Apr 252013

The Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring is a contraflow bike lane.  My question: Is it safe to ride the wrong direction in this one-way bike lane?

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A cyclist I rode with last week did exactly that.  A contraflow bike lane is one that provides for cyclists riding against the flow of car traffic on a one-way street. If you’re riding in the same direction as cars, you’re supposed to use the travel lane.  If you’re riding against the flow, you’re supposed to use the bike lane.

But the cyclist I was with, unfamiliar with the contraflow concept, rode the wrong way in the one-way bike lane despite the directional arrows painted there.  I urged her to move into the travel lane so she’d be going the right direction, but she was baffled as to why she should have to.  She didn’t want to share the travel lane with cars, though it’s a minor street and this stretch is only about a block long, so many cyclists wouldn’t be intimidated by this.

Here are what I see as problems with riding the wrong direction in the bike lane:

  1. The bike lane isn’t wide enough for two cyclists to pass each other head-on.
  2. Drivers might not expect cyclists going against the arrows (though honestly, they probably wouldn’t expect cyclists going with the arrows either).
  3. There is parking adjacent to the bike lane, and people getting out of their cars might not see a cyclist coming up from behind them (and the bike lane isn’t wide enough to pass an open car door).
  4. At the end of the bike lane, wrong-way cyclists would find themselves in an awkward position, left of car traffic (similar to a sidepath in that regard).

So is this a problem or not?

This is relevant because two-way cycle tracks are proposed for Bethesda Ave. in Bethesda for one block (as the Capital Crescent Trail).  This is similar to the Cedar St. bike lane except that both the travel lane and the bike lane allow two-way traffic.

FYI, the Cedar St. bike lane was originally only 20 feet long!  Neighbor opposition had left it in limbo.  Thus it won an award from Slate Magazine as the “stupidest bike lane in America“, which goaded the county Department of Transportation to finish the bike lane quickly.

  2 Responses to “Cedar St. contraflow bike lane: is it safe to use the wrong way?”

  1. What would you friend have done if another cyclist entered the bike lane following the direction of the arrows? She is setting up an accident – and there is just no need for this since Cedar is only one block long with a low speed limit.

    I disagree that this is relevant to Bethesda Ave. A two way cycletrack separated from motor vehicle traffic is like a road for bikes only. It is not at all similar to a bike lane which is part of the roadway. They operate very differently and have very different issues and advantages.

  2. You’re right, a two-way cycletrack on a two-way street is a lot different than a two-way bike lane on a one-way street. In the latter case (if bike lanes are to the driver’s left), you can almost think of it as two bike lanes, except one is to the left of car traffic and the other doesn’t have any adjacent car traffic at all. Alas, there isn’t room for that on Cedar St.

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