Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning 101

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?

Historically, roads have been designed to get vehicles from point A to point B as quickly as possible, without a lot of regard for other road users like cyclists or pedestrians. You might ask why that is, and most often the response is “money.” Funding for transportation projects is scarce, and project sponsors are focused on improving roadways in such a vehicle-dependent society.

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. The plan also addresses roadways which are already satisfactory in their accommodation for bicycles and pedestrians, and nothing further is needed.

The process for developing a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan involves numerous stakeholders. A sponsor usually initiates a project, whether that is a municipality, MPO, or other entity. Sponsors may choose to 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. Steering committees are also great opportunities to gather input from members of the community, implementers of the plan, and users of the facilities. This committee reviews the plan and garners support within the community. Ultimately, the support and approval of the plan from those responsible for implementing it is critical for success.

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

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

A few general requirements apply in the world of bicycle and pedestrian planning. 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 or states have their own resource manuals.

One misconception of bicycle and pedestrian plans is that they always demand sidewalks and bike lanes on every roadway. 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 may even be accomplished with striping, paved shoulders, or minimal widening. In the evaluation stages of the study, it is important to think about places that generate bicycle and pedestrian travel and providing safe connections between these generators. This will lead to increased use of the facilities and higher levels of satisfaction with cycling and walking as a legitimate mode of transportation.

Another important aspect of transportation planning is thinking about future corridor development. If you are installing a new road or widening an existing roadway, thought should be given to whether the roadway segment might need such accommodations ten or fifteen 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 the roadway?

Sain Associates has served as the project manager on several bicycle and pedestrian plans. Sain is local to Alabama, very familiar with state requirements, and experienced with funding opportunities available at the federal, state, and local level.

Every locale is unique in its appetite for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, and one size does not fit all. Some communities desire to experiment with the newest bicycle and pedestrian innovations at every opportunity. Some would rather take the approach of dipping their toes in the proverbial bicycle and pedestrian pool. Both approaches can be right!

Wherever your community finds itself, Sain Associates is ready to leverage our knowledge of transportation planning, bicycle and pedestrian planning and design, roadway design, and traffic engineering to accomplish your goals.