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Mobility and Transport

Overview

Contra-flow cycling allows two-way cycling on streets that are one-way for other traffic, improving convenience and/or safety for cyclists.

Considerations for applicability

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Level of cycling

Contra-flow cycling should be considered where there is reasonable cycle use already, or where the current road layout (e.g. use of one-way roads) is hindering cycle use. Therefore, it is likely to be most suitable for implementation in Climber or Champion cities.

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Urban layout/topography

Contraflow cycling should be considered where there is a network of one-way roads for motorised traffic, which may act as a barrier for cyclists.

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Population

N/A

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Finance resources

The time required to implement contra-flow cycling will vary according to the level of engineering planned. However, it is anticipated that simpler schemes could be implemented within a few weeks/months.

As with time, the human resources required varies depending on the level of engineering required but anticipated low levels of input, followed by ongoing maintenance.

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Time & human resources

The time required to implement contra-flow cycling will vary according to the level of engineering planned. However, it is anticipated that simpler schemes could be implemented within a few weeks/months. As with time, the human resources required varies depending on the level of engineering required but anticipated low levels of input, followed by ongoing maintenance.

Measure impact highlight

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Road safety

Contra-flow cycling can contribute to improving conditions for cycling, including increased accessibility, coherence and convenience. Contra-flow cycling can also contribute to improving conditions for cycling more generally within a city, through the removal of selected barriers to cycling (e.g. indirect routes, perceived safety), resulting in increased bicycle usage.

Note: An overview of the direct and indirect impacts resulting from correctly implemented cycling measures is available in http://ec.europa.eu/transport/node/6167{Challenges that cities face and how cycling can address them as Link}

In-depth measure analysis, case studies and further guidance

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Key features

Contra-flow cycling is implemented to introduce two-way cycling on one-way streets. This can be implemented through:

  • Unsegregated two-way cycling on an unmarked road (quieter roads), which can be implemented through the use of signage;
  • The use of designated contra-flow lanes on one-way roads with a high traffic volume.
  • Since almost all conflicts take place at road crossings, it is often considered sufficient to mark contraflow lanes at the crossings only (10 m length). Usually, on straight stretches, no markings are required. This is lower cost, allows the cyclist to ride centrally in the road when there is no traffic ahead, reducing the risk of dooring or vehicles parking out, and makes it easier to change the direction of the one-way road.

Implementation may involve segregated lanes and pavement build-outs and should be decided based on factors including the traffic volume and speed, and road width. Cities considering implementing contra-flow cycling should ensure that they are able to implement as desired, whilst adhering to national regulations, standards or traffic rules.

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Image from Sustrans, Design Portfolio A.06 Contra-flow Cycling

Function and objectives

The aim of contra-flow cycling is to improve convenience and/or safety for people who cycle. The existence of one-way streets in cities can lead to longer and potentially more stressful journeys for cyclists/ Cyclists are often able to avoid a longer, busier and/or junction-filled journey by using an alternative route where contra-flow cycling has been implemented. The introduction of contra-flow cycling can also contribute to reducing the number of cyclists riding on the pavement (whilst attempting to identify a more direct route), improving the pedestrian experience.

Complementary measures

Contra-flow cycling may be used alongside other measures such as http://ec.europa.eu/transport/node/6210{Traffic Restrictions and Charges as Link} or http://ec.europa.eu/transport/node/6209{Cycle Streets as Link}.

Performance

Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that contra-flow cycling in isolation will increase modal share of cycling (and associated benefits), this may be achieved when implemented as part of a cycling network/strategy within a city.

Although perceived to be a ‘risky' measure, as cyclists travel against the flow of the traffic, recent research (ETSC, 2018) showed that the introduction of contra-flow cycling may have an overall positive effect on road safety. Drivers can act more cautiously as they are approached by oncoming cyclists and there is typically more visual contact between cyclists and drivers on contra-flow roads. Finally, there is increased traffic calming effects associated with narrower streets.

Parameters of success or failure

Raising awareness about contra-flow cycling before and after its implementation will promote the correct and safe use of the road by people who cycle and other road users. This can be achieved through engagement with key stakeholders (e.g. residents, local businesses etc.) during the planning stages and ensuring that streets incorporating contra-flow cycling are clearly marked and signposted in order to reduce confusion.

Whilst contra-flow cycling has been shown to increase safety for people who cycle, in some cases, additional infrastructure may be required to support cyclist safety, particularly on roads with high traffic volumes/speeds. For example, segregated cycle lanes may be required where average speeds are over 30 km/h in urban areas, and 60 km/h in rural areas, or over 1,000 vehicles per day. Segregation may also be considered at the entry and exit points of streets, where cyclists are most likely to be involved in an accident.

