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What are the arguments for and against bike lanes? Can anyone summarize the best reasons they're good for and bad for cyclists and automobile drivers?

For example, Are there some environments particularly suited for bike lanes? Are there some types of locales that would be particularly suited for them, where they wouldn't cause resentment?

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I think the question is biased, and you won't get the proper answer. You didn't aks for pro's and con's of bike lane, but for pro's and con's of how the local mayor decided to implement bike lane. Bike lane are good (see The Netherlands example) but in the rest of the world, we can see many example of wrongly implementing bike lanes. Perhaps, you should rephrase your question. –  Huygens Nov 10 '10 at 20:49
@Huygens - I tagged this question with "advocacy" for a reason. The purpose of this question is to ask for good arguments, not for pros and cons. That might be another question, if you can think of way to do it non-argumentatively and sufficiently different from this question. –  Neil Fein Nov 10 '10 at 23:13
No one would ask a similar question by replacing in your question bike lanes by sidewalk and cyclists by pedestrians. Of course it's because there are no pro's or con's for sidewalk, they are a necessity. However, one could talk how stupidly in his city a sidewalk was made (e.g. too narrow, always flooded as soon as it's raining, etc.) So my comment was perhaps to reformulate your question so we could share each of us our bad experiences with some cycle lanes implementation, and how we could contact our politicians to fix those. That's almost what you asked in the 2nd paragraphs. –  Huygens Nov 14 '10 at 22:32
@Huygens - Part of advocacy is convincing people to allow bike lanes in the first place. Implementation is a separate, very important question, but it's not what I had in mind here. (Let's move this to meta if discussion is going to continue, okay?) –  Neil Fein Nov 15 '10 at 1:20
I have not found much use for bike lanes because motorists ignore and use these too. I suggest that you use the pavement if necessary, especially if you are being forced off the road by motorists who are ignoring your presence or do not even see you. I emphasise safety and to ride on the pavement with caution. Also, I recommend that you memorise an insulting rejoinder to pedestrians who complain that you are using the pavements. Always remember that these could be ignorant people who are unaware of how the dangerous the roads are for cyclists and could be guilty of parking on the pavement. –  Carnotaurus Apr 24 '11 at 7:29
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8 Answers

up vote 25 down vote accepted


One of my primary issues with bike lanes is that motorists tend to think that you have to stay in that lane. So when you have to move right because of debris, garbage cans or parked cars in the lane it further annoys ill-informed drivers.

Additionally, drivers come to expect you to be out of traffic, riding on the shoulder, and will squeeze by you closer.

Many bike lanes are placed immediately to the left (traffic-side, may be right depending on the country) of the parking area, so if you remain in the bike lane you are in the "door zone".

Bike lanes tend to increase confusion and conflict at intersections, either forcing the cars to cross the lanes in an awkward manner, or enticing cyclists to filter to the front of the lane and possibly blocking turning actions by motorists. Bike lanes encourage passing on the right, which can be a very dangerous action for the cyclist.

Finally - by law in most places every lane is a bike lane... there is no possible way for designated bike lanes and routes to be marked to every destination I would like to visit, and by law when I am in the lane I am traffic, I'm not blocking traffic. (sorry, I get a little militant about bike lanes, especially when they are the primary focus of improved cycling infrastructure rather than wider roads with calmer traffic.)


As someone with some experience teaching workshops for new bike commuters, I find that the existence of convenient bike lanes and multi-use paths makes taking those first trips easier. Novice commuters feel more comfortable riding on a marked bike lane, even if they don't realize that they may be marginally less safe in a bike lane at the far right edge of the roadway, generally a riskier position.

There are some places, like one particularly popular area in Salt Lake City, where rather than position a lane demarcated with white lines to the side of the travel lane, the DOT painted a wide green lane with bike icons almost in the middle of the right-most travel lane and erected signs that read "Bicycles Allowed Full Use of Lane." This is not a bike lane, but a hybrid or shared-lane, and I love it because it reinforces the fact that bikes are traffic, and roads must be shared.

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Good answer; I'd like to add that bike lanes are sometimes done better, with zones near intersections which indicate to merge or that the bike lane and right lane cross each other. I find this much better than the lanes which encourage bikes to ride to the right of right-turners. Bike lanes which get this right, and are out of the door zone, I think avoid the majority of the issues you describe. I've also noticed more sharrows en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_lane_marking showing up a lot recently, especially in places where bike lanes need to end as the road becomes too narrow. –  Brian Campbell Oct 20 '10 at 15:41
There was a change in the wording of the UK highway code that said bikes 'should' use the cycle lane - which meant it would be an offence to use the road if there was a cycle lane. I think it got turned down. –  mgb Oct 20 '10 at 16:06
I think that bike lanes are good when done well. One issue that seems to come up is that lanes can foster a lack of awareness by the user. I've known of riders who've had accidents while using lanes and the root cause was lack of attention. They felt overly safe in the "bubble" of the lane. Not arguing against, just that a rider has to keep paying attention... –  user313 Oct 20 '10 at 16:11
Article & video on the SLC bike lanes: ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=4286822 –  Drew Stephens Oct 20 '10 at 16:47
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In theory great except for:

