Major new bicycle network implemented in Carthage; which Missouri cities now have the most miles of bicycle lanes per capita?

Carthage, Missouri, is in the process of adding about 24 miles of marked on-street bicycle lanes and routes this summer. A city of just 14,200, Carthage looks to have the most on-street bicycle routes per capita of any Missouri City, once the project is complete. 

Brady Beckham of the Carthage City Council has been a champion for the Carthage
Brady Beckham of the Carthage City Council has been a champion for the Carthage Bicycle Plan

The Carthage bicycle route system brings good, marked, on-street bicycle routes within easy bicycling distance of nearly every residence and business in the city.

Creating a comprehensive on-street bicycle route system is one of our top recommendations for Missouri cities. On-street bicycle facilities re-purpose existing road space to create a safe enviroment for bicycling. Because streets already go everywhere in the city, an on-street bicycle route system is the best way to reach all citizens throughout a city.

Because cities already have many miles of existing roads and streets--many of those miles very underused--creating an on-street bicycle route system is typically very inexpensive.

The Carthage system was created for $116,500--about $4900 per mile and even less than the $210,000 Carthage had budgeted for the project. 

And you have to understand: Transportation projects just don't happen for $4900 per mile.  More typical prices range from $490,000 per mile (simple unpaved trail) to $4.9 million per mile (multi-lane road) to $49 million per mile (interchanges, bridges, etc).

On-road bicycle route systems are a huge bargain--and one that more Missouri cities should be taking advantage of. 

Missouri Cities - how do their on-road bicycle systems stack up?

So--how many Missouri communities are taking advantage of the savings by creating on-road bicycle route systems?

And how comprehensive are their systems?

Below is a quick comparison of several Missouri cities based on population and publicly available information on total on-street bicycle system miles:

CityPopulationMiles of on-road bike routesCity population per mile of bike route (lower is better)Data SourceNotes
Carthage (when complete)1423224593Carthage City3 miles bike lanes; 21 miles share lane markings
Columbia115,276149.3772Nonmotorized Pilot Project Report, May 2014 
Springfield164,122782103Springfield City 
Kansas City467,000~2002335BikeKC, Kansas City MO180 miles marked bicycle routes + ~ 20 miles bicycle lanes
St. Louis318,4161332394St. Louis American Article 
Blue Springs53294222422Blue Springs City 

This is just a first look how some Missouri cities compare.  It doesn't include trail mileage and it doesn't take into account quality or type of the facility--things that are much harder to boil down to a single number. It doesn't including all cities that have a significant bicycle route mileage.

And--fortunately!--in Missouri right now the number of miles of bicycle facilities is a fast-moving target. Cities are installing new facilities every month. So this is a snapshot based in incomplete information at best.

But still, clear patterns emerge:

  • Cities that are serious at all about becoming bicycle friendly communities have a minimum of one mile of bike route per 2000-3000 residents
  • Cities that are aiming for best-of-class are getting the number as low as 1000 or even 500 residents per mile of bike route.
  • The best cities are not working on "citizens per mile of facility" per se are working to ensure that their bicycle route system connects to all neighborhoods, all citizens, and all destinations. Such a system requires a pretty fine mesh.

Do investments in bicycle route networks pay off? Do people actually use them?

We know that communities that have continued to improve the quality of their system, improve the connectivity, and add more mileage, have seen the strongest growth in the amount of bicycling. For example, St. Louis has taken its Bike St. Louis system through four phases since 2004 and has seen strong growth in the amount of bicycling every step of the way--as our 2015 analysis of St. Louis bicycle mode share data showed.

Bicycle Mode Share 2007 - Missouri vs U.S. vs World Cities (click for larger version)

Columbia got an earlier start than St. Louis, with major investments in trail an on road systems beginning in the late 1990s and accelerating in the late 2000s. Columbia has seen much the same dynamic as St. Louis--a greater investment and a better system has led to an ever-increasing amount of bicycling.

Springfield got an early start implementing its on-road bicycle network, in the early 2000s. But then in the late 2000s, the network stagnated, only to be revitalized with significant expansion and improvements in the 2010s. Meanwhile Ozark Greenways continued to build expand the Springfield area trail network throughout that entire time. The results can be seen clearly in the 2007 and 2014 Bicycle Mode Share graphs.

Kansas City got a late start in implementing the the BikeKC program. That late start clearly shows in census data for bicycling dating from the late 2000s. But as soon as the city started implementing its bicycle plan, those numbers started to go up immediately.

Bicycle Mode Share 2014 - Missouri vs U.S. vs World Cities (click for larger version)

The leading bicycle cities around the U.S. and around the World (see graph, above) have been working on their bicycle route system for far longer than we have in Missouri. Many leading cities in Europe got serious about creating bicycle route networks in the 1970s and 1980s. As you can see in the graph above, those decades have work have paid off.  They have good networks that are very well used.

The leading U.S. bicycling cities starting working on their systems in the 1990s and worked to continuously improve them throughout the 2000s and 2010s. You can see the clear results in the graph above. Missouri cities have a lot of catching up to do!

But you can also see that Missouri cities have started to work on their bicycle route systems and that work has brought clear and steady results.

City bicycle plans are relatively simple, inexpensive, cost-effective, and they work.

The more mileage, the better connected, and the better quality the facilities, the more people will use them.

Those are the lessons learned over the past 20 years of implementing (and failing to implement!) bicycle plans in Missouri communities and cities and towns around the world. We hope that all other Missouri cities take these lessons learned and put them into action--has Carthage has done this summer.


The Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation works to encourage and support better bicycling, walking, and trails in communities across Missouri. Creating a world-class bicycle and pedestrian transportation system in Missouri is one of the four primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. 

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support helps turn our Vision into reality!