The Ultimate Bicycle Lane Fieldguide

Bicycle lanes, greenways, sharrows, cycle track, what? If you're excited about the bike infrastructure in your town but having a heck of a time making heads or tails of the lingo, this blog post is for you. Our bicycle lane fieldguide breaks down all the terms for you.

Basic Bicycle Lane

Bicycle Lane - Basic Bike Lane(Image source)

A bicycle lane is a striped area on the street that usually has a bicycle painted on it and an arrow showing the direction bicycles will be going in. While in the bicycle lane, it's best to ride as far from parked cars as possible to stay out of the "door zone".

Buffered Bicycle Lane

Bicycle Lane - Buffered Bike Lane(Image source)

A buffered bicycle lanes is your basic bicycle lane with a bonus buffered space, usually marked off with paint, that gives the bike rider a little more breathing room between the bike lane and parked cars and/or moving vehicles. Once you get used to riding on a buffered bicycle lane, going back to a basic bike lane feels like you don't have enough pavement to call your own. 

Contra-Flow Bicycle Lane

Bicycle Lane - Contra Flow Bike Lane(Image source)

A contra-flow bicycle lane is a bicycle lane that lets the bike rider go in the opposite direction of car traffic. Generally they convert a one-way traffic street into a two-way street: one direction for cars and bikes, and the other for bikes only. A contra-flow lane is usually installed in an area where it is hard to find a good alternative route for bicyclists, or on streets where bikes are already frequently riding the wrong way.

Cycle Track

See Protected Bike Lane below.

Green Bicycle Lanes

 Bicycle Lane - Green Bike Lane
(Image source)

Aren't green bicycle lanes eye-catching? That's exactly the point. Painting a bicycle green reinforces that our roads are built to accommodate all sorts of transportation options. Most frequently, you'll see the bicycle lane painted green in a busy intersection or other common place of conflict, although sometimes the entire length of the bike lane is green. That said, a green bicycle lane is not so much a different type of bicycle lane; any of the bicycle lanes in this listing can be painted with green without changing its definition. It is a proven fact that green bike lanes are more fun to ride on, however.


 Bicycle Lane - Greenway
(Image source)

Many cities boast bike paths and bike lanes with the name of "greenway". A greenway is nothing more than an area of undeveloped land set aside for either recreational use (like a bicycle lane) or for environmental protection. Rails to trails conversions are one example of greenways that you may be familiar with. Here are some of our favorites.

Protected Bike Lane

Bicycle Lane - Protected Bike Lane(Image source)

After riding on plain old bike lanes (see above) for years, riding in a protected bike lane feels like the lap of luxury. Protected bike lanes are separated from car traffic by a barrier, usually either plastic posts, curbs, or greenery. Protected bike lanes, also called cycle tracks or separated bike lanes, will either be one way, or bi-directional, meaning that bikes can go both directions in the protected area. In our opinion, the joy of riding in a protected bike lane is worth going a little out of the way for!

Separated Bicycle Lane

See Protected Bike Lane above.


Bicycle Lane - Sharrows

A sharrow is used on streets where bicycles and cars are supposed to share the same road. While sharrows may help alert cars to the fact that bicycles may be using the road, they are widely considered to be ineffective. In other words, don't choose a route with a sharrow if you have a better alternative, which would be any of the other types of bicycle infrastructure in this list!


Did we miss a term that you would like to add to this list? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below!


Other Blog Posts You May Like

5 Elevated Trails to Walk and Bike On
Why We Bike: My Speech at the Women's Bike Summit
Bicycle Advocacy Programs for Women Cyclists

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