Painted white line on side of road - great except for everybody turning right across them at each junction, cars parked in them, busses pulling in and out of them, grit+broken glass+leafs+litter swept into them, broken drain covers, or are so narrow you can't fit a bike in them. alt text

Separated bike lanes - either take you miles out of your way to give you a scenic route, or go alongside a busy road until they come to a major junction or freeway ramp and then just end - starting again at the other side of the lethally dangerous part. alt text

Bike lanes that are either positioned by people who are complete morons, or are cynically putting in the minimum bike lane they can to claim some sort of government target. alt text

alt text

Images are from the famous warrington cycle lanes now available as a book:

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+1. "We need bike lanes as in major European/American cities" they say and throw a fortune on this task. However they usually don't have expertice to accompany that fortune and let money be used right. –  sharptooth Oct 20 '10 at 5:41
+1 I love the link! I think that you should put this picture homepage.ntlworld.com/pete.meg/wcc/facility-of-the-month/… in your post. –  sixtyfootersdude Oct 20 '10 at 13:12
@sixtyfootersdude - and nice to know even the Dutch can be daft homepage.ntlworld.com/pete.meg/wcc/facility-of-the-month/… –  mgb Oct 20 '10 at 16:02
-1 - Your comment about badly-placed bike lanes is a good one, but it isn't an argument for or against bike lanes, it's commentary on substandard execution of the concept. Perhaps show this as an example and summarize the contents of your link? –  Neil Fein Oct 20 '10 at 19:48
The link is a famous collection of the worst bike lanes with photos. A common one here is for the cycle lanes to run parallel to the freeway - at each on/off ramp there is a little notice telling to cross when safe, where the cycle path crosses the ramp! –  mgb Oct 20 '10 at 21:18
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In London there are some new 'Cycle Superhighways' painted in blue with lots of associated signage (and publicity), they're envisaged as arterial routes from the edges of the city into the centre. Obviously they're only useful if your journey is close to where they are but they have had some quite obvious effects even in the few months of their official existence.


  • Everyone knows about them. On that route cyclists aren't just tolerated, they're expected and this makes everyone safer.
  • Every traffic light has an Advanced Stop Line (ASL). This means that at all traffic lights the cyclists are very visible to the other waiting traffic. One frequent criticism is that cycle lanes often seem to melt away at pinch points, which is not the case here.
  • it makes red light jumpers even more obvious. When a bundle of cyclists are waiting and someone jumps, it underlines to car drivers that we're not all at it.


  • there are almost too many cyclists. The lanes are often clogged and overflowing into the rest of the road. While the road is the cyclists to use as well, there is still a feeling of "that's your blue bit, the black bit is for cars".
  • it makes red light jumpers even more obvious. When a bundle of cyclists are waiting and someone jumps, it makes car drivers even more aggreived, "all these facilities and you still jump reds?"
  • it underlines that bikes are different. I don't want different, I want respect and my fair share.
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They also went a bit over the top in painted on road markings. In that special slippery plastic paint that is so entertaining in the rain. –  mgb Oct 20 '10 at 16:04
Absolutely. There are a few corners on my normal route where that blue paint is positively dangerous when there's been the slightest rainfall. –  Unsliced Oct 21 '10 at 10:59
I wouldn't put that they make red light jumpers more obvious as a con. The more obvious those buggers are, the better as far as I'm concerned! I try to be a good cyclist and when I'm a pedestrian nothing pisses me off more than being half way across a green pedestrian crossing just to nearly get knocked over by some tosspot who doesn't think the red traffic light applies to him (and it almost always is a him). –  GordonM Sep 8 '12 at 7:13
@GordonM you'll notice I put RLJs as both a pro and a con for that very reason. It's a pro because it highlights them - but the very fact that people do it on facilities that, for all their flaws, are high profile is definitely a con too. While it is wrong, it might make the whole cycling corpus look 'ungrateful' of the expense. –  Unsliced Sep 8 '12 at 9:26
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Bike lanes often have dirty, inferior roadway and angry SUV drivers eager to force you into the bicycle ghetto.

An extra wide right lane is a much better solution:

  • Roadway is kept in better repair
  • Roadway is swept clean by normal traffic flow
  • Cyclists are not bullied by inattentive or bully drivers
  • Wide right lanes are cheaper and easier than special bike lanes
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Any chance you can expand on this? Even with the rest of your post, "Bike lanes suck" isn't going to convince anyone, and you also have some pretty stiff competition on this page. –  Neil Fein Oct 20 '10 at 14:33
I think what neilfein is trying to ask is: Why are roadways kept in better repair? Why are cyclists not bullied? Why are wide lanes cheaper? Etc... –  Joe Philllips Oct 20 '10 at 16:27
@Joe, @Michael - That's part of it, certainly, but I was really hoping for answers that were more comprehensive, like the ones above. This answer reads like an napkin outline for a good answer to be written later. –  Neil Fein Oct 20 '10 at 16:39
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I find that bike lanes are helpful in getting beginners comfortable riding "in traffic", except that then they also learn that they "can't" ride on roads without them.

