Designing for a Biking and Walking Future

by Eric Meyer

I live in a neighborhood with nice homes, good neighbors, good schools, and many nice amenities. But one thing we don’t have is sidewalks. When the neighborhood was developed more than 50 years ago, sidewalks were not considered necessary. Or at least not something that would bring higher value to the neighborhood versus the cost of construction. Today, I regularly see neighbors out walking the streets of the neighborhood. They’re walking for exercise, to walk their dogs, to visit neighbors, or to just enjoy a nice stroll in some fresh air. My wife and I are often out there, too.  

While motorists and pedestrians can share the road agreeably on relatively quiet roads in most circumstances, it would certainly be better for all if there were sidewalks. Unfortunately, installing sidewalks in a fully developed neighborhood is very difficult and very expensive. What could have been easily done during the neighborhood’s development at a relatively low cost is now nearly impossible.  

I use this situation as an example of what happens when we are short-sighted in our development of new neighborhoods, apartments, and shopping areas. As a country, we began designing transportation infrastructure almost exclusively for the automobile in the middle of the last century. In the process, we’ve made alternate transportation, like biking and walking, very difficult and unsafe. As a result, we typically don’t consider walking or biking as an option to go to a store, to school, or to work– even when the distances are quite manageable.  

Today we have a lot of new projects under development in Adams County, particularly in Straban and Cumberland townships. While most new developments include sidewalks, they are still missing biking infrastructure. In addition, the walking and biking infrastructure that connects these new developments to existing retail centers and public facilities is often not addressed at all.  

How do we change that?  Townships typically have Subdivision and Land Development Ordinances, known as SALDOs. These ordinances spell out the requirements for new developments, and usually include the design standards for roads, sidewalks, etc. Unfortunately, the local townships do not have any requirements in their SALDOs for bike infrastructure (and sometimes not even sidewalks). So, when a developer brings plans to the township and they don’t include any biking infrastructure, the township planning commission and board of supervisors have little ability to require the developer to change anything.  

Our organization believes that it’s time for townships to change their SALDOs to include some language about biking infrastructure. We have looked at SALDOs in other townships in Pennsylvania and found examples we could use here:

  • If deemed necessary for the convenient and safe circulation of bicycles and pedestrians, the Board of Supervisors, upon the recommendation of the Planning Commission, may require that a major subdivision or land development include the granting of an easement for a pathway or bikeway – Spring Township, Berks County SALDO, Section 1013 
  • (Regarding street widths) Provisions for additional RIGHT-OF-WAY and/or CARTWAY width may be required by the Board of COMMISSIONERS in specific cases for: … (3) The addition of a BICYCLE LANE – Manheim Township, Lancaster County SALDO, Section 803. 
  • Primary Arterial Streets: Bicycles and pedestrians should be accommodated on wide, multi-use side paths separated from traffic by landscaped verge. Secondary Arterial Streets: Bicycles and pedestrians should be accommodated on sidewalks measuring a minimum of five feet in width separated from traffic by a landscaped verge. – Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County SALDO, Article 4.9.C 

Note that these ordinances can be written to give the township flexibility in working with the developer on a reasonable approach to bike infrastructure – and sidewalks, too if applicable.  

We have contacted one of the local townships that recently announced plans to update their SALDOs and asked them to include language on bike infrastructure and gave them the examples above. We encourage you to talk to your township planning commission or board of supervisors about updating their ordinances as well. The vision we all show today in reestablishing safe means for biking and walking in our communities will benefit our children, grandchildren, and future generations.  

Eric Meyer is Vice President of HABPI and a retired engineer who rediscovered his love of biking more than 25 years ago.