US Bicycle Route 35

The Michigan portion of USBR 35 extends 501-miles from Sault Ste. Marie in the north to New Buffalo in the southwest corner, passing through our area along the TART Trail and Leelanau Trail. US Bicycle Routes are carefully selected to offer safe connections for road cycling between urban, suburban and rural communities. A committee comprised of representatives from several cities along the route conducted public meetings through the fall of 2010 and secured resolutions of support from all affected road agencies. USBR 35 was approved on May 19, 2012. View the route at BikeTouringRoutes.com.

Making It Happen in Michigan: Signing USBR 35

October 19, 2016 – Saara Snow is Adventure Cycling’s Travel Initiatives Coordinator and Kerry Irons generously volunteers for Adventure Cycling.

“Following the numbers” on U.S. Bicycle Route 35 in Michigan. 

Signing bicycle routes is as critical to the success of the U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) as marketing is to any business — if no one knows it’s there, what’s the point? The vision for the USBRS is that it will connect the U.S. with numbered and signed bicycle routes, and all you’ll have to do is “follow the numbers.” Signs not only guide bicycle travelers, but they also alert motorists to watch for bicyclists, increase tourism appeal, and send a visual cue that the area is supportive of bicycling.

However, the reality is that the USBRS now exceeds 11,000 miles of routes, but less than 30% of those miles are signed. The reason for that is the same issue that plagues all bicycle projects: lack of funding. Funding U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR) signs is simply not a top priority for state and local road agencies. So how do we move forward on achieving the vision for a signed bicycle route network given this enormous constraint?

Michigan USBRS volunteer coordinator, Kerry Irons (right), shows off the USBR 20 and 35 signs with Adventure Cycling staffer, Mike Deme (left). 

How Michigan did it

There is a model that Adventure Cycling has tried and now succeeded with on two USBRs in Michigan — USBR 20 and more recently, USBR 35. Between these two routes, nearly 750 USBR signs have been installed on local roads, trails, and streets in Michigan.

Here’s the nitty-gritty on how it worked in Michigan on USBR 35.

MDOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator, Josh DeBruyn (left), spearheaded the effort to sign the state’s portion of USBR 35. 

1) State Dept. of Transportation signs the state-owned portions of the route.

Michigan’s portion of USBR 35 runs 505 miles from Indiana, near New Buffalo, to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan following the Lake Michigan shore. When the route was designated in 2013, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Natural Resources (MDNR) installed over 130 signs (26% of the total 500 signs needed) on the state-owned portions of the route. But these state agencies can’t place signs on the portions of the route that include city streets, county roads, and non-state trails. So while MDOT did prioritize funding USBR signs (thanks MDOT!), it didn’t cover the entire route, and there was little chance that all 33 of the local agencies that owned remaining parts of the route would be willing to buy signs themselves.

Kerry Irons rides past a USBR 35 sign in his hometown of Holland, MI. 

2) Volunteer raises funds from combination of local stakeholders to fund signs for local portions of the route.

So, Holland, MI resident and longtime USBRS Volunteer Coordinator, Kerry Irons, set about finding a combination of funding sources to make up that gap. On behalf of Adventure Cycling, he applied for and was awarded grant funding from the DALMAC Fund, supported by the annual Dick Allen Lansing to MACinaw bicycle ride. He also reached out to ask for donations from local tourism bureaus and bike clubs, including the Beachtowns group of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, the Three Oaks Spokes, West Michigan Coast Riders, and Macatawa bike clubs. Through this outreach, Kerry was able to raise $15,000 of funding to purchase signs for the route.

The final product — a branded, on-the-ground, visible U.S. Bicycle Route. 

3) Adventure Cycling buys signs; volunteer distributes them to local agencies to install.

With these funds, Adventure Cycling bought over 500 USBR 35 route signs, and the associated north/south and directional arrow plaques, and had them delivered to Kerry’s house. He contacted the 33 local agencies along the route and asked them to install the signs. The estimated cost to local agencies to install the signs was about $30,000 in labor, materials, and equipment time. While the level of enthusiasm of those local agencies varied widely, in the end they all agreed that the safety and informational value of signing the route justified the expenditure. Kerry then hand-delivered the signs to each agency.

And voila! U.S. Bicycle Route 35 went from relative obscurity on the MDOT and Adventure Cycling websites to being seen by every pair of eyes that travels along the route, regardless of whether they’re on a bike or in a car.

Travel Initiatives Coordinator, Saara Snow, co-wrote this blog post with Adventure Cycling volunteer, Kerry Irons. Kerry has been a volunteer for ACA for over 12 years and has coordinated development of the U.S. Bicycle Route System since 2010. He is retired, lives in Holland, MI, and makes a point to ride his bike every day that it’s above 45 degrees and there isn’t snow on the ground. 

All photos by Chuck Haney