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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-98-105
Date: 1998

Implementing Bicycle Improvements at the Local Level

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With the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), metropolitan planning organizations throughout the United States were explicitly required to consider bicyclists in their long-range transportation plans. As a result, many post-ISTEA plans do include ambitious bicycling components intended to increase the levels and safety of bicycle use within the affected communities. In light of these events, the purpose of this document is to provide detailed information on how to implement some of the most useful and popular elements. As a result, the advice contained herein will be most useful for those at the local—typically below the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)—level working to implement the MPO long-range plans.

The goal of bicycle planning at the local level is to provide for bicycle travel within the community. The purpose of doing so is to encourage more bicycling and to reduce the number of serious bicycling crashes and injuries. Building bicycle facilities is a key part of the encouragement side of this effort. But such efforts typically mean focusing on small-scale improvements and local environments. Since the typical bicycle trip is less than two miles in length, regional plans tend to overlook issues of most concern to bicyclists. . .the drain grate that can catch a wheel, the lack of a bike lane on a main street, and the barrier between a neighborhood and nearby park.

Clearly, much of the most important bicycle-related work in a community will happen at the micro-level and will involve paying attention to "nuts and bolts" issues. To deal with these problems, however, often requires taking a step back. Instead of simply focusing, for example, on a particular unresponsive traffic signal, the best approach may well be to create a program that routinely fixes such signals whenever an intersection is modified or whenever a complaint is received. Such an approach should also include standards for new construction that specify bicycle-responsive loop detector designs. In this fashion, it is possible to have a communitywide effect that can truly improve conditions wherever bicyclists ride.

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