Policy and Planning Strategies to Support Bicycling

Bicycling and walking are important elements of an integrated, intermodal transportation system. Therefore, these nonmotorized modes must be included in the policies and practices of government agencies at all levels. The majority of federal bicycling and walking policy focuses on broad planning requirements and funding. State level policies have a similar focus, although there is more discretion in planning and funding decisions. Ultimately, local policies and regulations have the most direct impact on bicycling at the site, neighborhood, and community levels. Local policies range from land use regulations to parking policies. Visit the Sample Bicycle Plans section to view and link to plans that focus on bicyclists.

Federal policies

United States Department of Transportation

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) is responsible for transportation policies and spending programs at the federal level. Policies and programs of the USDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), such as the Interstate Highway System, often have tremendous influence on the national transportation system. FHWA works with Departments of Transportation (DOTs) in each state to implement polices and programs.

For urban areas, federal funds are channeled through the state DOT and then through metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). MPOs are federally-mandated transportation planning agencies in charge of creating long- and short-range transportation plans for their regions.

Short-range plans, also known as Transportation Improvement Programs or TIPs, determine which projects are in line for receiving transportation funding for at least four years into the future. TIPs need to be updated every four years in areas with poor air quality and every five years in areas that attain federal air quality standards.


The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act-A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) was passed into law in August 2005. It continued the programs for bicycling and walking established in earlier federal transportation legislation, added several new directives, increased funding for some programs, and gave other programs more flexibility. Key provisions in SAFETEA-LU regarding bicycling and walking include:

  • Provided $612 million over five years for a new Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program designed to make it safer for children to bike and walk to school
  • Increased funding for the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which requires a minimum of 70 percent of the trails be suitable for bicycling and walking
  • Increased Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program funding by nearly 26 percent to help communities support less polluting nonmotorized transportation modes like bicycling and walking
  • Created the new Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to provide more funding for bicycling and pedestrian safety
  • Created a nonmotorized transportation pilot program in four separate cities to fund nonmotorized transportation infrastructure projects to study the extent to which bicycling and walking can represent a major portion of the transportation solution in certain communities
  • Requires that, prior to approval of a TIP, a listing of "investments in pedestrian walkways" and "bicycle transportation facilities" obligated from federal funds during the preceding needs to be made public. This requirement increases accountability of bicycle-related projects and regional priorities and can be used to inform future TIP decisions.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Administered by the Department of Justice, ADA prohibits State and local governments from discriminating against people with disabilities in all programs, services, and activities, including public transportation.

Additionally, FHWA published "Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part I of II: Review of Existing Guidelines and Practices" in 1999 and "Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part II of II: Best Practices Design Guide" in 2001, and recommends that these documents be used when considering how best to accommodate persons with disabilities in public rights of way. More specifically, the design guide suggests a minimum of 60 inches for all sidewalks.

Related federal-level policies

A few more federal-level policies also relate to bicycle and pedestrian transportation:

  1. Context Sensitive Solutions—The objective of Context Sensitive Solutions is to improve the environmental quality of transportation decision making by incorporating context sensitive solution principles in all aspects of planning and the project development process. To learn more about Context Sensitive Solutions, visit the FHWA website on CSS.
  2. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—This Act provides protection for the human environment by requiring federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet NEPA requirements, federal agencies must prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for all major federal projects. For more information on NEPA and EIS statements, visit the EPA National Environmental Policy Act web site.
  3. The Clean Air Act (CAA)—This legislation, amended in 1990, sets requirements for air pollution prevention and control. The improvement of bicycle and pedestrian transportation, as nonpolluting transportation modes, supports many of the objectives of the CAA act. For more information, visit the EPA's Clean Air Act web site.

More information about federal legislation supporting pedestrian and bicycle planning and funding can be found in this video from the Center for Transportation and the Environment, "Bicycle/Pedestrian Planning Strategies: From SAFETEA-LU to Safe Routes to School," which discusses legislation and policies such as SAFETEA-LU and ISTEA.

State/local policies

Many state and local policies are in need of review and revision to make them more supportive of bicycle and pedestrian transportation. Policy changes to address bicycling and walking may include a number of elements, such as:

  • Goals that emphasize nonmotorized transportation. It is helpful to establish measurable goals for increasing bicycle and pedestrian travel and reducing crashes. Many state and local bicycle plans have incorporated the dual goals of the National Bicycling and Walking Study of doubling the percentage of bicycle and walking trips, while simultaneously reducing the number of crashes for these modes by ten percent.
  • Changes to standard operating procedures. This includes policies for standardizing bicycle and pedestrian improvements through the regular activities of local, regional, and state governments. For example, some communities have made it standard transportation policy to include bicycle and pedestrian concerns during all transportation improvement studies and to provide bicycle facilities and sidewalks whenever streets are constructed or resurfaced.
  • Revisions to tools used to manage growth. Land use planning tools such as zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, school size guidelines, and street design standards can encourage and/or require development of bicycle and pedestrian facilities during development projects. Examples include bicycle parking ordinances, site plan ordinances that require bicycle amenities like showers and lockers in addition to bicycle parking, trail development ordinances, and residential street layout requirements that ensure continuity between adjacent developments so that bicyclists and pedestrians are provided with through-routes.
  • Changes to the motor vehicle code. It is important to eliminate laws that are problematic for bicyclists and pedestrians, such as mandatory sidepath laws (requiring bicyclists to use sidepaths if they exist), or laws that require bicyclists to ride in bike lanes if they exist (this is a problem because bicyclists must merge into travel lanes when making left turns, or when there is debris in the bike lane). For more information on laws and law enforcement, visit the Enforcement section.
  • Changes to driver education programs. Including bicycle- and pedestrian-related information can help improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians because drivers learn to expect them, as well as learn to accommodate them on shared facilities. See http://www.mobilityeducation.org/ for a successful pilot program