Developing the U.S. Bicycle Route System with the Adventure Cycling Association

The U.S. Bicy­cle Route Sys­tem aims to match the con­nec­tiv­i­ty and length of the 46,876-mile U.S. High­way and Inter­state Sys­tem. With over 13,000 miles of this nation­al bike route net­work estab­lished and num­bered, a new way of con­sid­er­ing long-dis­tance trav­el is already well under works. With a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort between fed­er­al agen­cies, state’s depart­ments of trans­porta­tion, and a back­bone of sup­port by the non­prof­it Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion (ACA), offi­cial U.S. Bicy­cle Routes are signed and num­bered with fed­er­al des­ig­na­tion and estab­lished along exist­ing road­ways and bicy­cle paths.

Lau­ra Craw­ford | © The Path Less Pedaled

The process is quite dynam­ic to con­nect the puz­zle pieces to build the U.S. Bicy­cle Route Sys­tem. Thank­ful­ly, Lau­ra Craw­ford, the U.S. Bicy­cle Route Sys­tem Coor­di­na­tor at the Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion, is hap­py to walk any­one through the process. Speak­ing from the Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion head­quar­ters in Mis­soula, Mon­tana, Craw­ford told The Clymb where the con­cept of the U.S. Bicy­cle Route Sys­tem (USBRS) start­ed, where it’s at now and where it will take bicy­clists in the future.

The Clymb: How long has the idea of a coun­try-span­ning bike route been around? 

Lau­ra Craw­ford: The first routes were des­ig­nat­ed in 1982 as U.S. Bicy­cle Route 1 in Vir­ginia and North Car­oli­na and U.S. bicy­cle route 76, which was rough­ly the TransAmer­i­ca Trail that came out of the Bikec­Cen­ten­ni­al Ride*. In order to legal­ly sign on a road, it has to go through this whole fed­er­al trans­porta­tion process. This process was devel­oped in the late 70s and those first two routes were des­ig­nat­ed in 1982.

The Bike­cen­ten­ni­al Ride of 1976, uti­liz­ing the recent­ly estab­lished TransAmer­i­ca Trail, was a mas­sive cross-coun­try cycling event cel­e­brat­ing America’s bicen­ten­ni­al. The event and cor­re­spond­ing route spawned a new non­prof­it by the name of Bike­cen­ten­ni­al, bet­ter known 40 years lat­er as the Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion. The TransAmer­i­ca Trail still stands as a key­stone fea­ture of the Adven­ture Cycling Route Net­work.

1976 Bike­cen­ten­ni­al Ride | cour­tesy Adven­ture Cycling Association

The Clymb: The USBRS was shelved for near­ly 20 years after those first two routes were des­ig­nat­ed due to decreas­ing bicy­cling inter­est and lack of com­mu­ni­ty fund­ing, what caused the re-inter­est in build­ing a nation­al net­work of bike routes? What’s been the progress since then? 

Craw­ford: At the end of the 1990s, the Adven­ture Cycling then-exec­u­tive direc­tor said, “what would it look like if we gave Adven­ture Cycling’s routes to the world?” So, there was this con­ver­sa­tion that got start­ed and some­body men­tioned, “I think this exist­ed before.” There was a task force that was con­vened, and Adven­ture Cycling was part of that, to look at what was start­ed in the 70s and 80s and how would that be brought up to cur­rent times and cur­rent standards.

It took a lit­tle while to get all that re-word­ed and approved, and once it was approved and final­ized in 2008, it opened the door for the states to begin des­ig­nat­ing {bicy­cling routes}. we are cur­rent­ly at 13½—thousand miles right now and the vast major­i­ty of those have hap­pened since 2008. The bulk of the route net­work is with­in the last decade.

2018 USBRS Map—courtesy
Nation­al Cor­ri­dor Plan—courtesy Adven­ture Cycling Association 

The Clymb: With over 13,000 miles of the USBRS estab­lished, what’s Adven­ture Cycling Association’s pro­ject­ed progress for the entire 50,000-mile network? 

Craw­ford: Here at Adven­ture Cycling, we just passed a five-year strate­gic plan and part of that is look­ing at the U.S. Bicy­cle Route Sys­tem, and where we would like to see that move in the future. As an orga­ni­za­tion, we would like to hit rough­ly 25,000 miles of des­ig­nat­ed routes by 2023. It’s a bit of a stretch goal but I think it’s doable. USBRS goes through two des­ig­na­tion peri­ods every year, so there are two appli­ca­tion times when routes are offi­cial­ly brought on as part of the sys­tem. The next one will be in May and will be the next time we see new routes. I’m hope­ful that we will see a lot of new routes come Spring.

Rib­bon cut­ting for USBR 41 in Min­neso­ta | cour­tesy Adven­ture Cycling Association

The Clymb: The USBRS route out­lined by the Nation­al Cor­ri­dor Plan con­nects urban envi­ron­ments with rur­al sur­round­ings, giv­ing cyclist an easy path­way to escape the city. What ben­e­fits does Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion see for these rur­al areas? 

Craw­ford: A lot of com­mu­ni­ties are com­ing onboard behind this idea of bike tourism right now. It’s using bicy­cling as a rur­al eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment dri­ver, and a lot of com­mu­ni­ties are sup­port­ive of this idea. We see these routes as being an oppor­tu­ni­ty for com­mu­ni­ties that may not have oth­er means of draw­ing peo­ple in for what­ev­er rea­son to reach out to cyclist com­ing through. Tourism and out­door recre­ation are real­ly grow­ing as dri­vers of our U.S. econ­o­my, and that oppor­tu­ni­ty for small and rur­al places to plug into the tourism and out­door recre­ation economies is powerful.

The Clymb: If some­one is inter­est­ed in assist­ing the cre­ation of the U.S. Bicy­cle Route Sys­tem, how can some­one get involved with the process? 

Craw­ford: We do work with sev­er­al vol­un­teers and we need peo­ple who have the time, flex­i­bil­i­ty, inter­est and good per­sua­sion skills to talk to dif­fer­ent juris­dic­tions and get them on board. There are cer­tain­ly oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties beyond that, and if some­one is inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing a route and tying it into USBRS, (Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion) can walk them through the process. If there are peo­ple who know good trav­el routes, there’s always an oppor­tu­ni­ty if they want to take that route and bring it up the lad­der a lit­tle bit, we can help them make those connections.

Twin Bridges Bicy­cle Camp | cour­tesy Adven­ture Cycling Association

The Clymb: How about any­one inter­est­ed in rid­ing on the U.S. Bicy­cle Route System?

Craw­ford: The point of the U.S. Bicy­cle Route Sys­tem is to cre­ate pub­lic bike trav­el routes, so these are avail­able to the pub­lic. All the des­ig­nat­ed routes are all mapped on Ride with GPS and those maps are avail­able for free. Peo­ple can down­load those maps on our web­site and put them on their GPS unit. The idea very much is let’s take bike trav­el and let’s make it a fun­da­men­tal part of our U.S. trans­porta­tion sys­tem so that any­one can get out there and ride on a safe route.