The U.S. Bicycle Route System has expanded, and area residents are taking the first group ride from Chattanooga to Atlanta this weekend.
Although the route was approved about six months ago and people have been using it informally, this is the first organized ride, said Jim Johnson, president of Chattanooga business BikeTours.com.
In May 2014, his company—which represents nearly 100 local bike tour operators around the world and allows travelers to book bike tours in places such as France, Italy, Vietnam and Nepal—brought in national leaders to discuss the promotion of biking connectivity.
After that visit, which included Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling Association, which oversees the U.S. Bike Route System for the United States Department of Transportation, Johnson initiated the project to mark a route between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
"At one point, we had nearly 50 volunteers suggesting, testing, vetting and modifying routes before coming up with what we felt would be an ideal route," he said. "Route selection takes into consideration more than directness and also focuses on safety, scenery, facilities and sites of interest."
U.S. Bicycle Route 21 is the one that goes between Chattanooga and Atlanta, but the entire U.S. Bicycle Route System has 11,243 miles of routes in 24 states.
And leaders are working on other routes—one that will connect Chattanooga and Nashville, and another between Johnson City and Memphis.
Each municipality along the route has to formally agree to it, and generally, the leaders see health, safety and recreational value to residents and the economic impact from touring cyclists, he also said.
And state departments of transportation in Georgia and Tennessee also had to approve the routes, Johnson said.
He credited the extent of the volunteer network and cooperation between organizations for the quick completion of the route.
"This is the type of thing that [takes] some states multiple years," he said. "We did it in record time."