Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning

Posted by and on May 17, 2016

Pedestrian path symbols

Who doesn’t love to ride a bike or walk around their city? Have you ever thought about the planning that goes into making a street bicycle- or pedestrian-friendly?

Typically, roads are designed to get vehicles from point A to point B with not a lot of regard for bicycles and pedestrians. You might ask why that is, and most often the response is “money.” Funding for transportation projects is so limited and project sponsors are focused on improving roadways for vehicles, not so much for bicycles and pedestrians. However, if the project utilizes federal funds, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requires due consideration for accommodating bicycles and pedestrians. The project sponsor or the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is responsible for determining the bicycle and pedestrian accommodation or justifying why such accommodation is not needed. If a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan exists, the project sponsor will already know what accommodation to install and can plan for the funding of the project accordingly. On the flip side, the plan would also address whether the roadway is already satisfactory in its accommodation and nothing further is needed for bicycles and pedestrians.

The process for developing a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan involves numerous people. A sponsor usually initiates a project, whether that is a municipality, MPO, or other entity. Sponsors sometimes identify a steering committee or advisory committee, which could consist of different representatives of the project sponsor (such as engineers, public works planners and others); members of the community; implementers of the plan; and users of the facilities, such as bicycle groups. This committee reviews the plan and supports it in their community. As the ultimate users of the plan and those responsible for implementing it, their support and approval is critical for success.

Bicycle and pedestrian plans are typically divided into many tasks, including:

  • Gathering Public Input
  • Reviewing Existing Conditions
  • Developing Goals
  • Identifying Needs
  • Developing Recommendations, and
  • Writing the Report

A few overall requirements apply, and the resources we most often reference are the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) guides for pedestrian and bicycle facilities, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG), and the FHWA website. Many cities throughout the country have installed innovative accommodations, and many cities/states have their own resource manuals.

The notion that plans always demand sidewalks and bike lanes is not true. We often find roadways that provide acceptable accommodations in their current state with no need for improvement.  Sometimes only minor improvements are needed to raise the accommodation level to an acceptable standard.  Bicycle accommodations in particular vary greatly in that they may be accomplished with striping, paved shoulders or minimal widening.  In the evaluation it is important to think about places that generate bicycle and pedestrian travel and providing safe connections between these generators.

Another important aspect of transportation planning is thinking about future corridor development. If you are installing a new road or widening an existing roadway and the decision is made not to install accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians, thought should be given to whether the roadway segment might need such accommodations 10 or 15 years from now.

Items to consider may be:

  • Shoulder widths – Can the shoulder accommodate a future sidewalk?
  • Right-of-way widths – Is there enough right-of-way to accommodate future bike lanes or sidewalks?
  • Paved shoulders or wide lanes – Is there sufficient width to accommodate minimal widening in the future, or could we re-stripe the lanes to accommodate bicycles?
  • Intersections – Are ramps needed for sidewalk connections?
  • Traffic signals – Can pedestrian features be installed easily on the existing signal? Is the signal system timed appropriately for a pedestrian phase?
  • Future permit requirements – What will be required by future developers to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles and how does this affect my roadway?

Sain Associates has served as the overall project manager on several bicycle and pedestrian plans. We typically have teamed with Sprinkle Consulting, a pioneer throughout the country in planning and implementing bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. Sain is local and very familiar with the requirements in Alabama, while Sprinkle brings a national knowledge and familiarity with what other cities/states are doing for accommodations. Between the two teams there is a vast knowledge of transportation planning, bicycle and pedestrian planning and design, roadway design and traffic engineering.

Leave a Reply