Local Planning

At the local level (and, frequently, the county or municipality-level) bicycle plans are typically used to address critical gaps in the bicyclist network and describe the community's levels of desired bicyclist facilities or overall bicycling environment. They can vary widely in content and direction, and may include regulations, design standards, provide local cross section standards based on roadway, establish when and where bike lanes should be installed during new development or repaving projects, and/or include a specific list of bicycle projects for inclusion in the local Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

Local land use regulations

Local governments accomplish land development and growth by following (or changing) their regulations. These typically include zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, and urban design guidelines. Each of these types of regulations can potentially improve or hinder the inclusion of bicycle facilities in the community. For example, zoning regulations often set the number of minimum required parking spaces that a particular land use must have; if the requirement is very high, it may be difficult to fit the spaces on the property as well as accommodate bicycle parking. Land use regulations can be revised or established to require a minimum amount of bicycle parking and a maximum number of vehicle parking spaces.

Local roadway design standards

All local roads follow standard design principals that are often developed by a community. Communities that want to carefully control their patterns of growth increasingly regulate the cross-section that roads and corridors must have. A traditional roadway cross-section presents all the elements that should or must be included within the right-of-way. This is usually more than just the road itself; of most interest for bicyclists, these cross-sections show bike lane placements and widths. If a bike lane is shown in the required cross-section design standard, it will probably be installed; if the bike lane isn't there, it probably will not be installed.

Comprehensive plans

Comprehensive plans are intended to guide the overall growth of a community for five to twenty years, include much more than just bicyclist transportation needs. They typically address issues such as economic development, patterns of growth and land development, historic preservation, and transportation. Bicycle issues are usually a part of a transportation or "mobility" component of the plan, but they are increasingly stand-alone documents, or separate portions of a larger comprehensive plan.

In an increasing number of states and communities, comprehensive plans are extremely important. In these communities, following "compliance" requirements, any land development must match the standards or basic plan described by the comprehensive plan and implemented through land use regulations. Land uses or proposed new developments or redevelopments that don't match the regulations and the comprehensive plan are either denied, or delayed until the community considers whether to change the regulations and/or the overall plan to accommodate the proposal, or whether to provide an exemption.

From the bicycle planning perspective, a requirement to include bicycle facilities with new development or redevelopment would likely increase the overall level of bicycle-friendliness of the community. However, because development projects are often discontinuous, bicycle facilities will tend to be disconnected, at least temporarily while other developments fill-in the network. To avoid this, municipalities and counties can require cash in lieu of having developers directly providing bicycle facilities. As long as the funds raised through this scheme are directed to top-priority bicycle projects, this cash-in-lieu approach tends to be successful.

Local comprehensive plans usually address bicycle needs through two basic approaches. The first is a statement of policy, which will describe how or whether the community should include bicycle facilities throughout the community. This policy would then justify decisions about proposed developments in the community. Second, comprehensive plans often identify areas that have, or are desired to have, more bicycle activity. This information is used by planners and developers in the community to focus on bicycle-friendly development and redevelopment in those areas.

Capital improvement plans

Capital improvement plans (CIPs) are budgeting tools for local governments. Bicycle-related projects are frequently funded locally, and therefore will appear in a community's CIP. A CIP typically is a listing of specific and general projects that will be funded over a five or ten-year period in the community. Typically, specific projects and their expected costs will be listed for the next year, and more general projects and cost estimates will be listed for future years.

It is important to note that only those items in a CIP for the next year are actually funded; projects listed for future years may be funded when their year comes, but they might also be moved to a subsequent year, essentially keeping them on the CIP list, but never actually building them. The CIP contains a prioritized list of what the community wants to accomplish; they are usually adopted by the community's governing body a few months before the annual budget is adopted. Just as regulations (zoning ordinances, etc.) indicate what private developers must provide, the CIP usually provides a good indication of what a local government is planning to build.

Examples of local bicycle plans can be found in the Sample Plans section.