Bicycle Route Signing and Mapping
Bike Routes sign

One of the most common questions a bicyclist asks is "where can I safely ride my bike"? A good bicycle map will answer this question. Bicycle maps can provide information to guide novice cyclists to less-traveled routes, help an experienced cyclist get around unfamiliar parts of town or identify suitable routes for touring cyclists. A bicycle map can be a tool to promote alternative transportation, improve cyclists’ safety, or provide a guide to recreational opportunities.

Bicycle mapping and signing projects provide a low-cost way to improve the safety of cyclists by directing them to roads that are better for bicycling. Bicycle maps are also an excellent tool for promoting bicycling.


Identifying and signing safe roads for bicycling has been an important focus of the Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation (DBPT) since the mid-1970s when it was known as the Bicycle Program. Beginning with a series of cross-state routes, known as Bicycling Highways, the Division’s work expanded to developing regional, county, and urban maps in response to requests from local officials around the state.

Funds for signing both Bicycling Highways routes and local routes became available in 1987. Nine Bicycle Highway routes have been designated, covering more than 2,500 miles. Twenty-two local and regional maps are currently available with three additional maps nearing completion. These maps detail an additional 2,000 miles of designated routes. Requests for 20 more maps are being handled as time permits.

Costs and Funding

The annual allocation for mapping and signing projects is $200,000, set aside from TEA-21 funds. Communities can request a project to develop a route or suitability map for their area through the biannual Transportation Improvement Program. Such requests are generated through local planning departments, parks and recreation departments, chambers of commerce, regional agencies and advocacy groups. To receive funding authorization, requests must be endorsed and submitted to the NCDOT by a local governing agency such as a City Council or County Commission.

Costs of mapping projects vary greatly depending on the format, area covered, number of colors, size of finished product, number of copies printed and whether the work is done in-house or through the services of a consultant. Typical costs based on past projects are outlined in the table:

Approximate Consultant Services CostApproximate Printing Costs (per copy)
County Route System$20,000$.50
Urban Route System$30,000-$60,000$.34 - $.78

These costs do not reflect staff time spent in administering the projects, developing routes, coordinating with local committees, preparing text or reviewing and proofing the product throughout the production process. Approved mapping projects must produce a minimum of 10,000 copies of the map in a four-color format.

County and Local Map Project Development

Map Content

Every bicycle map or brochure produced through this Mapping & Signing Program must convey the following information:

  • Map with designated routes
  • Bicycle riding tips
  • Safety Information
  • General local history
  • Points of interest along routes
  • Text description of each route

Bicycle route mapping projects can create greater awareness of other bicycling needs and often leads to future planning efforts or facility improvement projects. The development of a county-wide or urban system can be an involved but rewarding task. The involvement of knowledgeable local of staff and volunteers is a critical part of the process. Care should be taken to provide a route network which will take cyclists to their destinations. A route system is more than a collection of quiet country lanes; it is a network for travel, as well as recreation, for the local cyclists and visitors to the area.

The first step in this process is to request the development of a bicycle route or suitability map through the Transportation Improvement Program. These requests must be endorsed by the local government agency - for county maps, it will be a County Commission; for urban maps, it will be a City/Town Council. Once a mapping and signing project is approved, and the sponsoring agency has executed an agreement with NCDOT, the agency has two (2) years to complete the project.

  • The sponsoring agency should form or identify a group of cyclists or interested individuals to assist in the development of a routing scheme. Often bike clubs, outing clubs, or other civic organizations are a good place to begin identifying interested citizens who have knowledge of the local roadways. This group should also include any county or municipal officials and local planning and engineering staff, who can provide input on the routes selected and may be aware of future plans or facility improvement projects that would impact choosing a particular route.
  • Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian staff will meet with the route selection group to discuss guidelines for route selection.
  • The local group will devise a draft routing plan for submission to the NCDOT.
  • Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian staff will review the routes, conduct field surveys, check roadways for various geometric and operational criteria, etc. NCDOT will develop the final plan from information gathered by site surveys and from the sponsoring agency and the cyclist group.
  • NCDOT will develop and print the route map from the final approved routes.
  • A minimum of 10,000 copies of the map must be printed; 1,000 copies will remain with NCDOT for its use.
  • Special signs are used to designate these bike routes. Usually these signs have a specific numerical designation.
  • Once the maps are printed and the signs are installed the sponsoring agency may wish to hold an inaugural ride of the route system.

Route Selection Guidance

The DBPT developed a set of criteria to be used in developing bicycle routes. The road selection criteria below reflect what the ideal “Bicycling Highway” might offer. Recognized as a national leader in this area, these DBPT guidelines have been used by many states and localities throughout the country.

Increasing Usage and Visibility of Bicycling

Although information on the effectiveness of mapping and route signing projects is primarily anecdotal, it is clear that bicycle maps and signs increase bicycle usage and the visibility of bicycling. Following are some examples to support this statement:

  • The DBPT distributes more than 25,000 bicycle maps annually and fields thousands of phone calls and emails requesting additional information on where to ride.
  • An additional 25,000 to 35,000 maps are distributed locally each year by communities for whom bicycle maps have been produced.
  • Informal discussions with proprietors of bed-and-breakfast accommodations throughout the state show that many guests bring bicycles with them or arrive by bicycle.
  • DBPT staff frequently field phone calls or emails from visitors to the state noting that they chose to come to North Carolina because of the bicycle mapping program which provides an abundance of touring information.
  • Many of ride promoters for major bicycle events utilize the signed and mapped routes for their rides.
  • Local bicycle clubs regularly use the mapped and signed routes in their areas.

Other positive results involve roadway improvements along sections of designated bicycle routes. The route selection process often reveals barriers to bicycling such as bridges with inadequate width or low railings and roadways that need bicycle improvements such as bike lanes, wide curb lanes or wide paved shoulders to provide a continuous safe corridor of travel. Over the years, by working through ongoing processes of the NCDOT, many significant improvements have been made to roads and bridges identified through the bicycle route and mapping process.

Although suitability maps had been created for localities in other parts of the country, DBPT refined the process of data collection and application of suitability ratings to reflect conditions in each community. Each community is unique and whether producing a route map or a suitability map, DBPT strives to reflect these unique characteristics and cycling opportunities.