Bike lanes (4) definitions

You might think that it would be possible to get a general understanding of bike lanes if you start by checking out definitions of what they are. There are problems with this: even if we only look at documents which are written in the same language,  different guidelines use different terms for the same thing, and when they do define the same thing, they produce contradictory definitions. Also they don’t all describe the same sub-types of bike lane, so it’s difficult to get an overview of what the current state-of-the-art is.

Different terms for the same facility:

Examples of this are: bicycle lanes, cycle lanes, bike lanes, and (possibly) : separated bicycle lane, buffered cycle lane, protected cycle track

Different definitions for the same facility. For example, for bike lanes we can find:

  • Section of road pavement, adjacent and flush with traffic lane, designated by signage and pavement marking for exclusive use of cyclists. Also known as an exclusive bicycle lane. (ref. 2442)
  • Portions of a roadway set aside for bicycle use, with the lanes distinguished from the motor vehicle portion of the roadway by painted stripes, curbs, or parking block. (ref. 2396 USA)
  • Also known as conventional bike lanes, these are defned as a portion of the roadway that has been designated by striping, signage, and other pavement markings for the preferential or exclusive use of cyclists. Cycle lanes are typically on the right side of other vehicle lanes in the same direction or left side on one-way streets. Cyclists may have to leave the lane to pass other riders, to make turns, or to avoid obstacles. (ref. 2497)
  • Bike lanes (Class II bicycle facilities) are a portion of the road marked with a line, for use by bicyclists. They are always one­way facilities, with cyclists traveling in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic in the adjacent lane. Bike lanes often become dashed lines approaching an intersection to indicate that cyclists may shift lanes, and motor vehicles may pass through the lanes as needed for turning. Bike lanes are generally found on arterial roads and on major collectors. (ref.1994)

So, from these definitions engineers say that

  • A bike lane may or may not be for the exclusive use of cyclists
  • They are always one­way facilities  (but see ref. 2497, which includes discusses contraflow cycle lanes and contraflow cycle streets)
  • They may or may not be separated from the vehicle roadway by curbs or parking blocks


I begin to think that highway engineers are not able to collaborate, or to work within a shared, structured approach to their discipline; and perhaps also there is no incentive for them to collaborate internationally (and these days language should not be a barrier).

Maybe the task of developing a structured approach should be taken out of their hands and given to another discipline – librarians or botanists for example, who already have a structured international approach to their data.


  • 2497 – Global street design guide, NACTO, USA 2016
  • 2396 – Glossary of road design and construction terms, Nebraska DOR, USA
  • 2442 – AP-C87-15 Austroads Glossary of Terms, Austroads, 2015
  • 1994 – Pedestrian and bicycle planning – a guide to best practices, VTPI, Canada, 1994



About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
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