Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities: Policy

Bicycle and pedestrian facilities are vital components in a community's transportation infrastructure. Not only do they reduce traffic congestion and pollution by providing alternate means of vehicular travel, they also provide recreational opportunities which encourage healthy lifestyles and thus enhance the quality of life within a community.

"Bicycle facilities" can be located both within and outside of roadway right-of-ways. Within roadway rights-of-way, they are either bicycle lanes or cycle tracks that provide dedicated space for bicyclists, or they are 'share the road' routes that typically include improved shoulders, signage, and sometimes pavement markings. Outside the roadway, bicycle facilities are commonly referred to as "trails" and are often part of "Shared Use" or "Multi-Use" facilities where cyclists share the facility with pedestrians and other non-motorized modes of travel such as equestrians, cross country skiers, rollerbladers, baby strollers, and those utilizing wheelchairs. Multi-Use facilities are mostly found within community parks or regional trails such as Chester County's Chester Valley and Struble Trails. "Pedestrian facilities" refers to walkways, sidewalks, paths, and trails that are to be exclusively used by pedestrians.

In coordination with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities: Design tool that describes the physical attributes and design-related factors to be considered when constructing such facilities, this 'Policy' tool will help communities define bicycle and pedestrian facilities in ordinances, identify where they may be located through the creation of a bicycle/pedestrian network plan, and suggest various planning tools that may be used for prioritization and implementation.


Bicycle and pedestrian facilities can provide the following benefits:


The following limitations may be associated with bicycle and pedestrian facilities:

How to Use This Tool

Bicycle and pedestrian transportation planning is more than creating segregated paths or lanes; it is an effort that should consider many alternatives to provide for safe and efficient non-motorized travel. Separate paths and lanes can augment the existing system in scenic corridors or places where access is limited, but existing corridors that often need only relatively inexpensive improvements must serve as the basic system to provide for the travel needs of pedestrians and cyclists. These types of improvements and facilities are discussed in this section.

Facility Types

The following is a brief outline of the facility types described in further detail within the Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities: Design eTool.

Establish the Need for Facilities

Differences in the abilities and purposes of pedestrians and cyclists must be understood before planning for transportation improvements. Whether the individual is walking or cycling, his or her purpose can generally be divided into utilitarian or recreational categories. The utilitarian pedestrian or cyclist has a specific goal of reaching a destination in the shortest amount of time with as few interruptions as possible. The recreational pedestrian or cyclist either enjoys the view at a relaxed pace or with a faster-paced, aerobic workout with an occasional rest stop. New pedestrian and bicycle facilities, therefore, should be designed to accommodate the needs of the anticipated mix of users.

Develop a Community Bicycle and Pedestrian Network Plan

Establishing a vision of how walking and bicycling fits into the overall transportation system of a municipality or region is important in developing a safe, efficient, and enjoyable walking and cycling network. The network should be composed of pedestrian and bicycle routes including motor vehicle roads with little traffic such as residential and access streets. Trips connected with school, shopping, work, errands, outdoor recreation, and leisure should be possible by foot or by bicycle throughout the network.

The following steps describe the planning process that a municipality should follow to develop and establish a pedestrian and bicycle network as part of the transportation component of its comprehensive plan:

