Comprehensive Maintenance Planning for Bicycle Facilities
Emily Ehlers, Senior Transportation Planner, Seattle Department of Transportation
A comprehensive budget and maintenance plan should be developed before construction of a bicycle facility. The most important concept to keep in mind when considering maintenance costs is the direct relationship between what is built and what is maintained because any infrastructure that is built will need to be maintained. For example, if a city installs informational/directional signs, they will have to replace a certain percentage of them each year. Facility design, therefore, should directly reflect the amount of money you anticipate having available for maintenance.
A second important concept to keep in mind is that it is very difficult to secure maintenance dollars. Foundation and government grants, while available for capital costs are generally not available for maintenance. Additionally, it is difficult to get the public involved in raising funds for routine maintenance. The lesson is that maintenance costs are best addressed through prevention. For example, it is always easier to include the cost of installing a good drainage system in the initial cost of a project than it will be to secure funding for fixing a drainage problem at a later date.
The third and final important point is that developing an accurate maintenance budget is not an exact science. Because of differences in bookkeeping methods, wages, facility design, topography, availability of maintenance equipment, community expectations and a host of other variables, it is impossible to determine the potential maintenance costs of any one facility per mile per year.
Seattle's solution for developing a maintenance program for bicycle facilities has been to develop and implement a seven-step approach:
1. Existing Costs
When developing a maintenance plan for a new facility, the first step is to check current costs for maintaining an existing facility. The key is to get the costs for maintaining a facility that is similar to the facility you plan to construct. When reviewing cost information, go over the budget with someone who can explain exactly what items are included in the cost figures. For example, you will want to know if they include labor and overhead costs. Do they include one-time costs on major equipment such as sweepers and trucks? Do they include charges for bringing debris to the local landfill? Do volunteers do some of the maintenance?
A second important step is to find out costs that will be assigned for various maintenance activities. In particular, you will want to look at major equipment, labor, and overhead costs. For example, if you are going to need a sweeper, the agency may have a separate capital fund to pay for the sweeper, in which case you only pay the labor costs of the operator. On the other hand, the maintenance budget may be charged a per-hour fee that covers the amortized, lifetime costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of the sweeper. Labor and overhead can also vary greatly. For example, a maintenance employee who makes $20 an hour may actually cost the maintenance budget $40 per hour if all overhead costs are included.
3. Maintenance Checklist and Cost
The next step in developing a maintenance budget and plan is to create a checklist of all possible maintenance activities. A good way to begin is to list everything included in the facility's design. Besides each maintenance activity, list its frequency, its cost per application, and its annual cost. Listing the annual cost, while a lot of work, is doable if you are familiar with the bookkeeping system and with how charges will be assigned.
4. Routine and Major Maintenance
Once you have completed a draft list of maintenance activities, divide them into "routine" and "major" maintenance categories. In general, maintenance activities such as mowing, that have a frequency of one or more times per year, will fall into the category of routine maintenance. Activities such as repaving a trail surface, that have a frequency of two or more years, will fall into the category of major maintenance. While major maintenance occurs infrequently, it should be budgeted for on an annual basis to avoid the periodic need for a major infusion of cash.
5. Maintenance Priorities
Once you have divided maintenance activities into routine and major maintenance categories, you will want to set maintenance priorities by identifying which activities are critical to the safe operation of the facility, and which ones are critical to other objectives, such as protecting the investment in the infrastructure, protecting the environment, and preserving aesthetics. While some priorities may vary to reflect local community expectations, safe operation of the facility should never be compromised.
The final task is to create a tracking system to ensure that all maintenance activities are completed in a timely, systematic way. More than likely, the agency that will manage a facility already has a system in place. Typically, you will want a checklist for field crews that includes instructions and frequency. Once completed, checklists should be reviewed and kept on file for developing future maintenance budgets and plans. There also needs to be a system for requesting specific maintenance improvements such as sign replacement. A standardized work instruction form should be developed and sent to the field crew, then returned to the maintenance supervisor for filing once the work has been completed. Finally, there needs to be a way to track resident complaints and requests for maintenance. This is particularly critical from a liability standpoint. Once an agency has been "put on notice" concerning a particular safety-related maintenance problem, it must be corrected within a reasonable period of time. When residents call or write in, their concern should be put on a standard form that includes the resident's name and day phone number, the date, and the location and nature of the problem. This should be followed up with a field visit and a call back to the resident explaining what, if anything, will be done about the situation. Again, all complaints should be filed for future reference.
7. Maintenance Budget and Plan
Once the above steps have been completed, the maintenance budget and plan is ready to be put in final form. It should include a checklist of all maintenance items, the frequency of each activity, the cost for each activity, the annual cost of each activity and an indication of who will perform the activity. Priorities related to safe operation of the facility should be clearly identified and a tracking procedure clearly outlined.
Maintenance activities related to the safe operation of a facility should always receive top priority. The AASHTO Maintenance Manual identifies seven maintenance activities that should be carried out on a routine basis. They include:
- Signs and Traffic Markings
- Sight Distance and Clearance
- Surface Repair
- Sweeping and Cleaning
- Structural Deterioration
Sample Maintenance Activity List
The following is a partial list of some of the maintenance activities to consider when developing a maintenance budget and plan. It is important to note that this list should be modified to reflect your particular needs and community expectations. This includes identifying priorities and classifying activities as routine or major maintenance. For example, while mowing may be a weekly activity in a wet, warm area, it may never be required in a dry, arid part of the country. When you develop your own plan, you will want to include the frequency, cost per application, cost per year and specific instructions for each item listed as previously described.
- Replace missing and damaged regulatory and directional signs.
- Repaint worn pavement markings.
- Trim trees, shrubs and grass to maintain sight distances.
- Patch holes, fill cracks and feather edges.
- Clean drainage systems, make modifications to eliminate the formation of ponds.
- Sweep to remove mud, gravel, and other debris.
- Mow bike lane, roadway, and trail shoulders (2.5 to 5 feet back from facility).
- Inspect structures for structural deterioration.
- Spot pruning to maintain view, enhance aesthetics.
- Maintain furniture and other furnishings.
- Mow selectively where groomed look is desired.
- Install and remove snow fences.
- Maintain irrigation lines.
- Pick up trash, empty trash cans.
- Clean rest rooms and drinking fountains, repair as needed.
- Remove graffiti from retaining walls, rocks, etc.
- Prune dense understory growth to improve user safety.
- Spray for weed control.
- Remove snow and ice.
- Maintain emergency telephones.
Evaluation and Results
Seattle's Maintenance Program is evaluated by the feedback of residents, the number of claims resulting from poor maintenance and the number of people bicycling.
Conclusions and Recommendations
After more than 30 years of building and maintaining bicycle facilities, Seattle has been very successful in encouraging people to bicycle more often while reducing the number of crashes. Considering maintenance needs from the outset of a project reduces hazards and the need for major maintenance.
Costs and Funding
Multiple funding sources include gas tax funds, general revenue funds, Business & Occupation Tax funds, car tag revenues, Federal and state grants, etc.
Senior Transportation Planner, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program
Seattle Department of Transportation
700 5th Avenue, Suite 3700
P.O. Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996