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+1 I tried to say the same thing, but this wording is perfect! –  Gary.Ray Oct 20 '10 at 13:46
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The problem in the UK is that for every well designed useful bike lane there are at least 10 useless bike lanes created that just lead to drivers forcing you of the road.

In the UK bike lanes seems to be a “trick list” item that are mostly not wide enough to be of value and stop as soon as you get to a junction. There seems to be no willingness to take road space away from motor cars on the sections of roads/junctions that would benefit most from bike lanes as reducing the capacity of a road is unthinkable.

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The table/graph "Preferred separation of bicycles and motor vehicles" (Ausroads, 2009) as visible here (Australian Bicycling Council, Cycling on Higher Speed Roads When to Provide for Bicycles on Higher Speed Roads) on page 2: http://www.austroads.com.au/abc/images/pdf/ns1525_fs_one.pdf indicates that the Australian standard for introducing cycle lanes (being separately marked spaces on a public road) in an urban environment is centered at 5000 vehicle movements a day with the 85th percentile of speed being 55km/h. If we consider the abominable "shoulder lane" of Australian practice to be a genuine bicycle lane then this would be extended into higher speeds and fewer traffic movements.

The road treatments suggested by Ausroads rarely come to fruition in NSW, with separated facilities almost always being inappropriate routed shared use paths with broken sight lines, corners well below speed, or merely being remarked standard footpaths neighbouring roads. Where such paths are routed appropriately for commuting, such as the Illawarra's SUP Coastline Cycleway there are still numerous engineering flaws such as redundant curves, edge encroachment, failure to route mark.

Australian path building practice, road marking practice, or route marking of mixed traffic routes rarely follows this practice in urban environments in NSW.

Imagine, if you will, civil engineers who when responsible for constructing infrastructure are hindered at every turn, and whose responsibility to produce a road or way has been converted into the production of a leisure amenity for children.

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My take is the following: There are no con's for bike lanes! :-)

Think of it: Are there discussions of pro's and con's of sidewalks (aka pedestrian lanes)? No! Why? Because they are useful! It's a matter of protecting the fragile against the one ton metal boxes that are propelled at 50km/h!

However, there are many con's for how local politics have decided to implements bike lanes because they fail the purpose of it: there are inconsistencies, they are not enough separated from the road, they are placed dangerously, etc. Each time we witness such mistakes which should contact our local council and tell them about it. OK, I agree, it's not always useful, where I live they don't listen at all. But that's why there is elections, and I vote where my mouth is!

In Toulouse, bike lanes are nice but improperly done in most cases. They can even lead you to a one way street with no bike lane and you will be against the traffic (rue A. Dauménil)! Or they share part of the sidewalks leaving no room for pedestrians (allée M. Sarraut). Or they share the road (just a bit of paint) and suddenly the road gets narrow and you get squeeze between a car and a high sidewalk (avenue C. Pujol), which means you are in danger! So yes, bike lanes in Toulouse have lots of con's, I just hope they will do a better job at it.

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You're wrong - simply because bike lanes encourage in the motorist (as group and in at least in some countries) the belief that cycles do not belong on the road at all. –  Murph Nov 10 '10 at 21:29
@Murph then this is bad communications by the politics who installed the bike lanes. :-) There are numerous countries or places where this is not the case: Netherlands, Germany, some parts of France (esp. the Eastern regions). –  Huygens Nov 10 '10 at 21:40
"You're wrong" is a bit of an over-statement :) I hope you can do better at communicating too ;) –  Huygens Nov 10 '10 at 21:42
No, actually it isn't an overstatment - you state, "there are no cons" and I state one that exists in a great many places regardless of quality of implementation (I agree that its by no means universal, I know from experience that in Denmark and Holland the relationship between motorist and cyclist is much better so its not the case). Cycle lanes are good in theory and when done properly and when integrated into the traffic system as a whole and when the attitude of the motorist is sympathetic to the cyclist. When we get to "separate but equal" it works rather less well. –  Murph Nov 10 '10 at 22:29
You didn't get what I was saying. A cycle lane is not wrong in it's self (it's neutral), much like wine is not wrong (unless it tastes like vinegar), it's the use of it that could be wrong. So in the case of bike lanes, if it feels wrong in some places it's because it was poorly implemented and badly managed. So we shall not speak of bicycle lane as bad or good, this can't be, it's just a necessity. Please re-read my answer. –  Huygens Nov 10 '10 at 22:47
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