A Historical Perspective on the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities and the Impact of the Vehicular Cycling Movement

Toole Design Group
Publication date: 
January 2018

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This paper draws from a literature review and interviews to demonstrate the impact of advocacy, research, and culture on guidance for design users, bike lanes and separated (protected) bike lanes in the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Bicycle Guide content from 1974 to present. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a bicycle renaissance in America resulted in efforts at the local, state, and federal level to encourage bicycling. After Davis, California, became the first community in the United States to build a network of bike lanes, a new brand of bicycle advocacy – vehicular cycling (VC) – formed to oppose efforts to separate bicyclists from motorized traffic based on fears of losing the right to use public roads. Via positions of power and strong rhetoric, vehicular cyclists influenced design guidance for decades to come.

Through the 1980s, the VC philosophy aligned with a federal view that bicyclists freeloaded from the gas tax, the latter resulting in diminished federal support for guidance and related research throughout the decade. However, the passing of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) led to increased bicycle networks and renewed interest in bicycle facility research. Although vehicular cyclists continue to oppose roadway designs that separate bicyclists from motorized traffic, research from the last decade demonstrates networks of separated bikeways improve bicyclist safety and are necessary to meet the needs of the vast majority of the public who want to bicycle but feel unsafe in many traffic contexts.