The Monday Morning Commute: Ask the traffic engineer: What is the difference between bike routes, bike lanes, and bike paths?

By Paul Basha, traffic engineer, Summit Land Management

Bike routes are simply streets that have connectivity for bicycle trips. Typically, only signs are provided, to advise motorists and bicyclists that the street is intended to be shared.

Often bike routes have directional signs to help bicyclists follow the most scenic or most car-free journey. Scottsdale has an excellent scenic bike route tour in Old Town, identified as Bike Route 1.

Bike lanes are designated for bicycles only, though some cities allow “personalized mobility devices” to also drive in bicycle lanes. Bicycle lanes are clearly separated from motor vehicle lanes by a solid white stripe, and sometimes by a designated narrow area with stripes on both sides. A bicycle lane must be a minimum of four feet, preferably wider, and must include the word “ONLY” and either the word “BIKE” or a bicycle symbol.

In Scottsdale and several other cities, bicycle lanes have signal detection devices in the pavement specifically designed for bicycles in bicycle lanes. This tells the signal a bike is present, so the bicyclist can see a green light.

Bike paths are also named multi-use paths or shared use paths. These are wide white or black pavement for non-motorized vehicles or pedestrians separated from motorized vehicles. The aerial photograph below shows part of the Camelback Walk within McCormick Ranch. This is a beautiful path for approximately four miles from McCormick Parkway to Cholla Road. with underpasses beneath Shea Boulevard, Mountain View Road, 90th Street, the Pima Freeway, Hayden Road, and Via de Ventura.

Tempe has several scenic bike paths – well-separated from motor vehicles.

Different cities have different regulations pertaining to electric bicycles and for different maximum speeds. Though, by federal law, motorized personal vehicles are also allowed on these multi-use paths. The definition of motorized personal vehicles is quite ambiguous. The United States Department of Justice ruled more than ten years ago that Segways are defined as accessible vehicles protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Arizona Revised Statues 28-101 adopted November 2018, definition of “electric personal assistive mobility device” appears to allow those very low and short motorized sit-down almost bicycles on multi-use paths. Thank goodness there is very few of them, and though the drivers are uncoordinated, they seem respectful.

When the Arizona Department of Transportation constructed the Pima Freeway, north of Shea Boulevard, early this century, at the request of the City of Scottsdale, an equestrian and bicycle bridge was constructed on the Sweetwater Avenue alignment. East of the Pima Freeway, the bridge connects with a bike path, which then becomes a bicycle lane, east of 90th Street. West of the Pima Freeway, the bridge connects with streets.

When the bridge was constructed, active equestrian properties existed both west and east of the Pima Freeway. Equestrian trails exist from west of the Pima Freeway into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. A horse walking on a bridge over a freeway! Even better than a plane driving on a bridge over a freeway at Sky Harbor.

Freeways are barriers that separate cities into different areas. A bicycle and equestrian only bridge provides an excellent link between different areas within the community of Scottsdale.

Incidentally in Scottsdale, a path is a paved travelway and a trail is a dirt or gravel travelway.

Bike routes are on low-volume low-speed streets, bike lanes are separate marked lanes on higher-volume, higher-speed streets, and bike paths are completely separate from streets.

The transportation plans in several cities and Maricopa County include excellent bicycle facilities and provide an inter-connected system. Visit the active transportation plans for each jurisdiction.

Curious about something traffic? Call or e-mail Paul at (480) 505-3931 and

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August 2020