Basic Bike/Walk Route Selection & Facility Design


Making bicycling and walking convenient, comfortable and fun ensures that active transportation is included in the daily routine in your community. 

Knowing that we can encourage or discourage bicyclists and walkers through route selection and facility design:

  • What are the tradeoffs?
  • What features do we include? 
  • What design elements do we actively work to avoid? 

The balance between effort and aesthetics is critical to encouragement and contributes to the notion that there can be just as much art as engineering involved in the development of a good bicycle or pedestrian facility.

Planning for human powered movement is context sensitive, so no one solution is appropriate at every location.  A good solution at one location can be unsafe or unappealing at another.

Transportation planners use a “design vehicle” approach.  The operational profile of walkers, cyclists and motorists reflect their mass and design speed along with their width and turning radius, etc. where:

  • The greater speed and mass of motorized road users conflict with walkers and cyclists (valnerable road users),
  • The greater potential speed of cyclists conflict with pedestrians, and
  • The ability of pedestrians to step to the right or left conflict passing cyclists.

Great facility design considers these design vehicles’ operational characteristics along with the anticipated volume of each, because a good design can be its own undoing as increased user volume dictates greater separation of modes.

Side Paths

A well designed path can provide connectivity giving a cyclist or walker access to the larger community.  These paths can allow cyclists and walkers to cut between subdivisions or across a park to avoid heavily traveled roads or simply shortcut the road and get to their destination more quickly.  But, bicycle and pedestrian experts know that side paths don’t work at every location.

This figure shows you what to look for in deciding if a path fits your needs.

Source: ODOT, Draft Chapter 7, w/permission

 A path along the river can be a great facility and nothing beats riding along a beautiful lake or down a historic rail corridor. 

But, a path with an identical cross section can be a hazard in a location where penetrations from driveways and streets bring crossing conflicts.  

The following figure shows you why a side path is not a good solution where driveways and cross streets will penetrate the path. 

Source: ODOT, Draft Chapter 7, w/permission

Since every driveway and cross street brings its own set of crossing conflicts, if you have several drives or cross streets, a side path is not your best solution.

But, before you give up on your side path take a look at options to consolidate or eliminate conflicts by combining drives or closing streets.  You may be able to reduce safety concerns at remaining drives or streets by providing more visibility, adding signage for motorists, cyclists and walkers and installing signals. 

But, don’t force a side path at a location where it is just not safe for users.  And, not to worry if that is the case at your location.  There are other tools that may provide a better solution.

Looking Beyond Segregated Facilities

Given the USDOT’s 2010 policy statement regarding Bike/Ped accommodation of cyclists and pedestrians, there is good reason for the roadway to be the first place to look when locating cycling facilities. 

Excerpt: “The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems.”



According to a study (posted on our website on the Resources page under tools) sharrows, or shared use lane markings, “can be used in a variety of situations, and increased use should enhance motorist awareness of bicyclists or the possibility of bicyclists in the traffic stream. Results indicate that sharrows increased operating space for bicyclists. Sharrows have reduced sidewalk riding not only in the current study but also in a previous study.”  Source: FHWA HRT-10-44


At locations where traffic counts and speeds are low, sharrows can be combined with signage and other traffic calming tools to create a bicycle boulevard.  

Bicycle Boulevards

Bicycle boulevards generally accommodate cycles and pedestrians on low volume streets that may parallel a higher volume arterial. 

Source: City of Tucson, w/permission

If your bicycle boulevard does not included discontiguous roadway segments that can act as “natural” traffic diverters, you may need to control “cut through” auto traffic and reduce auto speeds by employing traffic calming elements.


Traffic diverters can be installed at intersections to allow through travel for cyclists while forcing auto traffic to turn.  Other solutions include installing speed tables at pedestrian crossings to slow motorized traffic.  


Source: Burden

Playing on the difference in their respective mass, speed tables slow heavier auto and truck traffic, but allow normal operation of much lighter bicycles.

The beauty of these facilities is that they work best where they are interrupted so that motorized traffic is discouraged. This one requirement makes bicycle boulevards the perfect facility to link with paths and trails that offer connectivity between subdivisions or across parks. 

Using a bicycle boulevard within the neighborhood and trails and paths between neighborhoods, results in a route that accommodates all ability levels without the expense of creating an entirely segregated facility.   

Links to more bicycle boulevard resources: 

On the Road Again

Of course, there is no reason to assume that special accommodation is necessary on most routes.  An adequate shoulder and a travel lane are more than enough in many, if not most, situations. 

Even where a dedicated facility is selected, it may be included in the overall roadway design as a lane for bicycles.

Source: ODOT, Draft Chapter 1, w/permission

Above, note the treatments in designing this bike lane.  Each design solution brings its own set of contextual considerations. 

Where on street parking is allowed, bike lanes must be located beyond the “door zone” which is the area adjacent to a parked vehicle where an opening car door would interfere with cyclist operation.  This can become an issue where the wider roadway cross-section raises issues for pedestrians. 