  1. Inventory the System: The existing roadway system, in addition to any existing pedestrian or bicycle facilities, should be evaluated according to the condition, location, and levels of use to determine if they warrant incorporation into the network. The inventory should identify improvements necessary to update the entire proposed network and include factors such as peak-hour traffic counts, the number of traffic lanes, bus routes, outside lane width, average operating speed, pavement conditions, accident data, right-of-way widths, major barriers, parking, frequency of traffic signals, and geometric features such as the frequency of driveways, railroad crossings, and significant grade changes. The results of this inventory will help establish which existing or new roads will be sufficient to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle facilities and to identify hazardous roadway conditions such as poor surface conditions, dangerous intersections, railroad crossings, utility covers, unimproved intersecting streets, drainage grates, bridge-related hazards, construction sites, or unresponsive traffic signals.
  2. Identify Pedestrian and Bicycle Travel Corridors: The actual travel patterns of pedestrians and bicyclists are directly influenced by their perception of the surrounding environment. An uncomfortable or threatening condition such as a dangerous intersection will cause walking pedestrians alter their route, choose a different travel mode, or not make the trip at all if they have a choice. Bicyclists can have similar responses to poor road surfaces or other dangerous conditions. The transportation planner must then establish where the pedestrians and bicyclists are traveling now and where they would travel if they were given the choice or opportunity. Peak trips to various locations, and the identity and frequency of visits to those locations, must be investigated to establish existing pedestrian or bicycle traffic movement.
  3. Evaluate and Select Specific Routes: The next step is to select specific routes within the corridors (as established in Step 2) that can be designed or adapted to accommodate all pedestrian and bicycle traffic and provide access to and from the locations (also established in Step 2). In addition, it should be determined which routes may or may not be appropriate for use as a bicycle route, a pedestrian route, or a combination. This step should involve the input of community residents to identify and select primary and alternate routes. The reality of adapting a particular route to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians may vary widely depending upon the type of facility design treatment selected in Step 5. For example, a less direct route may become the primary option if comparatively few, inexpensive, and easily implemented improvements are required. The selection of a primary or alternative route is a function of several factors, including, but not limited to:
    • Whether the specific route meets the needs and expectations of the anticipated users;
    • Whether the route alternative meets the criteria discussed in Step 1;
    • The possible cost and extent of necessary improvements; and,
    • The opportunity to implement improvements in conjunction with planned road improvements.
  4. Design Treatments: The bicycle is distinct from other modes of transportation by being the smallest and lightest vehicle. To ensure the safety and comfort of bicyclists, the size of the vehicle must be taken into account, along with the amount of lateral and vertical clearance needed by a moving cyclist when designing such facilities.

    Vertical height needed to accommodate cyclists is about 8 feet. All design features which a cyclist will pass under should be set above this height, including signage, underpasses, etc. The width of bicycle tires (0.75-2.50 inches) and their minimum contact width (0.5 inch) should be considered as leaves, sand, grit, or other road debris can compromise traction and increase braking distance. The average cyclist, under most circumstances (flat terrain, windless) can maintain a cruising speed of more than 12 mph, while trained cyclists can maintain speeds in excess of 18 mph. Average speed can affect size and frequency of necessary signage, grade and surface treatment of hazardous trail condition, such as railroad crossings, sharp turns and storm grates, and the width and number of lanes necessary to safely accommodate projected traffic and allow passing of slower uses such as walkers and joggers by faster uses.

    Bicyclists are sometimes difficult to see in traffic, especially in the dark or in the rain. Planners should take this into consideration when planning and designing lighting, striping, and other safety and boundary issues. Also, an effort should be made by engineers and designers to provide better visibility for motorists and to take typical bicycle and rider dimensions into account.
  5. Select Facility Options: The selection of appropriate facilities depends greatly on several factors including the cycling dimensions discussed in Step 4, the type of roadway project involved on the selected route (which would minimize the amount of construction needed to implement necessary improvements), and traffic operation factors. Application of the following vehicle operation factors must be carefully studied, including: traffic volume, average motor vehicle speeds, traffic mix, presence and type of vehicle parking, sight distance conditions, number and types of ingress and egress points, turning movements, frequency of signals, bus stops, road functional classification, available space, local maintenance and climatic conditions, and bicycle parking security.

    The factors listed above must be carefully studied and taken into consideration when choosing the appropriate facility options. This creates a very large selection of facility options that vary greatly according to local, state, and federal regulations and roadway and climatic conditions in certain communities and regions. Several agencies and institutions have published manuals that discuss the process and designate specific design requirements and details for pedestrian and bicycle facilities. The names of such manuals from this region and around the country are included in the references portion of this eTool.

Issues to Consider

Safe and Convenient Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities

Safe, convenient, and adequate facilities are essential to encourage walking or bicycle riding. The selection of a walking or cycling facility depends on several factors, including existing vehicular and pedestrian traffic characteristics, adjacent land use, and expected growth patterns. Because most roads in Chester County were not designed to accommodate non-motorized traffic, the majority of walking and cycling will take place on ordinary roads with no dedicated space for pedestrians.

In addition to the need for safe walking and cycling facilities, the cycling community requires safe and secure bike storage facilities and, in some cases, an area in which to clean up after a commute. The cost of cycling and safety equipment, especially high-end equipment often used by commuters, can easily equal or surpass the cost of a used automobile. Therefore, even though appropriate bicycle commuting routes may be available, a cyclist may choose not to commute by bicycle if they do not have a secure place to leave their bike while visiting a location such as work, school, shopping, etc.

