United States/Bicycle Networks

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The United States has many bicycle route networks. This page discusses distinctions between them, reflected in the network=* and cycle_network=* tags.

What to map

OpenStreetMap focuses on mapping what's "on the ground": bicycle infrastructure and formally designated bicycle routes. We don't map informal "rides" or third-party route recommendations, because they may be ephemeral or subjective.

Do map:

  • Bike lanes, sharrows, multi-use trails, dedicated cycleways and maybe even desire paths. See Bicycle for relevant tags. Also, map MTB trails, these have specific sorts of Mountain biking tagging. Both of these (paved and unpaved bicycle facilities) might be called "infrastructure tagging," distinct from "route tagging," below.
  • Bike routes that are marked by signs or blazes. Depending on the locality, signs or blazes may be put up by a state department of transportation (USBRs), county or city streets department, park district, non-governmental organization (as in the case of the East Coast Greenway), or community volunteer group. These routes are mapped as route=bicycle relations with network=* and cycle_network=* tags to distinguish between various route networks. See the rest of this page for details.
  • Officially proposed routes over existing infrastructure, where it is expected that the route will be marked by signs or blazes once designated. See below.

Do not map:

  • Bike routes found only on an official planning map. These routes may be aspirational or used for funding purposes, but mapping them in OSM could mislead end users, especially if they contradict what's on the ground.
  • Route recommendations or "rides" published by a third party – such as a local cycling club, advocacy group, commercial entity, or individual – who doesn't have any control over the bicycle infrastructure. There are a number of OSM-powered routers that use the bike infrastructure we do map to recommend rides. There are also sites like RideWithGPS for sharing rides.

International

OpenStreetMap in North America (Canada, USA, Mexico) contains one international bicycle route: International Selkirk Loop (relation 6704909 ISL) linking Idaho, Washington and British Columbia. According to Idaho Transportation Department: "The portions of the route on Idaho's state highway system are coincident with two scenic byways, the Pen d'Oreille Scenic Byway and the Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage. The latter comprises the southern leg of the International Selkirk Loop. How the route will be co-signed has not yet been determined." In late 2016 OSM entered these route data, North America's first network=icn route=bicycle. However, as this route is also shared with motor vehicles, if other (better-suited, parallel) segments specifically designated for bicycles are actual route infrastructure, please update the ISL route relation with these elements.

Adventure Cycling Association (ACA)-sponsored Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) touches the USA/Mexico border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, traverses multiple Rocky Mountain states, crosses the international border at Roosville, Montana into the Canadian province of Alberta, continues through Canada's Banff National Park and finally terminates in Jasper National Park. So, while it might seem correct to add network=icn or network=ncn to GDMBR, neither are correct tags, as both imply a fully paved route=bicycle and this route (correctly tagged route=mtb) is ~70% unpaved (and the route data are private). GDMBR displays in Lonvia's MTB renderer at zoom level >12 as a mountain bike route which crosses the USA/Canada border.

A few ACA routes (private/commercial, copyrighted) in the USA (cycle_network=US:ACA) are in OSM as regional routes (network=rcn), as they both span entire states and cross state borders. These are neither international, national nor quasi-national (network=ncn: USBRs + four quasi-national routes get this tag, see below). Most ACA routes are not in OSM and those few which are entered may be incomplete or obsolete. If/as ACA routes are added/improved (e.g. cyclists enter their GPS tracks or OSM obtains permission, which we currently do not have), some may promote to network=ncn as quasi-national or network=icn if they cross an international border. Please see Quasi-National section and USBRS Discussion page.

There may be Great Lakes Circle Tour (GLCT) bicycle routes which could be tagged network=icn, it is early to discuss this as data wider than a single USA-only route are not entered (nor widely known, nor easily available). Lake Michigan Circle Tour route data are entered, 100% domestic to the USA, tagged network=rcn (see Regional, below). Lake_Michigan_Circle_Tour_Bicycle_Route might promote to quasi-national (see below), though little discussion has developed to integrate it into the USA's national cycleway network (network=ncn as quasi-national) and/or North America's international cycleway network (network=icn) with other GLCT routes which span both USA and Canada.

One quasi-national route, West New England Greenway (WNEG), is identical to USBR 7 in all three states where these two routes are coterminous; USBR 7 and WNEG are distinguished as two distinct super-relations. Perhaps "international gateway" routes emerge at or around northern Vermont/Quebec, Emerson, Manitoba, ISL/Idaho, GDMBR at Roosville, Montana/Alberta, USBRs 87, 95, 97, 10, 8, 7, 1 and possibly Great Lakes Circle Tours.

No bicycle routes are known which cross the international border between USA and Mexico.

National

Main article: United States Bicycle Route System

The U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) was formally established in 1978 as a national numbered bicycle network by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

In 1982, AASHTO inaugurated the first two routes into the USBRS:

  • USBR 1 in North Carolina and Virginia and
  • USBR 76 in Virginia.

