Does our city need a bicycle plan and/or a pedestrian plan? What are the advantages or disadvantages of combining the two?

Cities need bicycle and pedestrian plans both to assess current conditions and to set forth policies, programs and projects to make walking and bicycling more desirable. Commonly, such plans contain existing facility improvement and new construction recommendations. Plans may also recommend policy and maintenance needs, and outline agency responsibilities. Truly effective plans give high priority to encouragement and education programs designed to promote bicycling and walking.

Begin by assessing and defining existing deficiencies and impediments to bicycling and walking. Identify specific projects to provide improvements and countermeasures. Some communities place special emphasis on meeting the walking and bicycling needs of school children. These plans can also prioritize the needed improvements and programs identified. Priorities are set through a combination of public input, staff and consultant reviews during the planning process. Prioritization assists in implementation because it provides direction for decision-makers. It may also serve as a validation of the importance the public places on bicycling and walking.

It can be tempting to combine a pedestrian plan and a bicycle plan -- particularly when off-street facilities such as shared use pathways and grade-separated crossings of barriers such as highways, rivers, railroad and transit corridors, are involved. These sorts of facilities can serve both bicyclists and pedestrians equally well and in some locations may provide both modes with improved access to transit services. A combined plan could also explore common risks of injury or death and offer guidance to improve safety. For instance, a disproportionate number of bicyclists and pedestrians are struck by motorists during nighttime conditions. Solutions would simultaneously reference the need for both bicyclists and pedestrians to increase their nighttime visibility with lights and reflective materials.

However, the fact remains that the bulk of bicycling involves traveling on streets with traffic, with many urban bicycle crashes taking place as a result of turning and merging movements, particularly at intersections. In comparison, most pedestrian movements occur on sidewalks paralleling the street, with crossing movements at crosswalks. A combined bicycle and pedestrian plan can result in a strong emphasis on off-street facilities and sidewalks, with an insufficient emphasis on bicyclists' on-street needs, bicycle parking at destinations, education about how to ride in traffic, and enforcement of traffic laws pertaining to motorist/bicyclist interactions.

In particular it becomes easy to claim too much credit for a "bicycle and pedestrian facility" that yields little or nothing for bicyclists. For example, bicyclists may be prohibited from riding on sidewalks; a trail may not go where utilitarian bicyclists want to travel or offer new bicyclists the opportunity to replace car trips with bicycle trips. Loop trails within parks that provide meaningful neighborhood recreation opportunities may not be a significant bicycle improvement.

A crucial ingredient of an effective bicycle master plan is the creation of a route network that provides bicycle access to destinations that less-experienced cyclists would otherwise travel to by car. (This network should not include major streets that are too congested or perceived as unsafe for bicycling.) Other matters that are specific to bicycling, yet easy to overlook in a combined bicycle and pedestrian master plan, include bicycle parking, bicycle lockers at transit stations, workplace facilities that support bicycle commuters, bicycle lanes and shared lane markings, and bicycle actuation of traffic signals.

Correspondingly, marked crosswalks, pedestrian traffic signals, road narrowing treatments to reduce crosswalk lengths, and refuge medians on crosswalks that cross wide roadway sections are all specific pedestrian needs that might equally be overlooked in a combined bicycle and pedestrian master plan.

Thus, while off-street trail needs for bicyclists and pedestrians can be successfully combined, it does not necessarily follow that a combined bicycle and pedestrian master plan will yield an effective planning device. Serious consideration should be given to separate plans for each mode.

For more information:

Sample bicycle, pedestrian, and combined plans: and

Two PBIC Web sites have sections on how to develop plans and policies: (for bicycle planning) and (for pedestrian planning).

How much does it cost to develop a bicycle and/or pedestrian plan?

Are states and cities required to plan for bicycling and/or walking?