The Rebirth of an Interstate Bike System

Route 76 by redfalo via Flickr
If you’ve ever biked on a highway, the sound of an approaching truck can be absolutely terrifying. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a separate bike path? For bikers in Maine, New Hampshire, Alaska, and Michigan, that wish may soon be a reality. For the first time in 30 years, the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved plans to add six new bike routes to—tripling the number of paths in its U.S. Bike Routes System (USBRS).

The USBRS was created in 1982 and aims to create an interstate system of bike paths. As of today, there are only two routes: Route 1 from Virginia to Kentucky and Route 76 from Virginia to Illinois. Of the six new paths approved by the AASHTO, one connects Maine and New Hampshire, four are located in Alaska, and one in lower Michigan. USBRS operates on a state-by-state basis, supported by state governments, volunteers, and advocacy groups such as Adventure Cycling, which raised $31,000 and received a $5,000 grant from AASHTO to technically advise the paths’ construction.

Now is a prime time for these path additions for the booming bike industry, with more than 50 million bikers in the U.S. and bike sales topping $6 billion in sales in 2010. In Portland, Oregon alone, the bike economy is worth $90 million and employs more than 1,000 people, according to a study done by the organization Alta Planning and Design. And developing bike infrastructure also creates nearly a dozen jobs per $1 million spent in comparison to fewer than eight jobs for road only projects, such as highways, a University of Massachusetts study found. Plus, bike paths can also help raise home values: In North Carolina, forty homes near the Shepherd’s Vineyard Bikeway tacked on $5,000. In Boulder, Colorado, homes near a greenbelt, a preserved area of land, were priced 32 percent higher, according to a study prepared for the Delaware Department of Transportation.

The U.S. still lags behind other countries in terms of bike use and infrastructure. Only 1 percent of all trips in America are by bike. The Netherlands, by contrast, boasts 27 percent bike ridership. Considering rising gas prices, not to mention the health and environmental benefits of biking, an interstate bike route will surely help us pedal in the right direction.

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