Cycletracks are essentially urban side paths separated from the general travel lanes by some sort of barrier such as a curb, parked cars, or posts.


Topic 17: Cycletracks

Topic Introduction

Recently, there has been a resurgence of a type of infrastructure which we’ll broadly refer to as cycletracks. They are sometimes referred to as “protected bike lanes.” That is a marketing term only, it is neither a legal distinction nor a functional description.

These are essentially urban side paths separated from the general travel lanes by some sort of barrier such as a curb, parked cars, or posts.

These can be two-way or one-way. At signalized intersections, they may have a separate bicycle signal to resolve conflicts with turning vehicles. Without separate signal phases, cycletracks have essentially the same conflicts as sidewalks.

Potential Conflicts

In a congested environment, a cycletrack may provide a welcome space to move faster than motor traffic. It may also provide a comfortable space for a casual cyclist. Here are some issues to be aware of when using these facilities:

  • Intersection conflicts don’t change unless the cycletrack has a green light that is completely separate from any conflicting movements
  • If turns can be made across the cycletrack during part of your green light, be mindful of blind spots. Don’t pass turning trucks!
  • Motorists entering or exiting driveways and unsignalized cross streets may fail to look for bicycle traffic, their view may also be obstructed
  • Pedestrians may cross the cycletrack without checking for bike traffic. Bus stops and on-street parking feed this conflict. This is an unpredictable conflict that can happen anywhere along the street
  • Bicyclists traveling at different speeds can also create conflicts — especially on two-way tracks where faster bicyclists can interfere with oncoming bicyclists while passing
  • One-way cycletracks eliminate some of the conflicts. But beware, many bicyclists will use the space in whatever direction suits them. You will encounter bicyclists riding against the flow

These conflicts may not be bothersome for slow, casual riders for whom extra caution is not a major disruption in efficiency. Even experienced cyclists sometimes find the trade-off worthwhile to avoid congested streets or incivility.

For faster riders, though, the conflicts can lead to frustration or crashes. It’s best to treat these facilities like a crowded path: Have a casual mindset when using them, or choose another route.

Contraflow bike lanes/cycletracks

Sometimes a cycletrack, or bike lane, is added to provide opposite direction access to a one-way street. In such a case, bicyclists going with the flow may have a bike lane on the right or will be encouraged to use the travel lanes.

If these are designed correctly, they essentially make the street one way for cars and two way for bikes, without producing movement conflicts. Beware that drivers entering the street may not remember to look for traffic in the opposite direction.