There are a growing number of routes for those hardy souls who love the thought of biking from state to state, or even shore to shore. At the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit in Crystal City, Virginia, a group of nonprofit leaders described how street bicycle infrastructure forms into neighborhood and urban networks, then state and regional ones, and finally, an ever-growing national network.
Neighborhood and urban networks are for joy riders and bike commuters. The state and regional networks are for more hardcore “adventure cyclists” who are up for or multi-day or multi-week trips. Many entities, including local and national non-profits and state and federal governments, create the plans and make the investments needed for these networks to connect and cohere.
According to Sarah Clark Stuart with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, government funds can kick start wider projects. A U.S. department of Transportation TIGER grant of $23 million to the city of Philadelphia to create a regional bicycle network helped spur an additional $300 million in investment from states and foundations. There are now some 334 miles of greater Philadelphia bicycle infrastructure, with 25 miles in progress (see image above). “This demonstrates the real power of leverage.” And the growing 750-mile regional circuit network can now feed better into national networks.
“Imagine an epic journey — biking from Washington, D.C. to Washington State through local trails,” mused Kevin Mills, senior vice president with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. “Approximately half of that network now exists,” and it’s called the Great American Rail Trail. Rails-to-Trails selected gateway trails in the 13 states that make up the 3,000-mile cross-country trail, including some of the most scenic and beautiful like the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park Trail in the Washington, D.C. area; the Cardinal Greenway in Indiana; and the Casper Rail Trail in Wyoming. The group is now working on a more detailed set of recommendations to improve the connectivity along this TransAmerica Trail.
Ambitious coastal trails are in the works, too. Dennis Markatos-Soriano, executive director of the East Coast Greenway, said his organization seeks to realize a vision of a 3,000-mile route through 15 states, from Maine to Key West, Florida. Since 1991, about 1,000 miles have been built in partnership with states and mayors. About $2 billion is needed to complete the remaining 2,000 miles. “We’ll need about $160 million a year in investment though 2030.” When complete, the East Coast Greenway will touch some 450 communities, and about 25 million people will live within 5 miles of the route.
The greater goal is for all of these cross-country and coastal routes to coalesce into a U.S. Bicycle Route System, said Ginny Sullivan, director of travel initiatives at the Adventure Cycling Association, which was an early shepherd of the expanding national network and continues to develop it. A task force at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) officially proposes routes for the system, which state departments of transportation then approve. Sullivan said the network leverages infrastructure that has already been built, connecting neighboring states. So far, some 13,000 miles in 25 states and Washington, D.C. have been designated as part of the system; the eventual goal is 50,000 miles.