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U.S. Bike Route System

January 27, 2010

Over the past decade, I have done a fair number multi-day and overnight bike trips.  I do occasionally stray from my intended course, but thanks to North Carolina’s policy of matter-of-fact road naming, I generally have a rough idea of where I am and where I’m headed.  For example, if you’re on Staley-Snow Camp Road, it’s fairly safe to assume that you’re somewhere between Staley and Snow Camp.

Unfortunately, not all states have such easily decipherable road-naming systems.  I have spent countless hours and miles pedaling along the by-ways of several states wondering if my intended turn-off was the last one or the next one, and wishing that there were some indication that I might be on the path to somewhere.

If you’ve traveled extensively by car, it’s easy to take for granted the frequent roadside updates about when and where to expect what towns and services.  What if there were a parallel system of signage for bicyclists?

Well, there is.  It’s just small.

The state of North Carolina has a series of numbered routes with little signs all over the place, but they don’t communicate much information about origination or destination.  Assuming none of the signs have fallen off or been removed, it is at least possible to know that you could be on a bike route to somewhere.

Fortunately, there are free maps available from the NCDOT.  The maps are given titles and arranged by letters while the routes are signed with numbers.  Unfortunately, the letters don’t correspond very well to the numbers, which means a fair bit of research and planning is still necessary before riding off on an adventure.  In my experience, the time spent figuring out our primitive state bike route system is richly rewarded by long, beautiful rides through remote countryside that most travelers rarely see.

At the end of February I’ll be exploring a stretch of the interstate bike route system as I ride from Raleigh, NC to Richmond, VA on my way to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show.  Surprisingly, the interstate system is even smaller than our state system, there are currently only two signed interstate routes: USBR 1 and USBR 76, but there are hopeful signs that there will be more in the near future.

Planning and funding for the system takes place on the notoriously sluggish federal level, but since 2004 there’s been some marked bureaucratic progress in designating right of ways for a national system and illuminating avenues for how states can get funding for promoting these routes.  We’ve still got a long way to go before we have a fully functional system, but I’m looking forward to making use of what we’ve got and daydreaming about what’s to come.

More info about the national system is available here.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Neil Anderson permalink
    January 28, 2010 12:58 am

    This is interesting, but where is that picture of Andy??

  2. January 30, 2010 3:28 pm

    I wish NCDOT would make these maps available as .pdfs…

    • January 30, 2010 3:30 pm


      Let’s email them and suggest that. I imagine they’re already in .pdf format somehwere, they’ve just got to post them.

      • Matt permalink
        February 3, 2010 7:07 pm

        Good call. Email sent.

  3. February 5, 2010 6:18 pm

    I was just about to post a comment–but was beaten to the punch–saying that NCDOT should make the maps downloadable. This is the 90s after all.

  4. May 18, 2010 9:09 pm

    I also emailed Tom Norman at NCDOT to ask for PDFs and got a polite but non-commital reply. It’s also unreal that it takes 3-4 weeks to get the paper versions mailed..

    Me and a buddy also rode to NHMBS. Here’s my buddy’s writeup:

    We left the Capitol in Raleigh Friday 7:00p and rode nonstop to the Virginia state Capitol, arriving Saturday 11:00a. Not very fast but it was a beautiful ride.

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