Bicycle Lanes

    Claiming the Lane

    generic bike lane
    Making Space: major roadways need lanes of travel for both motorists and cyclists (Photo: Richard Drdul on flickr)

    This page describes the range of cycling facilities, specifically, the different types of bike lanes a cyclist may encounter riding in a city. Of course, no single approach is the best solution, given that the addition of a bike lane almost always must be integrated between the existing road and pedestrian infrastructure.

    In general, a bicycle lane with a single direction of travel should be wide enough (at least 1 meter) to enable a faster cyclist to overtake a slower-moving, even if that cyclist is towing a child or cargo trailer. Bidirectional bicycle lanes or paths (bike boulevards), should be at least 3 meters wide enough to accomodate two bicycle trailers travel in opposite directions or three bicycles travelling in any direction, with room to spare.'s Mikael Colville-Andersen says planners should put bicycle infrastructure where people actually want to go, not where engineers think they should go.


    Wide Outside Lanes

    hybrid bicycle lane with car having passed utility cyclist
    Sweeping Action: a wide curb lane enables motorists to safely pass cyclists but quickly fill with debris (Photo:

    A wide outside lane (WOL) or wide curb lane enables motorists to safely pass cyclists without needing to make a lane change or partially crossing into the adjacent lane.

    A width of 4.3m (not including the gutter) is generally specified by traffic engineers.


    Hybrid Bike Lanes

    Sharrows and Share the Road signage on Britton Pkwy, Hilliard, Ohio
    Minimalist Approach: sharrows are the cheapest approach to building a bike lane (Photo: / Heather Bowden)

    Wide outside lanes marked with sharrows are sometimes referred to as hybrid bicycle lanes. Hybrid bicycle lanes offer the advantages of conventional bicycle lanes, without many of the problems associated with bicycle lanes. Because of this, they have begun attracting the attention of bicycle professionals throughout North America.[1]


    Buffered Bike Lanes

    a buffered bike lane, Manhattan, NYC, NY, USA
    Classic Approach: a buffered bike lane between two-lane traffic and parked cars (Photo: Klzwick on wikimedia)

    Not to be confused with a sidepath or cycle track, a buffered bike lane (also called an enhanced bike lane or protected bike lane) adds a buffer area between the bicycle lane and the travel lane. The buffer area may only be painted on the road or it may be physically separated by humps or bollards. While likely not a design goal, a painted buffered bike lane can also serve to help faster moving cyclists safely pass slower moving cyclists on busy, well-cycled stretches of road.

    Another approach is to place to buffered bike lanes is to move the row of parked cars away from the curb. This has the likely effective of reducing dooring incidents between parked motorists and cyclists.

    a buffered bike lane, NYC, NY, USA
    No Dooring: a buffered bike lane between parked cars and the curb reduces risk (Photo: K_Gradinger on flickr)


    Sidepaths / Cycle Tracks

    boardwalk cycling, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
    Two for One: a bidirectional sidepath for cyclists separated from motorized traffic (Photo: richardmasoner on flickr)

    A sidepath, cycle path or cycle track is a single or bidirectional bike lane running parallel to but separated from motorized traffic lanes.

    Unfortunately, sidepaths force cyclists to behave more like pedestrians than motorists as cyclists and motorists do not share the road at intersections. Left turns must be broken into two parts crossing the intersection as a pedestrian does instead of turning from the left lane as a car would.

    The debate should not be for or against the creation of on street bike lanes or segregated sidepaths. The approach should be to implement an integrated mobility concept that makes the cyclist a core part of the motorist-cyclist-pedestrian equation.

    In a discussion of dedicated bicycle paths (sidepaths) versus bicycle lanes on roads versus no lanes), research has repeatedly shown that segregated cycling facilities are more likely to cause motorist-cyclist collisions, especially during turns at intersections.


    Priority (Bus/Bike) Lanes

    heavily used bus/bike lane on Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL, USA
    High Priority: a heavily used bus/bike lane (Photo: Steven Vance on flickr)

    Research conducted by Newcastle University shows that priority lanes are a better solution to car lanes and that No Car lanes appear to be the best form of priority lane, restricting use to buses, taxis and bicycles.[2]


    Contraflow Bike Lanes

    Do Not Enter - Bicycles Excepted traffic sign
    Contraflow: cyclists can ride in the opposite direction down this one-way street (Photo: ITDP-Europe on flickr)

    Increasingly, cycle-friendly governments are permitting one-way streets to be two-way for cyclists. These so-called contraflow streets enable cyclists to cycle in the opposing direction to motorists.

    As these streets are often not painted with a dedicated bicycle lane but are merely signed as two-way for cyclists at entrances to the street and at intersections, drivers must proceed with extra caution and give cyclists enough room to pass safely.

    Cyclists traveling in the same direction as motorists on the one-way street use such roads the same way as motorized traffic.


    Bike-Ped Infrastructure

    Due to significant differences in the speed of travel between cyclists and pedestrians, facilities serving both need to be clearly marked as multi-use or even segregated altogether.

    Road underpass along Isar River, Munich, Germany
    Separate Ways (Under): a traffic bridge over river includes a bike-ped underpass (Photo by the author)

    Bicycle and pedestrian (bike/ped) such as underpasses integrated into motorized traffic bridges over rivers, highways or train tracks enable people cycling or walking to proceed past the adjacent intersection without needing to stop.

    A good approach is the implementation of a bidirectional cyclepath visually-segregated from the footpath. This is especially relevant in the creation of cycle-friendly parks.

    Lamar bike bridge, Austin, TX, USA
    Separate Ways (Over): a bike-ped bridge provides an alternative to a busy arterial (Photo: Payton Chung on flickr)

    Pedestrian-bicycle or ped-bike signage should be installed to keep those walking separated from those wheeling. See the ped-bike signage page for details.


    When cycle lanes are physically separated from the road, both drivers and cyclists must drive and ride respectively defensively, looking out for each other and anticipating the other's action.





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