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3. Byway and Resource Density

Collection Issue

Not all regions have comparable densities of byways or resources.

Some areas of the United States appear crowded with nationally designated byways, while others appear poorly represented. Looking only at intrinsic qualities, not National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) participation or population density, the representation of the diversity of traveler resources should be evaluated. Do concentrations of byways suggest a greater concentration of intrinsic qualities, or a greater awareness for diverse qualities? Do widely dispersed byways suggest sizeable intrinsic qualities for which the byway is a sole or representative introduction, or a lack of appreciation for the intrinsic qualities of the region?

Additionally, in areas with higher concentrations of byways, do individual byways complement or compete against one another? Density may be considered an asset if byway themes and experiences are not repetitive, the routes are clearly marked and identified, and the visitor expectation is clearly established. Density may be considered a liability if the reality, or visitor perception, is of competing or overlapping intrinsic qualities.


The following observations and options have been developed to address the variance in byway densities across the country.

Density is relative.

For the National Scenic Byways Program the following should be considered when addressing density:

Not all six intrinsic qualities are equally dispersed across the nation.

Due to the intrinsic nature of land and people resources, there can be no expectation for even distribution across the nation. The Loess Hills of Iowa and the Pinelands of New Jersey represent globally unique resources that are geographically small when compared to the Great Plains or Pacific Coast. The concentration of historic and cultural resources along the Atlantic seaboard is due to the diverse and concentrated settlement from Europeans at multiple points along the coast. In the nation's interior, historic American Indian communities occupied vast territories while settlements established by predominantly white settlers were smaller and more dispersed.

Perceived concentrations of byways do not necessarily equate to saturation.

There are five general concentrations of byways currently designated: New England, Mid-Atlantic, Mississippi River, Southwest, and Pacific Coast. In some of these areas rough topography and limited transportation connections make "proximate" byways more distant than may appear on a map. In urban areas, particularly in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Coast, population density, congestion, toll facilities and metropolitan development may make nearby byways less accessible than basic geography may suggest.

Access is fundamental to byway development.

Vast areas of the United States, while rich in intrinsic qualities, are not accessible to automobile travel. When evaluating the density of designated byways, transportation infrastructure should be considered. In large areas of the Great Plains, and particularly the Great Basin, there are a relatively small number of routes that are easily and safely accessible to the visitor.

There may be benefits to the repetition of intrinsic qualities.

Multiple byways in a region designated for the same intrinsic quality may suggest a concentration of similar resources more than duplicative experiences. A concentration of historic intrinsic qualities, for example, may be diverse thematically, addressing issues such as the Underground Railroad, English colonial settlement, and the highway culture of the automobile age. Under such a scenario, the individual byways are presenting themes and visitor experiences that are unique, and more importantly, do not lend themselves to any logical combination. Trying to create a driving route and theme encompassing all three themes may appear contrived.


The following options present opportunities and actions that may be considered to address the distribution of byways across the nation.

Evaluate low density byway regions to determine if intrinsic qualities are well represented.

It is important to determine if there are opportunities to showcase additional intrinsic qualities in low density byway regions. Are current byway densities in these regions a result of vast areas of singular or limited intrinsic qualities, where a single designated route captures the land or people story, or are they a reflection of an under-appreciation for local/regional intrinsic qualities? For example, does the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, NSB, in Kansas sufficiently capture the intrinsic qualities of the prairies of the Great Plains, or does it provide a singular glimpse into a vast under-represented ecosystem?

Evaluate whether the repetition of intrinsic qualities within a region enhances access and opportunities for the byway traveler.

Due to the practical nature and limitations of travel, there may be benefits to repeating intrinsic qualities in both high and low density areas. Consider the relatively high density of byways in northern New England. In theory, one byway might capture the essence of this region, but each of the States has chosen to showcase an individual, albeit related, story. In contrast, a single byway may adequately represent the intrinsic qualities in an area with a low concentration of byways, but there may be a benefit to providing an additional opportunity to see and experience these qualities elsewhere in the region (for example, two byways in the Great Plains focused on prairie grasslands).

Combine multiple byways into single byways.

There may be areas where individual byways offer complementary or shared intrinsic qualities. If there is local consensus, such byways may be combined into a single byway. This solution could possibly increase byway resources, marketing and visitation—byway visitors would no longer be split between two routes.

Discourage new byway designations that repeat existing intrinsic qualities in a region.

Proposed new byways that are proximate to existing byways (by physical access, not geographic proximity), and that repeat same or similar intrinsic qualities or themes, could be discouraged or, where possible, considered as extensions or additions to the existing designated byway route.

Related Issues

Updated: 9/3/2013
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