#27 – Comprehensive Maintenance Planning for Bicycle Facilities

Seattle, Washington

Peter Lagerwey, Pedestrian & Bicycle Program Coordinator, City of Seattle


A comprehensive budget and maintenance plan should be developed before construction of a bicycle facility. The costs involved with maintaining a facility should be considered and budgeted for during the planning process.

The most important concept to keep in mind when considering maintenance costs is the direct relationship between what is built and what is maintained. If you build it, it will have to be maintained. If you don’t build it, it won’t have to be maintained. For example, if you install automatic sprinkler systems, you will have to follow a sprinkler maintenance schedule supplied by the manufacturer. If you install informational and directional signs, you will have to replace a certain percentage of them each year. Your facility design, therefore, should directly reflect the amount of money you anticipate having available for maintenance.

A second important concept to keep in mind is that it is very difficult to secure maintenance dollars. Foundation and government grants, while available for design and construction of bicycle facilities, are generally not available for maintenance. Additionally, it is difficult to get the public involved in raising funds for routine maintenance. The lesson is that maintenance costs are best addressed through prevention. For example, it is always easier to include the cost of installing a good drainage system in the initial cost of a project than it will be to secure funding for fixing a drainage problem at a later date.

The third and final important point is that developing an accurate maintenance budget is a process, not an exact science. Because of differences in bookkeeping methods, wages, facility design, topography, availability of maintenance equipment, community expectations and a host of other variables, it is impossible to determine the potential maintenance costs of any one facility, per mile per year. For example, two identical trails in different communities will frequently have radically different per-mile maintenance costs. It is, however, possible to develop an accurate estimate of maintenance costs for a particular facility system if proper procedures are followed.


Seattle’s solution for developing a maintenance program for bicycle facilities has been to develop and implement a seven-step approach:

1) Existing Costs

When developing a maintenance plan for a new facility, the first step is to check current costs for maintaining an existing facility. The key is to get the costs for maintaining a facility that is similar to the facility you plan to construct. When reviewing cost information, go over the budget with someone who can explain exactly what items are included in the cost figures. For example, you will want to know if they include labor and overhead costs. Do they include one-time costs on major equipment such as sweepers and trucks? Do they include charges for bringing debris to the local landfill? Do volunteers do some of the maintenance?

2) Bookkeeping

A second important step is to find out costs that will be assigned for various maintenance activities. In particular, you will want to look at major equipment, labor and overhead costs. For example, if you are going to need a sweeper, the agency may have a separate capital fund to pay for the sweeper, in which case you only pay the labor costs of the operator. On the other hand, the maintenance budget may be charged a per-hour fee that covers the amortized, lifetime costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of the sweeper. Labor and overhead can also vary greatly. For example, a maintenance employee who makes $14 an hour may actually cost the maintenance budget $28 per hour if all overhead costs are included. Again, every agency keeps its books differently, with some having separate budgets for categories like benefits, office space, and management support, and others having bookkeeping systems that include these items in their per hour labor costs. The bottom line is that the bookkeeping methods used by the agency managing your bicycle facilities will have a major impact on how you develop a maintenance budget.

3) Maintenance Checklist and Cost

The next step in developing a maintenance budget and plan is to create a checklist of all possible maintenance activities. A good way to begin is to list everything included in the facilities design. Once again, the rule of thumb is that you will have to maintain whatever you build. Besides each maintenance activity, list its frequency, its cost per application, and its annual cost. Listing the annual cost, while a lot of work, is doable if you are familiar with the bookkeeping system and with how charges will be assigned.

4) Routine and Major Maintenance

Once you have completed a draft list of maintenance activities, divide them into “routine” and “major” maintenance categories. In general, maintenance activities such as mowing, that have a frequency of one or more times per year, will fall into the category of routine maintenance. Activities such as repaving a trail surface, that have a frequency of two or more years, will fall into the category of major maintenance. While major maintenance occurs infrequently, it should be budgeted for on an annual basis to avoid the periodic need for a major infusion of cash.

5) Maintenance Priorities

Once you have divided maintenance activities into routine and major maintenance categories, you will want to set maintenance priorities by identifying which activities are critical to the safe operation of the facility, and which ones are critical to other objectives, such as protecting the investment in the infrastructure, protecting the environment, and protecting aesthetics. While some priorities may vary to reflect local community expectations, safe operation of the facility should never be compromised. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Maintenance Manual recommends that maintenance should seek to maintain conformance with the design guidelines used to build the facility. Where proper guidelines were not used, maintenance should include improvements that will improve the facilities’ safety and operation.

