Summer is arriving early as bicycles are hauled out of garages and sheds, tires are inflated, and helmets (we hope) are slipped on over heads. It is biking time, as commuters, children and long -distance cyclists take to the roads.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is poised to spend $16,000 on bike safety public service announcements that will air on Maine television stations. One will remind motorists of the law to give at least 3 feet of clearance around the bikers; the other will remind those on bikes to wear helmets.

The coalition, in existence since 1992, is attempting to create “an environment where drivers know that bikes belong on our roads and that extra care should be used when driving around bicyclists,” according to the group’s director, Allison Vogt.

The work is fine, but Maine has a long way to go before bicycles become a mainstream form of transportation. Road shoulders are narrow, and ditches are deep. While there are a number of efforts to shape trails, they are more recreation-oriented, with trails either created from old railbeds or built off in the woods somewhere.

Efforts to create safe biking routes for children going to school or adults going a mile or two to work just are not a high priority for a society whose infrastructure is built almost exclusively for the combustion engine.

That’s why U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s announcement in March to revise policy in this country has touched off a wave of support. He endorses on his blog what he calls a seachange in how transportation officials accommodate bikes and pedestrians. First of all, it calls for fully integrated active transportation networks, and for their design to be part of federal aid projects. Why? To get humans moving and lower vehicle emissions, as well as fuel consumption.

The policy statement is loaded with language that any grant writer in any state, county or town should immediately study in order to figure out how to tap available funds.

“Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems,” the policy states. “Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.”

The federal transportation department wants states and local governments to follow suit and issue their own similar policy statements.

“Walking and bicycling should not be an afterthought in roadway design,” the policy states. “Pedestrian and bicycle facilities should meet accessibility requirements and provide safe, convenient and interconnected transportation networks. For example, children should have safe and convenient options for walking or bicycling to school and parks … Transportation agencies are encouraged, when possible, to avoid designing walking and bicycling facilities to the minimum standards … Removing snow from sidewalks and shared-use paths: Current maintenance provisions require pedestrian facilities built with federal funds to be maintained in the same manner as other roadway assets. State agencies have generally established levels of service on various routes, especially as related to snow and ice events …”

The list of recommendations and examples goes on in what is the strongest statement supporting alternative transportation seen to date in this country. Midcoast Maine would be wise to recognize the advantages of this policy, and work hard to accommodate other ways to get around the close-knit communities. Gateway I, the project to improve Route 1 and make communities through which the highway runs more livable, serves as one organization to get the effort really rolling.

“DOT recognizes that safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities may look different, depending on the context — appropriate facilities in a rural community may be different from a dense, urban area,” LaHood said in the policy statement. “However, regardless of regional, climate and population density differences, it is important that pedestrian and bicycle facilities be integrated into transportation systems.”

Let’s follow the leader.