Best planning and implementation toolbox


Purpose of Tool:
To improve the environment for bicyclists and encourage bicycle usage, many communities are developing bikeway networks, a combination of on- and off-road routes that are specifically designated for bicycle travel. Designation of a route as a bikeway implies a road or path has “bicycle friendly” features, such as enough room to safely accommodate drivers and bicyclists traveling at different speeds, easy-to-navigate intersections, a comfortable level and speed of vehicles, and direct, bicycle-friendly routes to a variety of desired destinations. Communities can publish bicycle suitability maps to help cyclists find the streets or paths that are more hospitable than others, particularly for longer trips. Planners can use the maps to develop and coordinate bicycle system improvements in concert with road projects1.

Benefits of Using Tool:
The development of a bicycle suitability map requires the availability of data on the location, length, and width of bicycle paths and on-street routes, the steepness of the paths (grades), the number of driveways and cross-streets, the levels of truck traffic, vehicular traffic speeds, the presence of traffic control devices, such as stop signs, stop lights, etc. When this information is available and bike suitability maps can be developed, some of their benefits include:

  • A concise summary of overall corridor conditions.
  • A tool to give both cyclists and planners a way to evaluate various routes to determine which is optimal for cycling.

  • Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    A bicycle suitability map identifies the location of on-road bicycle facilities (including bike lanes and paths adjacent to a roadway), off-road bicycle paths, transit stations, bus routes, major origin and destination points (such as schools, parks and libraries), and specific points of interest, such as historic landmarks and town centers2.

    The map identifies the most direct route between two locations, as well as an alternative route (when available) which is more suitable for bicycling, but not necessarily the shortest route. The routes are rated by level of difficulty: green is typically used to indicate the best riding conditions, orange for medium cycling conditions, and red for difficult riding conditions. Roads that fall very low on the rating scale are identified as routes in which extreme caution should be taken. In determining each of these ratings, the following criteria are considered3:

    The score of each suitability factor on a route (0, 2 or 4) is added together and divided by five. The following table defines how final scores are rated for difficulty. Roads that score less than one (1) are identified as very difficult for cycling, and those routes may be listed separately to aid bicyclists.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    The factors that influence a cyclist’s comfort and perception of safety include the physical condition of pavement, the rate at which cars leave parking spaces, the number and speed of vehicles using the adjacent roadway, the number of vehicles passing through an intersection, the number of pedestrians, and the number of curb cuts4.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    Technical assistance from planners and/or engineers is recommended for the development of a bicycle suitability map due to the nature of the data and information that must be analyzed. This type of technical support may be available through city, county, regional, State Department of Transportation, or private-non-profit sources.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    Communities and agencies that have successfully used this tool include:

    City of Atlanta and Surrounding Counties
    Atlanta Regional Commission

    Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan
    Chicago Department of Transportation

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    The measurable benefits of a bicycle suitability map are not available; however, some communities, such as the North Carolina Outer Banks area5 have concluded that:

  • The bicycling activity in the North Carolina Outer Banks provides substantial economic benefits to the area - an estimated $60 million annually.
  • The bicycle facilities in the area are an important factor for many tourists in deciding to visit the region, and
  • Investment in bicycle facilities improves the safety of the transportation system for all users and also benefits health, quality of life, and the environment.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
    See the following sources for more information on bicycle suitability maps and bicycling:

  • “Pathways to Prosperity - The Economic Impact of Investment in Bicycle Facilities: A Case Study of North Carolina Northern Outer Banks”, North Carolina Department of Transportation, Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation
  • Atlanta Regional Commission, Bicycle Suitability Maps - Atlanta Region and City of Atlanta, GA
  • Broward County, Florida - Bicycle Suitability Map
  • Case Study Compendium - Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, January, 2009


    1 The Road Network is the Bicycle Network: Bicycle Suitability Measures for Roadways and Sidepaths, By Ed Barsotti, Executive Director, League of Illinois Bicyclists; Gin Kilgore, Transportation Planner, Chicago Area Transportation Study.
    2 ARC Bicycle Suitability Maps (Atlanta Region and City of Atlanta)
    3 ARC Bicycle Suitability Maps (Atlanta Region and City of Atlanta)
    4 The Road Network is the Bicycle Network:  Bicycle Suitability Measures for Roadways and Sidepaths, By Ed Barsotti, Executive Director, League of Illinois Bicyclists; Gin Kilgore, Transportation Planner, Chicago Area Transportation Study.