If you're traveling by car or airplane this 4th of July weekend and would rather be packing your luggage onto your bike, you may be interested in the US Bicycle Route System.
You've probably heard me compare where our high-speed and intercity passenger rail system is today with where America stood 54 years ago when President Eisenhower began implementing the US Interstate Highway network. But America also has a national interstate network of bicycle routes in a similar state of initial development.
The US Bicycle Route System opened its first routes in 1982. Route 1 runs between Virginia and North Carolina, and Route 76 joins Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois.For more than 20 years, not much happened. But in 2003, AASHTO revived the USBRS with a Task Force on US Bicycle Routes. The Task Force includes state transportation agency staff, Federal Highway Administration employees, and bicycling organizations. One group, Adventure Cycling Association, began providing staff support to the project in 2005 and developed a map called the National Corridor Plan.
In 2009, the Task Force created a new application that states can use to enter their routes into the USBRS. The hard work of translating the corridors from the plan into on-the-ground routes began.
And I'm happy to say that work has been fruitful. In Michigan USBRS 20 is underway, with USBRS 35 soon to follow. The people of Michigan are excited to be leading the way on America's interstate bikeway system.
As Scott Anderson, state coordinator for the bicycle route, said, "We went county to county, community to community, to talk with each one and got enormous support. We even had cities and towns that weren't on the route pushing to get included."
Anderson and Michigan's communities also see the business and employment possibilities the USBRS offers: "We see an economic opportunity here. We're hoping to promote tourism and there are a lot of bicycle tourists out there."
At least 18 other states across the country also have US Bicycle Route System plans in various stages of implementation. For example, Minnesota plans to use its Mississippi River Trail as part of USBRS 45. California's Pacific Coast Bicycle Route will provide the backbone of USBRS 95. And planners from Maine to Florida are hard at work connecting USBRS 1 with the East Coast Greenway.
Now, America has many miles of existing bicycle trails like my two favorites--the Rock Island Trail in my hometown of Peoria and the C&O Canal towpath in Washington, DC. Because the US Bicycle Route System will knit together the many trail systems and routes that already exist nationwide, completing many of the planned corridors will be neither as complicated nor as expensive as you might expect.
And it won't be too long before we have a true national network of officially designated routes, supported and maintained by state and local agencies.
This system will connect urban, suburban, and rural areas. And it will lead to stronger regional connections as neighboring states coordinate their trails into routes. I'm also pleased to see how the FHWA and state and local transportation agencies are working with bicycle advocates and volunteers. That's the kind of partnership that gets things done.
The USBRS is not just a bunch of bike paths; we're talking about a transportation system. It will facilitate travel between communities and to historic and cultural landmarks. It will give people living in more rural areas a way to travel into a nearby urban area by bicycle. Urban and suburban residents will have better access to rural recreation areas. And--like our interstate highway system--it will facilitate long-distance travel by bicycle, whether across one’s state or across the country.
So, whether you're interested in riding west from Ohio to South Dakota and south to New Mexico, or just want to get to a nearby park, please visit the terrific USBRS resource pages at www.adventurecycling.org to learn more about the great network taking root across the nation.
The USBRS will generate economic activity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote a healthier America. And because bicycle infrastructure is relatively inexpensive, the USBRS can achieve these benefits cost-effectively. It's a win for states, a win for local communities, and a win for America.