Bicyclists are expected to follow established rules-of-the-road. A particular example is riding in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic. However, there are certain situations where the placement of a bicycle lane counter to the normal flow of traffic may increase safety or improve access for bicyclists. For example, connectivity may be enhanced, and out-of-the-way detours and wrong-way riding reduced, if a contraflow bike lane is designated on some one-way streets, allowing bicyclists to ride against the main flow of traffic.
It should be made clear that there are safety concerns associated with contraflow riding, as this places bicycles in a position where motorists do not expect to see them. Thus, a careful assessment should be made before installation. However, there is precedent for opposite direction riding that emanates from Europe, where cyclists are often allowed to ride in the opposite direction on one-way streets, usually with slow motor vehicle traffic. The contraflow bike lane is a specialized bicycle facility that can be used in particular situations and is intended to reduce the number of conflicts between bicycles and motor vehicles. The facility also would be intended to save time by preventing cyclists having to travel an extra distance to ride in the same direction as motor vehicles. Contraflow lanes may also alleviate riding on a high speed, high volume route.
Contraflow bike lanes can be found in cities in the United States with
large numbers of bicyclists, including Cambridge, MA (see case
study #18); Boulder, CO; Madison, WI; and Eugene, OR. A Madison contraflow
lane exists on a street with high traffic volumes. In this case, the contraflow
lane is separated from motor vehicle traffic with a raised median (see case
- Create specialized on-street facilities for bicyclists.
- Enhance bike connectivity.
- Reduce out-of-direction riding on a one-way street network.
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- Install contraflow lanes on the correct side of the street, i.e. on the left side facing the one-way traffic.
- Where contraflow bike lanes are considered, the road or street should be evaluated to determine if this facility is appropriate.
- Provide adequate bike lane width.
- Provide appropriate pavement markings and signing along the route.
- Consider whether colored pavement in the contraflow lane is needed.
- Avoid termination of contraflow bike lanes where bicyclists are left in a vulnerable situation.
- Avoid situations where there are many driveways, alleys, or streets that would intersect with the contraflow lane.
- Determine if there is room for a regular bike lane in the direction of motor vehicle travel on the opposite side of the street.
- Determine if existing traffic signals need to be modified with loop detectors or push buttons to accommodate bicyclists.
- Ensure contraflow bike lanes are legal under local traffic laws.
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The cost of installing a normal bike lane is approximately $3,100 to $31,000 per kilometer ($5,000 to $50,000 per mile), depending on the condition of the pavement, the need to remove and repaint the lane lines, the need to adjust signalization, and other factors. Depending on complexity, such costs could also be associated with contraflow bike lanes.
However, the most likely additional costs would pertain to thermoplastic bike symbols and arrows or inlay bike symbols and arrows. It is most cost-efficient to create contraflow or normal bike lanes during street reconstruction, street resurfacing, or at the time of original construction.
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