Thursday, July 05, 2012

New Transportation Bill Will Ban Bicycles On Some National Park Roads

Last week we gave a quick overview of the new Transportation Bill. To add insult to injury, a little-known line item will ban the use of bicycles on roads that are adjacent to paved paths on Federal Lands. See below:
(d) BICYCLE SAFETY.—The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road unless the Secretary determines that the bicycle level of service on that roadway is rated B or higher.
How this provision got into the bill is a poorly kept secret. Rock Creek Parkway in Washington DC is one of those "park roads" that has evolved into a commuter highway (sound familiar?). Some Congressional staff members wanted to fix the "problem" of bikes in the roadway by forcing cyclists onto a narrow and poorly-maintained adjacent path. The America Bikes Coalition took several steps to try to rescind this provision but in the end the people writing the law simply got their way.
Congress knows best - Bikes will soon be relegated to the bridge
sidewalk on the right on Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park

Fortunately, locally we can only find two locations where this bike ban might be put in effect: roads adjacent to a network of paths on the Mcguire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base in New Jersey, and in Valley Forge National Historic Park. The former is not accessible to members of the general public but the base-dependent towns of Wrightstown and Pemberton have the highest bike commute mode shares in Burlington County. Valley Forge is of concern for many bicyclists who find the park's scenic but narrow paths to be woefully inadequate, especially on crowded summer weekends.

We won't know for sure until the Federal Highway Administration issues its guidance on the new transportation bill (MAP-21) but our preliminary analysis of the ban shows that it will not affect Valley Forge. Route 23 is a state road and should not be affected, while the speed limit on local park roads such as Outer Line Drive is only 25 mph.

Some cycling advocates fear that the Federal lands sidepath ban could be an opening for state and local governments who believe that bicycles are not legitimate road users. We are not too concerned for our region because we have so few sidepaths. 
Philadelphia already has a similar law on the books that we are working on repealing. In the meantime, we will help to expose the absurdity of this onerous and unnecessary regulation to make sure that it is either repealed or eliminated from the next transportation bill.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the law should not apply to Rock Creek Parkway, because there are alot of pedestrians on the trail on weekends, which is the only time the road has alot of bikes.

While the federal provision
superficially reads like the much-hated state rules of a bygone era, there is a fundamental difference: the provision does not ban bikes. Instead it
tells the Secretary to do so.

Advocates need to get one federal agency (DOI, I imagine) to issue safety-based guidance for implementing that rule, could take most of the sting out of it. If the Secretary of an agency decides to only do so when doing so enhances safety (e.g. trail meets AASHTO standards for prevailing speed of cyclists and few pedestrians on trail) then that is
all that will happen. Then hopefully, other agencies would follow the lead of the first agency to issue guidance.
I elaborate a bit on this idea at