#55 – Bicycle Destination Signing System

San Diego, California

Michael Jackson, Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Access, Maryland Department of Transportation
Kathy Keehan, Executive Director, San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.





The city of San Diego began developing a systematic network of bikeway destination signs during the late 1980s. This network went beyond the guidance provided by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) section on bikeway design. Using the principles of the California Department of Transportation’s Traffic Manual, selected bikeway corridors received consistent and comprehensive destination signs.

Freeways and other major highways define much of the roadway transportation network in San Diego that link neighborhoods and major activity centers within the city and its adjacent neighbors. Many of San Diego’s bikeways parallel freeways. In addition numerous arterial, collector and local streets and shared use paths are designated bikeways. Collectively they form a bicycle transportation network.

Disparate roadway and trail segments are used by bicyclists to travel within San Diego. The bikeway destination sign system was established to alert current and potential bicyclists of communities and major activities with bikeway signs that would not necessarily be evident. For example, a resident of the San Diego community of Pacific Beach wishing to travel to downtown San Diego might drive there using Grand Avenue, Interstate 5 and Front Street. If that person wished to cycle to downtown it may not be so evident that they could get there via Grand Avenue, East Mission Bay Drive, and Pacific Highway. Destination bikeway signs make finding the way via bicycle much easier and safer. Anecdotal reports have shown that visitors and residents alike find the destination signs helpful in their cycling travels.


Generally at least two different destinations were posted on a sign (one line per destination) as the thinner, one-line signs were more susceptible to being bent. Bikeway destination signs were green with white lettering. The signs are 24 inches wide to match the width of standard 18 x 24 inch BIKE ROUTE signs. Sign height varied according to the amount of information provided. Arrows accompanied each destination line. Arrows indicating straight ahead and left turn destinations were placed to the left of the destination name and destinations requiring right turns had arrows placed on the right side of the destination line.

Destination signs are always accompanied by a BIKE ROUTE or BIKE LANE sign. Destination signs are always placed beneath BIKE ROUTE signs on the premise that people read from left to right and from top to bottom.
The “control city” concept was utilized to alert bicyclists to the ultimate destination of a bikeway. For example northbound travelers on Interstate 5 leaving downtown San Diego are alerted they are going toward Los Angeles. Los Angeles serves as the “control city” and orients travelers to their general direction of travel. Intermediate exits are listed on those freeway guide signs as well to provide supplemental information about the immediate surroundings.

In the case of the bikeway destination signs a major activity center, community or an adjacent city served as the control city and intermediate neighborhoods or major activity centers were also listed. For example a bikeway in South Bay lists Tijuana, Mexico as the “control city” and San Ysidro as the intermediate destination. Another example is the destination signs facing northbound traffic on Pacific Highway out of downtown. Pacific Beach would serve as the “control city” and Mission Bay Park as the intermediate destination.

Evaluation and Results

Bikeway destination signing was set up to address the following issues:

A small-scale survey of bicyclists in the San Diego area did not elicit sufficient responses to consider them being representative of the collective viewpoints of San Diego’s bicycling community. The majority of responses were, however, generally supportive of the signs. The primary benefits appear to be that the signs confirm direction when one is already on a trip; the signs alerted some bicyclists of potential destinations or routes that are accessible by bicycle that they hadn’t thought of; and some bicyclists felt that the signs could at least alert motorists that bicyclists are legitimate road users, although others felt that motorists might not notice the signs. A few bicyclists also felt that the signs could help to encourage new bicyclists to try a bicycle trip, if the system was well documented.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Bikeways destination signing, while not replacing bike route maps and other resources to assist in trip planning, can provide on-the-road assurance of direction (or distance, if provided), if located on routes likely to be used by bicyclists. Bicyclists should therefore be engaged in the process of choosing preferred routes to sign. The signs may help to alert bicyclists to other potential destinations, and alert motorists that bicyclists are expected users of the roadways, which may contribute to a safer bicycling environment as well as a more supportive one. The sign concepts (such as “control city”) and signed routes should be publicized and explained in other publications (such as bike maps) to help bicyclists understand the information provided in the signs.


Kathy Keehan
Executive Director
San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.

Michael Jackson
Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Access
Maryland Department of Transportation