There is an array of available bicycle storage facilities, ranging from expensive high-security bicycle lockers to light and medium security bicycle racks. Where cyclists are leaving their bicycles unattended for long periods of time (such as at a train station or shopping mall), enclosed lockers are preferred.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety (handling and following the rules of the road)

Bicyclists have a wide range of abilities. Some are advanced; these bicyclists ride frequently, are in relatively good physical condition, and may have special training (this is typical of the potential bicycle commuter). Other inexperienced cyclists may not ride their bicycles often enough to feel comfortable in traffic, or perhaps do not have strong physical capabilities. The most vulnerable group are child cyclists who do not always understand traffic rules, are unable to gauge the speed of moving vehicles, and are often not as coordinated as adults.

Municipal officials and pedestrian and bicycle facility designers need to understand the range of abilities among cyclists in order to better choose facility types and designs. It may be necessary for a municipality to supply potential facility users with educational opportunities to provide them with necessary traffic safety and bicycle handling knowledge and skills.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Facility Use Encouragement

Encouragement of the use of walking and cycling should giude the design of all pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Facility design should provide a safe, efficient, and pleasant experience that is inviting to pedestrians because increasing the use of such facilities is closely linked to a resident's perception of the experience.

A recent study for the Federal Highway Administration's National Bicycling and Walking Study reveals that the presence of on-road bicycle facilities is a major factor in a person's choice to commute by walking or bicycling. The FHWA publication entitled Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles further describes the importance of designating bicycle facilities, particularly to encourage the 95 percent of cyclists who fall into the basic and child cyclist category: "Signs and pavement markings for bicycles will encourage increased use. In addition to the obvious traffic operations benefits, signs and pavement markings have the effect of advertising bicycle use."

Planning Tools

The following are means by which municipalities can make provisions for bicycle and pedestrian improvements within their ordinances. These planning tools can provide the framework for establishing and implementing bicycle and pedestrian facilities recommended by a network plan. Even if these facility types are not delineated by a network plan, the inclusion of one or more of these tools within an ordinance will ensure that bicycle and pedestrian facilities are considered as the municipality grows.

Ordinance Definitions

Municipalities should amend their zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances to include definitions for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and clarify these terms across municipal borders. It may be necessary to address inconsistencies with definitions for terms such as "walkway" and "accessway," which are included in some municipal ordinances but are not defined. It may also be necessary to delete conflicting definitions and replace wording as appropriate throughout all municipal ordinances. The following definitions may be used as a starting point for inclusion in zoning and/or subdivision and land development ordinances:

Official Map and Ordinance

All municipalities should adopt or amend their official map and ordinance to identify a bicycle/pedestrian network and prioritize the areas that are most in need of connection, as may be identified in a bicycle and/or pedestrian network plan. The Official Map is typically used as a negotiating tool to inform developers of intended future facilities that the municipality intends to implement when development occurs.

Traffic Impact Study

Municipalities should consider adopting a Traffic Impact Study (TIS). Potentially, a TIS could be required for all developments with different scales of TIS depending on the size or impact of the development. Each municipality will need to evaluate the criteria for when a TIS may be required.

A TIS may be required through either the zoning or subdivision and land development ordinance based on a minimum number of units, a pre-determined density, or a particular use or uses or developments that may have a significant traffic generation or impact. Municipalities should also ensure that Traffic Impact Studies include an evaluation of bicycle/pedestrian/transit needs and appropriate requirements.

Development Process

It is common for municipal officials to place conditions on the approval of subdivision and land development applications. Through negotiation, a municipality can request the installation of bicycle and pedestrian facilities. The Official Map, ordinance requirements, and other planning elements such as a Comprehensive Plan and/or other adopted plans such as a Bike/Ped Mobility Plan or Greenways Plan will identify the need for these facilities so that developers are aware that the municipality will require or would like to implement these facilities when land development applications are made.

Bicycle Parking

There are a number of ways to incorporate bicycle parking into ordinances. Ordinances can require a certain amount of parking spaces be dedicated to bicycle parking though the installation of bike racks. Ordinance standards can also require or encourage the installation of bike racks near the entrance to a business or use on a public sidewalk where appropriate accommodations can be made. This can be accomplished through off-street parking requirements, streetscape requirements, or incentives.


Related References

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