Where cycle lanes are implemented (painted or segregated) as part of the contra-flow solution, this may result in the removal of car parking. Alternative parking provision should be considered, or enforcement may be required to ensure motorists do not park in the cycle lanes. In some cases, passive measures such as pavement build-outs can be installed to protect the contraflow cycle lanes and assist with parking enforcement.

One method of increasing the safety of contra-flow cycling is to generalise the principle in all one-way streets of an area or across the city, rather than piecemeal introduction where contra-flow applies to a limited number of one-way streets. Through wide-spread introduction, confusion amongst people who cycle and other road users is reduced and awareness, acceptance and safety can be increased.

A range of other measures have been suggested in existing guidance to increase the success of implementing contra-flow cycling, including:

  • Reducing parking spaces close to street corners to increase the visibility of cyclists;
  • Introducing pavement build-outs;
  • Avoid implementing contraflow cycling on narrow one-way streets (although traffic calming effects can be achieved);
  • Ensuring that all road users, including pedestrians, are considered in the design.
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Image from DfT case study on Brighton's contraflow cycle lanes

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Overall recommendations

  • Contra-flow cycling should be implemented through clear road signage and markings.
  • In order to enhance safety:
    • Introduce warning signs on side roads
  • Reduce speeds of motor vehicles
  • Implement advisory cycle lane markings on wider streets without adjacent parking for motor vehicles to indicate the presence of cyclists to road users and pedestrians.
  • On narrower streets, or where parking for motor vehicles is present, the use of bicycle signs, arrows and chevrons may be more appropriate.
  • Remove car parking at street corners to increase visibility and introduce pavement extensions.
  • Mark contra-flow cycling at the entry and exit of the road
  • Where there are higher traffic speeds and volumes, introduce physical segregation.

City considerations

In starter cities, motorists are more likely to be unfamiliar with cyclists or the measure and so contra-flow lanes may be more appropriate than contra-flow roads without markings. As a new measure, contra-flow cycling may require longer to implement and more awareness-raising to be successfully adopted. The perceived risk of contra-flow cycling may be a barrier to acceptance.

Road width requirements will vary between city type, with champion cities opting to implement contra-flow cycling on wide types of one-way streets. However, starter cities with a high proportion of narrow one-way streets are likely to realise a number of benefits related to contra-flow cycling which results in short, direct routes as part of a cohesive network. Narrow road width does not necessarily indicate compromises related to safety - narrow roads often tend to lead to slower, more careful driving by motorists. However, comfort may be compromised.

City practitioners should consult national cycle infrastructure design standards or regulations (where available) regarding the appropriate implementation of contra-flow cycling in respective Member States (including road widths, cycle lane widths, traffic speeds etc.).

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Examples of contra-flow cycling in practice

The city of Gdansk in Poland has authorised contra-flow cycling in around 200 streets, covering 47 km in total. Gdansk has followed the example of Belgium, whereby it is mandatory to implement contra-flow cycling on all one-way roads wider than 3m. All contra-flow cycling routes are marked on the cycling map of Gdansk.

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Extract from the Gdansk Cycling map, last updated December 24, 2018. Full version available here:

Gdansk cycling map
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In Vienna, Austria, contraflow cycling is allowed on 289 kilometres of one-way-roads. The accident statistics show that this traffic organisation is very safe for cyclists.

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[collapsed title=Key guidance, further reading and references]

PRESTO / Rupprecht (2012) “Contra-flow cycling"

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German Institute of Urban Affairs (2010), Cycling Expertise: Active Mobility in Residential Areas

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Copenhagen’s guidelines for the design of road cycling projects - Focus on Cycling, Chapter 2 "Sections"

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CROW (2017) Design manual for bicycle traffic. Chapter 5

ETSC (2018) Briefing: Contraflow Cycling, March 2018

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Cycling England, Design Portfolio A.06 Contra-flow Cycling

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(799.42 KB - PDF)
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The Cycling Embassy of Denmark’s Collection of Cycle Concepts

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DfT (2016) Case Study: Two-way cycle lanes in North Laine, Brighton, Department for Transport, UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/low-cost-area-wide-cycling-contraflow-north-laine-brighton

Sustrans (2015) Sustrans Design Manual Chapter 4: Streets and Roads

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Ryley, T.J. and Davies D.G (1998) Further Developments in the Design of Contra-flow Cycling Schemes

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We are Cycling UK (2015) Contra-flow cycling

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(580 KB - PDF)
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https://www.cyclinguk.org/campaigning/views-and-briefings/contra-flow-cycling-2-way-cycling-in-1-way-streets

The Gliwice Bicycle Council Association, report on contraflow cycling and its safety (in Polish)

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