The System languished during the 1980s and 1990s. A "National Corridor Plan" was developed during the 2000s, allowing each of the fifty states of the US to harmoniously develop USBRs using a cohesive national numbered grid of planned route corridors and a regularized numbering protocol with the following rules:

  • East-West routes are even-numbered,
  • North-South routes are odd-numbered,
  • Spur/belt/alternate routes are preceded by a hundreds-place digit or suffixed with "A",
  • So-called "business routes" are suffixed with "B" (none as of 2018) and
  • Route numbers generally increase from lower numbers in the eastern and northern USA to higher numbers in the western and southern USA.

May 2011 saw the first major expansion of the nascent System. Five new parent routes, two child routes, and one alternate route were created, along with modifications to the existing routes in Virginia and the establishment of USBR 1 in New England. Since 2012, growth has been robust. For a full history of the route by route growth of the System, please see this wiki's Discussion page's "History of the USBRS, route by route" section.

USBRS (numbered national) routes use tag network=ncn in route relations + ref=USBR # to denote the route number + cycle_network=US:US.

The older black and white M1-9 "numbered national bicycle route" sign shield (seen to the right and above) was MUTCD-approved from the 1970s through 2013. The newer green sign (seen to the right) is also M1-9 and will replace the black and white M1-9 in the next MUTCD edition. In the meantime states get waivers from FHWA to use the green sign. It is "interim official" and will become official on the next pass. It is AASHTO approved. The color change to green is to better differentiate it from other black and white route number signs and to align it with the color of Bike Route signs. The new sign also has the "US" imprint to show it is different from quasi-national, state and local level bike route signs (see below).

The entry into OSM of proposed USBRs (see Proposed, below) follows some carefully-crafted guidelines. Before you might enter into OSM a proposed USBR, please see the Main article's Proposed section.

Quasi-national

A few bicycle routes in the USA (which are named, not numbered) are known as quasi-national routes. These are determined by consensus to be so significantly "national in scope" that OSM includes them in the US national cycleway network by tagging them with network=ncn. Quasi-national routes are explicitly not part of the USBRS (the USA's only national bicycle network). Quasi-national routes are not defined by governments, but by non-governmental organizations who sign the routes with distinct route markers or blazes to uniquely identify them. Because of this, their route data are public, or what OSM calls "quasi-private:" neither government-sanctioned nor AASHTO-approved, but usable under OSM's ODbL, as the signs or blazes are "on-the-ground verifiable." It is easy to see if a US national-scope bicycle route is national or quasi-national: national routes (USBRs) display numbered shields, quasi-national routes display names or acronyms on their shields.

OpenStreetMap in the US contains four quasi-national bicycle routes:

ECG and MRT traverse several states over several thousand miles/kilometers, but are neither USBRs nor state/regional routes (see State and Regional, below). Hence, these two quasi-private bicycle routes were determined to be quasi-national, tagged network=ncn. While shorter than ECG and MRT, WNEG connects Canada (and Montreal via Quebec's Route Verte) to the Atlantic Ocean at ECG, so WNEG also elevates to quasi-national (it is also quasi-private, not private). ISL is international (via network=icn) while from a USA perspective, its US segment is considered quasi-national (in a separate US-only relation; this may be deleted). Since the US has only one national numbered bicycle network (the USBRS, tagged cycle_network=US:US), quasi-national US routes should be distinguishable from these. As each quasi-national route is an independent US national-scope route, none are members of any particular national cycle network, so ECG, MRT, WNEG and the USA segments of ISL are tagged cycle_network=US. Again, national routes (USBRs) display numbered shields, quasi-national routes display names or acronyms on their shields.

The network=ncn routes (USBRs + ECG + MRT + WNEG + ISL's USA segments) traversing a single state (1A, 8, 11, 20, 21, 23, 30, 35A, 37, 45, 45A, 50A, 70, 79, 90A, children and ISL's USA segments) are contained in single relations. The network=ncn routes traversing multiple states (1, 7, 10, 15, 35, 36, 50, 66, 76, 87, 90, 95, 97, ECG, MRT, WNEG) are contained in super-relations, each containing the statewide relations. Numbered network=ncn routes in the USBRS are signed with one of the two kinds of MUTCD-approved "numbered national bicycle route" signs (M1-9, seen above). Named network=ncn routes not in the USBRS (quasi-nationals ECG + MRT + WNEG + ISL's USA segments) use custom signs displaying names or acronyms of the kind seen to the right.

Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) is a bicycle advocacy organization in the USA which promotes long-distance bicycle touring. ACA has developed a national-scope bicycle network of about two dozen routes. These route data are private (proprietary / copyrighted by ACA), so their entry into OSM violates our ODbL. However, some cyclists captured GPS data while riding a few (<3) of the published routes, so for these ACA routes which have been entered, OSM determined by careful consensus to best define these as regional routes (see Regional, below), not national or quasi-national — their data are now entered state by state. (This state-at-a-time data isolation helps when a state might decide to "promote" a significant portion of or the entirety of an ACA route into a USBR, which has happened with, for example, USBR 76 in Kansas). Some of the ACA route data now entered into OSM might be obsolete or incorrect. Importantly, please do not consider ACA's substantial routes as part of either OSM's national network (the USBRS) or the quasi-national routes listed above, as they are quite distinct from one another: ACA routes are private. By contrast, quasi-national routes are quasi-private (usable under ODbL, as defined above), and USBRS routes are fully public.

