copyright 1996, Tracy-Williams Consulting

Balancing Engineering, Education, Law Enforcement, and Encouragement in Local Bicycle Programs

By John Williams & Kathleen McLaughlin, Adventure Cycling Association

(published February 1993 as Case Study 11 of the National Bicycling and Walking Study; FHWA)


The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 has given transportation officials a new mandate to consider alternatives to the single-occupant motor vehicle in their planning. Now because of growing concerns with environmental quality and traffic congestion, local agencies are encouraged to support the non-motorized modes: pedestrians and bicyclists. Section 217(d) of Title 23 of the U.S. Code now states that "Pedestrian walkways and bicycle transportation facilities to be constructed under this section shall be located and designed pursuant to an overall plan to be developed by each metropolitan planning organization and State and incorporated into their comprehensive annual long-range plans."

Further, ISTEA makes available a wide range of funding opportunities for providing for bicycle transportation. Monies from the Surface Transportation Program, the Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Program, and the National Highway System, for example, may be used for bicycle facilities.

Yet, what can and should be done for bicyclists? And what mixture of elements is needed in a community? While there are no definitive answers to these questions, the past 20 years have given some idea of how to proceed. In this study, the authors attempt to condense a wide range of literature and field experience in order to describe the process of determining the appropriate mix of engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement in a local bicycle program. The purpose of such a program is to encourage safe bicycle travel.

In the process of researching this Case Study, we have interviewed program staff from the communities of Boulder, Colorado; Dallas, Texas; Davis, California; Eugene, Oregon; Gainesville, Florida; Madison, Wisconsin; Missoula, Montana; New York City, New York; Palo Alto, California; and San Diego, California. Many of these communities are known for their high levels of bicycling. We have also relied on our own experiences with such programs and an extensive review of the program literature.

This report contains examples from the communities listed above. However, the steps suggested for creating a mixed engineering/education/enforcement/encouragement program were not derived from any of their approaches. These programs evolved during the formative years of the bike fields. While most originally reflected the state of the art and approaches common to the 1970s, they have changed dramatically as the field has matured.

To understand how they produced the mix of elements they now have requires an understanding of, among other things, local politics. For example, it is not intuitively obvious why an engineering department's bicycle program would run one community's bike registration program and recovered bike room. However, the first of these elements became part of the program for survival reasons in the face of a hostile city council; the second was taken on as part of a growing and increasingly cooperative relationship with the police department. If one were setting up a new 4-Es program, such oddities of the political process would likely be undesirable additions to the mix.

This report is intended as a brief guide for communities interested in assembling such a program in order to solve their own problems, take advantage of their own opportunities, and further their bicycle transportation goals.

Why it's important

Historically, providing for bicyclists meant providing bicycle facilities. This was the focus during the early phase of program development in the U.S. but by the late 1970s, it was replaced in some progressive communities like Boulder, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin, with a more comprehensive "4-E" approach, combining engineering and planning with enforcement, education, and encouragement.

By then it had become clear that simply providing a bicycle-friendly road or trail environment, as important as it is, cannot solve all bicycle problems. Some safety problems, for example, may be more easily solved through programs than through facilities. To understand the importance of the other elements of a comprehensive program, consider this example: A person decides to ride her bicycle to work. Between home and the office, she uses a road with bike-friendly design features (e.g., wide outside lanes, bicycle lanes, etc.). While riding, she is almost hit by a 10-year-old wrong-way rider, is almost cut off by a motorist turning left in front of her, and finally finds no place to securely park her bicycle at the office. She locks her bike to the leg of a newspaper rack and goes into the office. When she leaves work, the sun has gone down; she has no bike lights. She calls a taxi to take her and her bicycle home.

Analysis: While she was able to take advantage of one element of a comprehensive program (the on-road facilities), the lack of other elements caused her serious inconvenience and danger. Youngsters need to learn which side of the road to use and the traffic laws should be enforced; motorists should learn to watch for bicyclists and yield to them just as they would to other motorists.

These common bicyclist and motorist errors lead to many crashes and may be addressed through education, enforcement, and awareness programs. Secure and convenient bicycle parking should be provided at all popular destinations as a routine matter. In some communities, this is dealt with in the parking ordinance. Adult bicyclists should learn about proper lighting equipment.
This hypothetical example points out the importance of going beyond the old focus on facilities alone to include other aspects as well. It suggests the potential roles that agencies such as the police department, the school district, and private parties like the local television station and newspaper can play in improving the bicycling situation in a community. It is important to keep in mind that some elements may not contribute directly to increased numbers of bicyclists. However, these elements are important for other reasons, primarily safety.

How to mix the 4-e's

How, exactly, can a successful mix of engineering, enforcement, education, and encouragement be determined? The answer is that participants from a wide range of agencies and groups must get involved in the process. The Geelong, Australia, model is a good one to illustrate this point. The Geelong Bikeplan Team included members from the enforcement community, roads department, safety agencies, school system, and bicycling community. In assembling their comprehensive program, the project managers enlisted the help of those who would, ultimately, be responsible for implementing it.