6) Tracking

The final task is to create a tracking system to insure that all maintenance activities are completed in a timely, systematic way. More than likely, the agency that will manage a facility already has a system in place. Typically, you will want a checklist for field crews that includes instructions and frequency. Once completed, checklists should be reviewed and kept on file for developing future maintenance budgets and plans. There also needs to be a system for requesting specific maintenance improvements such as sign replacement. A standardized work instruction form should be developed and sent to the field crew, then returned to the maintenance supervisor for filing once the work has been completed. Finally, there needs to be a way to track resident complaints and requests for maintenance. This is particularly critical from a liability standpoint. Once an agency has been “put on notice” concerning a particular safety-related maintenance problem, it must be corrected within a reasonable period of time. When residents call or write in, their concern should be put on a standard form that includes the resident’s name and day phone number, the date, and the location and nature of the problem. This should be followed up with a field visit and a call back to the resident explaining what, if anything, will be done about the situation. Again, all complaints should be filed for future reference.

7) Maintenance Budget and Plan

Once the above steps have been completed, the maintenance budget and plan is ready to be put in final form. It should include a checklist of all maintenance items, the frequency of each activity, the cost for each activity, the annual cost of each activity and an indication of who will perform the activity. Priorities related to safe operation of the facility should be clearly identified and a tracking procedure clearly outlined.


As previously mentioned, maintenance activities related to the safe operation of a facility should always receive top priority. The AASHTO Maintenance Manual identifies seven maintenance activities that should be carried out on a routine basis. They include:

Signs and Traffic Markings

Signs warning both the motorist and bicyclist should be inspected regularly and kept in good condition; and striping should be kept prominent.

Sight Distance and Clearance

Sight distances on parallel roadways and trails should not be impaired leading up to crossings and curves. Trees, shrubs and tall grass should be regularly inspected and either removed or trimmed if they can interfere. Adequate clearances on both sides and overhead should be checked regularly. Tree branches should be trimmed to allow enough room for seasonal growth without encroaching onto the street or trail.

Surface Repair

Streets and trails should be patched or graded on a regular basis. It is important that finished patches be flush with the existing surface. Skid resistance of surface should be the same as the adjoining surface. Ruts should be removed by whatever measures are appropriate to give a satisfactory result and avoid recurrence.


Seasonal washout, silt or gravel washes across a street or trail, or sinking should be watched for and appropriate measures taken. Installation of culverts or building small bridges could be considered a maintenance function to achieve an immediate result and avoid the expense of contracting. Drainage grates should not have parallel openings that could catch narrow bicycle tires. Maintenance personnel should be especially instructed to assure that grates are positioned so that openings are at angles to the bicyclist’s direction.

Sweeping and Cleaning

The tires of a bicycle can be easily damaged by broken glass and other sharp objects. Bicycle wheels slip easily on leaves or ice. Small solid objects such as loose gravel or a stick on an asphalt surface can cause a serious fall. There also should be concern when mechanically sweeping roadways that material is not thrown onto a bike lane, shoulder or trail. Materials such as bark or gravel may ravel and necessitate frequent sweeping.

Structural Deterioration

Structures should be inspected annually to ensure they are in good condition. Special attention should be given to wood foundations and posts to determine whether rot or termites are present.


Lighting improvements should be made at busy arterials. Once installed, the lights should be maintained not only to guarantee reliable operation, but also to ensure that they are kept clean and replaced as required to maintain the desired luminescence.


The following is a partial list of some of the maintenance activities to consider when developing a maintenance budget and plan. It is important to note that this list should be modified to reflect your particular needs and community expectations. This includes identifying priorities and classifying activities as routine or major maintenance. For example, while mowing may be a weekly activity in a wet, warm area, it may never be required in a dry, arid part of the country. When you develop your own plan, you will want to include the frequency, cost per application, cost per year and specific instructions for each item listed as previously described.

Evaluation and Results

Seattle’s Maintenance Program is evaluated by the feedback of residents, the number of claims resulting from poor maintenance and the number of people bicycling.

The program is a success by all measures. The city has been recognized five times as one of the best bicycling cities in North America. Public involvement has been and continues to be high with the Bicycle Program Web site, the location visited most frequently by those accessing the Seattle Department of Transportation site.

Conclusions and Recommendations

After more than 30 years of building and maintaining bicycle facilities, Seattle has been very successful in encouraging people to bicycle more often while reducing the number of crashes. Additionally, Seattle residents enthusiastically support the program and have twice voted for million dollar bonds and levies to construct more bicycle facilities.

Costs and Funding

Multiple funding sources include gas tax funds, general revenue funds, B & O Tax funds, car tab revenues, federal and state grants, etc.


Peter Lagerwey
Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Coordinator
Seattle Department of Transportation
700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3768
P.O. Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996
(206) 684-5108