As with any roadway or path, crossing conflicts can be an issue at intersections and driveways.  As with side paths, these conflicts can be reduced or eliminated through use of access management techniques which can also improve traffic flow.  Below, the installation of a barrier median and consolidation of driveways dramatically reduced crossing conflicts making this block safer for ALL users.

Source: ODOT, Draft Intro, w/permission 

To avoid a “right hook” from right turning traffic in the right travel lane, bike lanes must allow right turning motorized traffic to safely move right.   

Source: ODOT, Draft Chapter 6, w/permission

Of course, bicyclists should always travel in the rightmost lane that takes them in the direction of their travel, so this arrangement would also allow a cyclist to move to the right with the auto traffic if they are planning a right turn at this intersection. 

Bike boxes are a solution that is popular in communities where cycling is well established, but this design violates the notion of equality of modes and creates significant crossing conflicts with right turning motorized traffic in communities that permit “right turn on red after stop.”  

As you consider the placement of bike lanes, it is worth noting that, the loss of street side parking for merchants and residents can feed political opposition where auto parking is in short supply. 

These concerns can be addressed through careful attention to detail and public participation to explain benefits and costs. 

Below, is a raised lane that is intended to discourage auto encroachment.  This design could be less expensive where through traffic, in the form of 80,000 lb trucks, would not be a design consideration and the bike lane could be built to a less expensive standard. 

Source: ODOT, Draft Chapter 1, w/permission

As with the other solutions, this design is not the only answer, but it can be just what you need at a specific location. 

Links to More Resources:

From AASHTO: The AASHTO Facility Design Guide is the best first source of Facility Design. If a design is included in the AASHTO Guide you know it has been tested and found to be reliable.  These designs have been vetted by experts and voted on by State DOTs nationwide. 

From Portland: Here is a great Article from Portland describing their exciting greenways initiative.  Follow the link to read more and see if you don’t agree that these facilities are just what many of us need where we live to ensure access and mobility for cycling and walking:  New Neighborhood Greenways: ‘Bicycle Boulevards on Steroids’

From NACTO:This glossy resource is best viewed as a source of possible solutions at a problem location that is not well served by any of the approved AASHTO designs. It just keeps getting better: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

Given the truly urban setting, the NACTO Guide’s examples may be the best that these communities can do at these locations, but new designers beware.  NACTO includes the following language on page one of the Guide:

“The designs in this document were developed by cities for cities, since unique urban streets require innovative solutions. Most of these treatments are not directly referenced in the current version of the AASHTO Guide to Bikeway Facilities, although they are virtually all (with two exceptions) permitted under the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).”  

So, start with the AASHTO Guide and if you don’t see what you need take a close look at the NACTO guide. Used together, these resources are invaluable.

Streets that accommodate all road users-walkers, cyclist and motorists


Complete streets (streets that accommodate all road users-walkers, cyclist and motorists) can be an economic engine for neighborhoods providing spaces for walking, cycling and lingering that add to the attractiveness of local shops, restaurants and housing.  See page devoted to “the economics of active transportation.

Beyond the obvious aesthetic and economic benefit of creating active, healthy, livable streets; important safety benefits accrue to all road users under a Complete Streets Model.  You do not have to take my word for it, here is what the Federal Highways Administration had to say on January 12, 2012, in its: Guidance Memorandum on Promoting the Implementation of Proven Safety Countermeasures

“We are highly confident that certain processes, infrastructure design techniques, and highway features are effective and their use should be encouraged.”

The FHWA memo recommends use of Proven Safety Countermeasures for urban and suburban locations; including:

Proven Safety Countermeasures are known to reduce the number and severity of crashes under specific conditions.  Matching the countermeasure with the crash type can be as much an art as a science, but Crash Modification factors can predict an outcome based upon experience at other locations.  Resources for Countermeasure Selection are available for Pedestrian Crashes and Bicycle Crashes.

Complete Streets accommodate public use; including transportation.  Walking, cycling, resting, and refreshing are all part of the mix of activities that must be accommodated, along with cars.

The “street” includes the space from the store fronts on one side of the travel way to the store fronts on the other.  A complete planning process considers all of the elements that influence the experience of road users in this public space.

The National Complete Streets Coalition and the Congress for the New Urbanism are both thought leaders in the field of traffic calming and complete streets.

Each create a road map to make a community’s streets complete.

CNU’s focus on networks recognizes the value of trip reduction through integrated land use and transportation planning.

Streets are Public Places

The Project for Public Spaces focuses on streets as public spaces and promotes Placemaking as a form of urban renewal. PPS maintains a working alliance with the National Center for Bicycling & Walking.

Context-Sensitive Solutions (CSS)

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), administered by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies has issued Going the Distance Together: A Citizen’s Guide to Context Sensitive Solutions for Better Transportation

Context-sensitive solutions (CSS), is a consensus-building process that invites you to become a full collaborator in all aspects of transportation planning, from national, state, and local policy to operations and maintenance; from broad community visioning to specific project construction.

CSS is based on the principle that if transportation professionals—policy-makers, planners, engineers, designers and operators—and citizen stakeholders collaborate, all parties will have less to criticize and more to applaud.