Share the Road

Let's Make America Bicycle Friendly

Thursday, May 1, 1997

Share the Road

Let's Make America Bicycle Friendly

We all remember the thrill of riding our first bicycle as a child, and the new freedom it gave us. This year, more than 100 million Americans will go for a bicycle ride, and continue to enjoy the thrill as they pedal along with their families, commute to work on bicycles, or just ride around town. Each year, more Americans take to the road on bicycles than ever before. Ten million more Americans ride bicycles today than rode in 1991 -- a ten percent increase in just the past six years. Five million workers ride their bicycles to work -- and 20 million more say they would if there were adequate bicycle facilities available.

Much of this increase is due to the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), the landmark transportation law passed by Congress in 1991. In the 18 years before ISTEA was passed, a total of $40 million was spent on bicycle projects -- just over $2 million per year. Since ISTEA, the annual federal commitment to bicycles has increased one hundred fold. The Environmental Working Group's analysis of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) records reveals that since 1991, over one billion dollars have been spent in our communities to make bicycling more accessible and safer. Over 3,000 bicycle projects have been funded in all fifty states, and hundreds of miles of

bicycle lanes and trails have been built.

Thanks to ISTEA, the United Sates is on the verge of an explosion of bicycle ridership. A recent poll found that two out of three voters support the use of federal funds to build better bicycle facilities. Yet now, as Congress prepares to reauthorize ISTEA, this substantial progress is endangered.

Several proposals sponsored by powerful members of Congress could reduce or even eliminate ISTEA's dedicated funding for bicycle programs. As our study indicates, these proposals would halt the progress we have made towards making our communities more bicycle friendly, and prevent us from stopping hundreds of unnecessary bicycle fatalities each year.


We can have safer roads for bicycling -- if transportation planners and engineers, bicycle riders, and drivers accept appropriate responsibilities for making communities safer. The Bicycle Federation of America has developed a four point plan to make our communities bicycle friendly -- four points aimed at making roads better and drivers and bicyclists smarter.

  • Good roads. Streets and highways are designed and built to accommodate all users -- bicycle riders, pedestrians, and motor vehicles. Bicycle lanes are provided on many streets. Traffic calming techniques are used to ensure that motor vehicles operate at the appropriate speed.
  • More trails. Multi-use trails are developed on rights-of-way, and have few, if any, at grade crossing of streets. Abandoned railroad rights-of-way are used extensively to provide good trails. Children and casual adult riders have good places to develop riding skills and to ride together socially.
  • Better drivers Motor vehicle operators act responsibly and with due care and respect for other users of the streets and highways. Speeding, running red lights, and other forms of aggressive driving are minimal. Traffic laws are routinely enforced and our courts hold drivers strictly accountable for the consequences of their actions.
  • Better bicyclists. Bicyclists understand how to operate on streets and in traffic as vehicles (bicycles are defined as vehicles in all 50 states). They obey traffic laws and law enforcement activities are used to ensure compliance. Children get bicycle safety education and training in school. All bicyclists use appropriate safety gear.

Each of the elements of this four point plan can be addressed, in part, by improvements in ISTEA. ISTEA has provided vital support for bicycle use and bicycle safety and our findings indicate that improvements to the law can make our streets and highways better for bicyclists. To ensure that these goals are met, in the reauthorization of ISTEA Congress must:

  • Double the amount of money in ISTEA that is dedicated to bicycle facilities and projects.
  • Preserve and expand ISTEA's funding framework and planning provisions, especially for bicycles and pedestrians. Congress must reject proposals that would allow money from the "Enhancements" and "Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement" (CMAQ) programs (the largest source of money for bicycle use and bicycle safety) to be transferred to other programs.
  • Require that all highway, road, and transit projects include appropriate accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • Improve the transportation planning and implementation process to better accommodate bicycles, by ensuring that bicycle projects included in transportation plans are implemented at least at the same rate as improvements for other modes of transportation.
  • Ensure that bicyclists and pedestrians get a fair share of federal safety program dollars, and make ISTEA's safety programs responsive to the safety needs of non-motorized travelers. States should be required to allocate ISTEA safety funds to bicycle and pedestrian safety programs at a rate at least equal to the percentage of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in that state. Special emphasis should be given to funding bicycle safety education and training.
  • Collect more accurate and detailed data on bicycling and walking. There is no comprehensive information on bicycle miles traveled, as there is for motor vehicle miles traveled. More information is needed about how much and how often people ride their bicycles and how these factors vary within and among differing communities. The reauthorization of ISTEA presents an ideal opportunity to correct this information vacuum.

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