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FAQ City: What Do The Bike Route Signs Around Charlotte Mean?

Cycling enthusiast Stephanie Bercht stands in front of the Uptown Cycle Track at the intersection of East 6th and North Davidson streets.
Michael Falero

When FAQ City listener Sarah Morris moved to Charlotte from the Midwest about six years ago, she noticed something interesting about the city when she rode her bike.

A bike route sign in Charlotte, NC.
A bike route sign in Charlotte, NC.

I noticed there were these signs and bikes painted on the road with arrows and things, but there isn’t always a bike lane to go along with it,” Morris said.

And so she asked: “What do the bike route signs all over Charlotte mean? I see them even on streets that don’t have bike lanes.

Will Washam said it’s a good question.

“So, a number of years ago, the city of Charlotte developed a numbered bike route system,” said Washam, the bicycle program coordinator at the Charlotte Department of Transportation. “So the signs that the listener is seeing … they're likely smaller signs, there's the traditional green and white, they have a bike emblem and also a number associated with them.”

Did bicycling grow during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Bicycle sales reached $1 billion in April 2020 — an increase of 75% from the previous year, according to market research company NPD Group.

This so-called “bike boom” has led manufacturers and suppliers to try to keep up with demand and brought attention to cities (including Charlotte) creating and maintaining safe and accessible bike lanes while planning for the future of biking.

What are the numbers on the signs based on?

Eric Zaverl, the bike and walk program coordinator with Sustain Charlotte, said they are based on another system.

“They’re originally based off of the U.S. bike route system,” Zaverl said. “So the United States — just like the interstate system has Interstate 85 and 77 — they created a bike version of that back in the late '70s. And there's some bike routes that cover the country that are U.S.-based.”

Is there a difference between a bike route and a bike lane?

A bike lane is a specific lane for cyclists in traffic. However, the city has recently been piloting bike-only lanes.

A bike route can include a bike lane. Bike routes are going to guide you where you’re going and lanes are a designated space for people to ride.

Is there a place to find a list of bike routes and bike lanes?

Yes! For that, check out the Charlotte Cycling Guide, which is a map of Charlotte tailored for cyclists in the Queen City. It’s a standard map with landmarks for libraries, schools and emergency services – but there are also landmarks for bike shops.

Streets on this map are outlined in different colors. It looks cool — and it serves a purpose.

Streets outlined in red mean there are bike lanes. And when you see orange, you’re on a signed bike route – so look out for those signs our listener asked about! Yellow streets are suggested bike routes and green is for the greenways and off-street paths.

This Charlotte cycling map tells which streets are bike-friendly.
This Charlotte cycling map tells which streets are bike-friendly.

What are greenways?

According to Mecklenburg County, these nature trails and parks are located throughout the county. And one – the Cross Charlotte Trail – goes from Charlotte into South Carolina.

How long does it take the city to plan bike infrastructure?

It can vary, but it does not happen overnight.

I think we are turning the corner on that,” Zaverl said. “And of course, we didn't get to where we were today or overnight. It took many decades of not investing, and not understanding that bicycling can really be a priority here.”

One group planning for the future of biking in the Queen City is Beyond 77. The study looks at Charlotte’s transportation future. Its name comes from the I-77 corridor, which connects Charlotte and surrounding areas.

There are four parts of this plan. The first two phases collected and analyzed data. But right now, they’re in the third phase – the solutions phase.

Agustin Rodriguez is a transportation planning engineer for the Charlotte Regional Planning Organization, which runs the study.

We are in this process of developing a narrow down list of solutions,” Rodriguez said. “Many of them will be focused on how we’re going forward in the next 10 or 15 to 20 years. We're going to be putting forward projects, construction projects, to mitigate, once again ... that they need affordable and embedded infrastructure in terms of bike lanes and bike facilities, as well as pedestrians.”

The group also works with other counties and governments to plan for the future of bike infrastructure.

If you would like to help the group move forward and learn more, you can take their survey here.

What else goes into planning a bike-friendly Charlotte?

It takes input and planning from different groups and people over time. There is no single step.

“So, just like anything, everything is related, right?" Zaverl said. "It's a system of different things. And if you remove one piece of it, or you only focus on one piece of it, you're not going to get very far.”

According to UNC Charlotte, almost 90% of residents get to work by car in the Queen City. And as more people live in surrounding areas – even different counties or states — it’s harder for them to get around in a short bike ride.

Working with other components of transportation is key, according to Zaverl, who said that building a better bike network comes from building a better transportation network in general.

“I think we need to be open to ideas, and there's something called the bus rapid transit, which basically works more like a light rail system, but it uses buses," Zaverl said. "We're working on getting electric buses here in the city with a partnership with Duke.”

Biking is now in a lot of city planning, including being featured in the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

Whether it’s a neighborhood or campus, there’s a plan for mobility — which includes having spaces that encourage biking and walking.

There are also plans for stronger and safer bike infrastructure within two miles of public transportation, as well as fewer traffic fatalities with the ongoing Vision Zero Action Plan.


Alexandra Watts is an interim assistant producer on Charlotte Talks. Previously, she worked with WFAE as a Report for America corps member, reporting on local government and community issues through a partnership between WFAE and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.