestrian manual to see what else might still fit. We wanted them to start with designs that worked for everyone."

Today, the New Jersey DOT is adding three new chapters to the State's NJDOT Design Manual - Roadway that cover traffic-calming, bicycle, and pedestrian designs.

This sign in Portland, OR, shows the use of bike lanes at intersections with heavy right-turning traffic.
This sign in Portland, OR, shows the use of bike lanes at intersections with heavy right-turning traffic.

This cyclist on the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland, OR, depends on bridge access, critical for the mobility of bicyclists and pedestrians.
This cyclist on the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland, OR, depends on bridge access, critical for the mobility of bicyclists and pedestrians.

Everyone Benefits

"We do very little just for bicyclists," says Michael Ronkin, Oregon DOT's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. "Certainly, we pave wide shoulders on our State roads, and that gives bicyclists a great place to ride. But it also provides for snow storage, vehicle recovery, better clear zones, and better sight lines, and it adds years to the life of the roadway. In fact, we've compiled a list of capacity, safety, and maintenance reasons for adding shoulders and posted them on our Web site. Similarly, bike lanes on urban roads give tremendous benefits to pedestrians and motorists as well as cyclists." See www.odot.state.or.us/techserv/bikewalk/whyhave.htm.

The City of Seattle has turned more than a dozen four-lane arterials into streets with just two travel lanes, a center turn lane (or a median and left-turn pockets), and bike lanes or wider curb lanes. "The streets work better for everyone," says Peter Lagerwey, the city's bicycle and pedestrian program manager. "Drivers like them because they can make left turns more easily and traffic runs more smoothly; bicyclists like them because they get space to ride; pedestrians like them because cars are generally traveling more slowly, they are buffered from traffic by the bike lane, and they can cross the street much more easily with pedestrian crossing islands. Capacity isn't affected on streets with a lot of left-turning traffic or frequent signals, and even local businesses approve because it is easier for left-turning vehicles to access their parking lots."

A study of these "road diets"—the change of a roadway from four lanes to three—shows that four-lane streets with up to 20,000 vehicles per day are candidates for this kind of treatment. (See www.walkable.org/download/rdiets.pdf.) "Providing better conditions for bicycling and walking is also critical to running a successful transit system," says Pennsylvania DOT Assistant Deputy Secretary Chris Johnston. "People have got to be able to walk quickly, safely, and comfortably to and from transit. They must be able to cross the street to get to the bus stop without having to walk half a mile along a street with no sidewalk to get to the nearest pedestrian signal."

Johnston continues: "The beauty of bicycling is that it extends the potential catchment area for transit service 12-fold. People are only willing to walk a few hundred yards to get to transit, but in the same time they can cover a couple of miles on a bike. It makes sense to enable and encourage people to do that."

Integrating bicycles and transit also involves providing adequate secure bicycle parking at subway stations, and adapting transit vehicles to carry bikes. Almost half the Nation's transit bus fleet now is equipped with bike racks to carry up to two bikes, and ridership is soaring. The Metro Transit bus system in the Seattle area was one of the "early adopters" and now has more than 60,000 bike-bus boardings each month. Officials in Broward County, FL, attribute a halving of bicycle fatalities in their county to the availability of bike racks on buses. The county is getting 30,000 bus riders per month with bikes.

In 1999, the Denver Regional Transit District studied the impact of its bike-and-ride program and found that there were 2,300 bike-on-bus trips on an average summer weekday (1.4 percent of all passengers) and that approximately half were new transit users. According to a transit district survey in December 1999, one-quarter of the riders said they would drive alone if the option to put their bike on the bus were unavailable.

The Caltrain commuter rail network between San José and San Francisco is a model for bike and rail integration. Almost 2,000 bicyclists per day take their bikes on board specially designed cars capable of carrying up to 32 bikes and their riders. Most of the trains have two "bike cars."

This sign at an information plaza welcomes bicyclists at Grand Canyon National Park.
This sign at an information plaza welcomes bicyclists at Grand Canyon National Park.

Will Accommodating Bicycling and Walking Make Any Difference?

As mentioned earlier, bicycle use and walking remain at relatively low levels in the United States. Bicycle commuting rates are three times higher in Canada than they are here, and even the Canadian figure of 1.2 percent is small compared to Germany (11 percent), Switzerland (15 percent), Denmark (18 percent), and The Netherlands (27 percent).

In the United States, however, bicycling plays a significant role in some communities. In Davis, CA, 22 percent of journeys to work are by bicycle—a figure surpassed only by the California campus communities of Stanford and Isla Vista (Santa Barbara) at 48 percent and 27 percent respectively.

In numerous other cities, such as Boulder, CO; Eugene and Corvallis, OR; Chico, Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Santa Cruz, CA; and Gainesville, FL, between 5 and 10 percent of trips to work are by bike. And in larger cities like Sacramento, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Tucson, AZ; Tempe, AZ; and Madison, WI, more than 2 percent of trips take place by bike.

The potential to increase bicycle use remains high. A significant percentage of all trips are still less than 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) in length (the average trip distance by bike) and almost half are less than 8 kilometers (5 miles) long. The question remains whether that potential can be tapped.

Individual projects show a significant impact. The Denver bike-n-ride program is one example. And the Seattle downtown bike lane-striping program helped increase the number of bicyclists entering the downtown by 57 percent between 1992 and 2000. Even more impressive, perhaps, is the progress that has been made in Portland, OR.

Portland: Pulling It All Together

In November 2001, the consumer magazine Bicycling named Portland, OR, as the "best overall city for bicycling" in the United States. Long renowned for its commitment to smart growth and walkability, the city also can serve as a good example of what can be achieved for bicycling.

In 1996, the city adopted a new bicycle master plan. At the time, the bicycle network stood at 179 kilometers (111 miles), and the target was close to 966 kilometers (600 miles). After 5 years, the network had grown to 367 kilometers (228 miles) and was almost 40 percent complete.

The city offers more than 2,100 bicycle parking spaces and 350 secure lockers. More than $12 million has been spent upgrading bicycle access to the bridges spanning the Willamette River—a critical part of the network—and daily bicycle trips across the bridges have more than doubled since 1995.

Since 1991, bicycle trips have increased by 143 percent without any rise in the number of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Increasing the number of people bicycling and walking as part of their daily lives in the United States offers numerous benefits. The funding and technical knowledge are available to encourage more people to walk and bicycle. Policies and programs are in place to facilitate those efforts, and a number of communities are starting to achieve real change.

FHWA Associate Administrator Burbank concludes, "The future for bicycling and walking is bright—but we must remain vigilant to ensure we don't allow ourselves to write off the two modes, as so nearly happened in the 1980s.

"Equally, we must be ready to take advantage of every opportunity to improve conditions for bicycling and walking, not because we have to, but because increased bicycling and walking will lead to a healthier, more balanced transportation system—as well as healthier individuals and healthier communities."


Andy Clarke recently joined the staff of the League of American Bicyclists as the director of State and Local Policy. Prior to that, he was the executive director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals and worked onsite at FHWA as part of a grant to run the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Clarke has 20 years of experience in bicycle and pedestrian transportation issues in both the United States and Europe and is a daily bicycle commuter in Washington, DC.

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