By Louise McGrody of WashingtonBikes | Published June 4, 2014
Bicycling in the nation’s #1 Bicycle Friendly State just got a boost: official designation of Washington’s first interstate bike route in the nationwide US Bicycle Route System. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has approved official recognition for USBR 10. It will be designated in future updates of the highway design manual followed by transportation planners and engineer at all levels of government, providing the basis for maintaining and improving the route over time.
The 407-mile route follows the northern, cross-state-highway corridor, State Route 20, from Newport, Washington, at the Idaho border to Anacortes, Washington’s international ferry terminal. The USBR 10 interstate route will eventually connect all the northern tier states, linking Washington state to Maine and running from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.
Bike Travel a Booming Business
“This bike route designation is an example of what can be accomplished by working with partners like Washington Bikes and local communities,” said WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson. “It’s estimated by the Outdoor Industry Association that Washington could see as much as $650 million annually from bike travel statewide. These are benefits that will be shared throughout the route.”
When fully developed, the United States Bicycle Route System will contain more than 50,000 miles of interstate bicycle routes crisscrossing the country and providing route guidance to touring cyclists, commuters and recreational riders.
The USBRS effort in Washington state is being coordinated by Washington Bikes, in partnership with the Washington State Department of Transportation. The project depends on volunteers from Washington Bikes to collect and harmonize input from bicycle clubs, tour groups, cities, tribes, counties and regional transportation organizations.
Washington Bikes executive director Barb Chamberlain said, “Washington Bikes works to promote bike travel across the state, and the USBR mapping effort is helping us develop detailed information on a fantastic set of major connections. Identifying the best route provides value not just for those who go on bike tours of Washington state, but also for those seeking everyday bicycle connections town to town.”
Chamberlain also serves as co-chair of Gov. Inslee’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation, which includes promotion of Washington’s outdoor economy as one of its focus areas.
Echoing Sec. Peterson’s emphasis on the economic value of bicycle travel, Chamberlain noted, “Bike travel is particularly good for small towns, since bike travelers are fueled by calories and stop many times along the way. We just helped publish a guide to multi-day bike tours in the state, Cycling Sojourner Washington; some of those tours make use of parts of USBR 10 and all of them identify great places to stop, stay, and spend. Bike-friendly towns that welcome visitors are good for the people who live and ride there every day, too.”
Farmers Markets, like the one in Twisp, are popular stops for bicycle travelers.
Along the route, local businesses and communities have recognized the opportunity, adding cyclist campsites and other services. North Cascades National Park has added two bike-in, no reservation campsites at Newhalem and Colonial Creek Campgrounds, and refurbished Bingham Park in Sedro Woolley will include bike-in campsites. Tonasket has long supported touring bicyclists with free wi-fi and showers at their information center, and Okanogan is rebuilding its riverfront Lyons Park to accommodate cycle-in touring.
Transportation planners are integrating the new USBR 10 route into local planning to align and enhance bicycle touring in their individual jurisdictions. Washington Bikes will connect with local destination marketing organizations, businesses, and communities along the route to help them include USBR 10 in their promotional materials and reach out to welcome biking customers and visitors.
Mapping the Route
Washington Bikes board member and route coordinator John Pope noted that Washington started with what may be the most mountainous and scenic interstate bicycle route in the state through what some call the “North American Alps.”
The scenic alpine climb over Rainy and Washington Passes in North Cascade National Park will inspire and challenge cycling tourists. USBR 10 summits Loup Loup Pass near Twisp, scales the Okanogan Highlands at Wauconda, and crests the Kettle Range at the 5,575-foot Sherman Pass—the highest paved mountain pass in the state, and crosses the Selkirks at Little Pend Oreille Lakes. It follows the Skagit, Methow and Okanogan Rivers, crosses the Columbia River at Kettle Falls, and follows the beautiful Pend Oreille River from Ione to Newport.
Route suggestions from area bicycle clubs and the Adventure Cycling Association, along with input from city and county engineers, introduced many quiet and beautiful byways to this route. Staying within the SR 20 corridor but selecting quiet back roads when the highway becomes narrow or overly trafficked, the route offers miles of quiet pastoral cycling mixed with incredible views and scenic roads.
WSDOT Special Programs manager Paula Reeves coordinated the state effort. Washington Bikes’ former executive director Barb Culp, who still volunteers with the organization, worked to obtain route approvals from Okanogan cities. Pope did the route verification, drafted the nomination, and harmonized route options with road managers/engineers, bike clubs, and regional transportation organizations….”
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