This is the process suggested here. A "bike plan task force" should be assembled to mold and steer the program. The following structure is suggested for the task force. While the same department or group may be represented on several subcommittees, this would not necessarily require different individuals. Individual members should deal with those program aspects within their areas of expertise.

A possible task force structure

Steering committee

Physical environment
Education and awareness
Data collection

Physical environment

Public works (traffic engineering, streets)
Planning (transportation, land use)
Parks and recreation (parks planning)
College campus planning

Education and awareness

Parks and recreation (programming)
School district (elementary and jr. high)
High school and college


Police (traffic)


Parks and recreation
Transit (bus or commuter train)
Local media

Data collection

Planning (transportation)
Parks and recreation

Should the task force mix bicycle and pedestrian considerations?

Whether to combine bicycle and pedestrian considerations under one group or keep them separate is an important decision. On the one hand, bicyclists and pedestrians share some important characteristics, the greatest of which is their general neglect in transportation planning. On the other hand, the differences in physical and operational characteristics of bicyclists and pedestrians make it imperative that each mode be considered separately.

The clearest example of this is the generally unsatisfactory experience communities have had with mixed-use sidewalk bikeways. The Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (AASHTO, 1991) says that "providing a sidewalk bicycle path is unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons" including pedestrian design speeds, fixed hazards, conflicts at intersections, and conflicts with pedestrians.

On balance, a combined bicycle-pedestrian task force can work but should analyze bicycle and pedestrian problems and conditions separately and develop separate goals and objectives, as well as project priorities and programs.

Other important task force ingredients

Strong mandate: The task force must have a strong mandate for action. This mandate must come from the top and include a commitment to encouraging bicycling as part of the overall transportation system. This commitment may or may not require significant expenditures on specific projects, depending on local needs. However, the example of Boulder, Colorado, is worth considering. Their transportation plan contains a commitment to shift 15 percent of auto trips to alternative modes. This pledge is backed by $7.2 million for proposed pedestrian-related projects and $13.4 million in bike-related projects.

Staffed program: In addition to having a strong mandate, the task force can benefit from the support of a staffed city bicycle program. Such a program can work to integrate bicycle considerations into the governmental routine, research other communities' efforts, provide a public contact, and keep abreast of changes in the bicycle and pedestrian fields. In some of the most progressive bicycling communities, the bike program has provided a leadership role in creating program initiatives.

What does it take to create such a program? Typically, a bicycle program is one of the least expensive investments a community can make. The Dallas Bicycle Program, for example, has an annual budget of $50,000, including salaries and expenses. Gainesville's program uses $46,000 per year from the city's general fund. Missoula's program costs approximately $35,000 per year. In Madison, Wisconsin, the bicycle coordinator's salary, plus approximately $2,000, comprises the program's budget.

Public participation: Active public participation is another key ingredient to a successful program. This means, at the minimum, the appointment of a citizens' advisory committee. Seattle's committee is well-known for its commitment and active participation. Candidates for membership are carefully scrutinized for their interest and expertise. Eugene also credits a significant amount of its success to an active committee, as does Gainesville.

Most cities surveyed also benefit from the input of community groups. In Seattle, the Cascade Bicycle Club has worked on advocacy issues for many years and is handles much of the bicyclist education work done in that community. In Dallas, the Greater Dallas Bicyclists have worked to improve cycling conditions for years.

The scope of a comprehensive program

Because so little is known about the bicycling situations in most communities, it is difficult to predict in advance what level of expenditure and program activity will be needed to implement a comprehensive program. Until the needs have been identified and the problems assessed, the necessary scope of the program will likely remain unknown. However, the basic approach suggested here is to make bicycle and pedestrian considerations part of the normal process of governing. In many cases, this may require little extra expense.

For example, if a police officer stops a bicyclist for running a stop light, this should not be seen as a new or extra duty. It is simply part of traffic enforcement and it will pay the community back in terms of decreased crash rates. Similarly, adding bicycle-related questions to a transportation needs survey will not necessarily require large amounts of money. It allows transportation planners to do a better job of planning for the community's travel needs and can pay off in reduced bicycle travel demand. Finally, changing from a dangerous drainage grate standard to a bicycle-safe design costs no more but can reduce an agency's potential liability.

There will be some projects (e.g., a bicycle bridge) that require a significant expenditure of funds. However, if the need is clearly documented through surveys and studies, it can take its place in the Transportation Improvement Program. In such an arena, its strengths and weaknesses can be weighed against those of other potential projects.

The steps in the process

There are four primary steps in the process of mixing engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement to create a comprehensive bicycle-pedestrian program.

First, it is important to develop an understanding of the local bicycling and walking situations, looking closely at non-motorized travel in the community, determining its limitations and potential, current levels of use, and safety problems. This understanding supports all work that follows.
The second step is to set realistic goals and objectives. These should be based on data from the information-gathering step and they should be measurable and achievable.

Third, participants should address those goals and objectives through the development of an action plan. The plan should be a blueprint for the community's work in all the elements of the comprehensive program. It should include phasing and funding considerations.

Fourth, as work on the action plan progresses, it should be evaluated based on its effects on the goals and objectives. Without an evaluation process, it is impossible to determine the effects of one's work. With evaluation, one can judge and document success, correct errors, and fine tune the program.

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