More historical background and information on quasi-national routes, as well as potential methods by which quasi-national and regional (see Regional, below) routes can be modified, grow and promote (possibly to USBRs) can be found in this wiki's Discussion page. Before modifying or promoting existing US regional or quasi-national bicycle routes, please read this page to better understand some of the issues involved.

State and Regional

A growing number of states (Delaware, New York, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Mexico, Pennsylvania...) have their own state bicycle route networks, usually numbered (Pennsylvania and Ohio use letters, not numbers). In Ohio, some counties have begun erecting numbered state route signs. Signs may vary from the MUTCD-approved "numbered state bicycle route" sign (M1-8, seen to the right), and some local networks may use this same oval. Delaware's statewide network uses this M1-8 sign, while Maryland uses the D11-1 generic "Bike Route" sign seen below. Statewide cycleway networks use network=rcn in route relations + cycle_network=US:XY where XY is the ISO 3166-2:US code (same as postal abbreviation) for the state.

This (network=rcn) includes private (non-state/non-public, proprietary and copyrighted) named regional routes like Adventure Cycling Association's Transamerica Trail and Underground Railroad Bicycle Route: even though these are multi-state routes, each state-at-a-time segment is correctly denoted with network=rcn. Only if and when one or more state segments in a named regional route promotes, becoming a USBR ("goes first"), should a named network=ncn super-relation be created and state segments be promoted into it. In the event multiple states simultaneously receive AASHTO approval for a single-numbered USBR, create numbered network=ncn relations and include them in a new network=ncn super-relation. The states need not be contiguous.

Emerging in the United States are cycle_network=US:Z values for public, quasi-private and private regional cycleway network routes, where Z is a brief name or abbreviation for the name of the regional cycleway network. For example, public routes in the National Park System network (like Natchez Trace Parkway) get cycle_network=US:NPS, while (the few entered) private routes in Adventure Cycling Association's network get cycle_network=US:ACA. Use good judgement entering route data, as they may be copyrighted; only enter route data compatible with OSM's license and/or with explicit permission. Public (government-published) route data can always be entered into OSM, quasi-private route data can usually be entered, but private route data should not be entered (a few ACA routes have been, even though OSM may not have explicit permission). There is a tenet in OSM that "if you actually ride the route and capture those data via GPS, the resulting GPX data are yours." While this can allow otherwise-copyrighted data into OSM, be cautious entering such data (including their name): they must be "personally sourced," not copied from data which are copyrighted.

Local

network=lcn
ref=44
cycle_network=US:TX:Dallas
generic lcn=yes

Some cities (Washington, DC; Portland, Oregon; Berkeley and San Francisco, California; Binghamton, New York; Sandpoint, Idaho) and counties (Santa Clara, California; Travis, Texas) have a local cycle network comprised of bicycle boulevards, dedicated cycleways, bike lanes and other roadways, which may or may not be designated as specific (numbered or explicitly named) routes. These signed routes use network=lcn + cycle_network=US:XY:Locality (where XY is the ISO 3166-2:US code (same as postal abbreviation) for the state and Locality is the name of the county, city or locality) in route relations if specific routes have been designated (via either the M1-8a local bike route sign oval seen here or a county/city/local government published bike route map). If a route is explicitly numbered, enter its number as a ref=* value. Otherwise, if only the D11-1 generic "Bike Route" sign seen to the right is posted without labeling or numbering of routes, OSM ways so signed as local bike routes should be tagged lcn=yes, either directly or as members of a network=lcn relation.

Use network=lcn in other "local" contexts such as a university (public or private) bicycle network, a localized small-to-medium-sized area with established paved bicycle routes (e.g. a private ranch), or a corporate campus such as an expansive office park (e.g. large movie studio) with its own bicycle routes. In these cases, tag each route with cycle_network=US:XY:Locality:Network_Name where XY is the ISO 3166-2:US code for the state, Locality is the name of the county and Network_Name is the name of the local cycleway network. However, be careful to avoid ambiguity with other local networks which may be named similarly; the cycle_network=* tag should assure the named network is unambiguous.

Proposed networks (at any level)

If a cycleway is part of a network with a proposed route numbering (such as proposed routes in the USBRS or the CycleNet bicycle route numbering protocol proposal in Santa Cruz, California) tag state=proposed in the route relation, which causes dashed (rather than solid) lines to render in the Cycle Map layer. Proposed routes do appear in Cycle Map layer and cyclosm renderings (as dashed, not solid lines) but do not appear in Lonvia renderings.

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