How important are bicycle facility and roadway maintenance to bicycle safety and access?

Proper bicycle facility and roadway maintenance may be one of the most important ways that states and local communities can improve the safety and accessibility of roads and shared-use paths to bicyclists. A 1999 study for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found that a majority (70 percent) of crashes involving hospital-treated injury to bicyclists did not involve a motor vehicle. Nearly 33 percent of all the hospital-treated injury crashes were bicycle-only crashes that occurred on the roadway. Most of these types of crashes are not typically reported to transportation agencies. (Another 25 percent were bike-only crashes occurring off roadways, mostly on sidewalks, but also on paths, driveways and parking areas.) Roadway and off-roadway hazards obviously contribute to such bicycle-only crashes and may also contribute to crashes with motor vehicles, for example if a bicyclist swerves to avoid a hazard or falls into the path of a motor vehicle. Maintenance also profoundly affects the comfort and appeal of facilities for bicycling and improper maintenance may reduce the amount of bicycling.

Maintenance should not be an afterthought, but should be considered at the outset of new project development and before reconstruction, as well as through on-going plans and routine maintenance. Bicyclists, perhaps more than any other road users, are vulnerable to rough or uneven pavement and potholes; pavement drop-offs; lips and gaps between pavement; gravel, sand and debris deposition; poor visibility or obstructions; poor drain grate design; and other issues caused by poor maintenance or initial construction. Water is often a culprit in maintenance issues, including debris deposition and pavement damage, so drainage and landscape stability should be carefully considered in project designs. Parking lot and driveway designs at destinations also affect bicyclists, so consideration of bicyclists' needs should receive attention in off-roadway vehicular areas as well.

Some maintenance activities such as re-paving and re-striping roadways may also provide opportunities to add or improve bicycle facilities. See the BIKESAFE: Bicycle Countermeasure Selection System section on maintenance for more information on developing comprehensive routine and major maintenance programs.