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What are Bike Lanes?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bike lanes are specially designated sections of a roadway which are dedicated to the use of bicycles. Many cites around the world use bike lanes as part of an overall traffic management strategy, and bike lanes may also be supplemented by separate cycle trails and paths as well. The topic of bike lanes is actually a bit controversial; some cyclists, for example, believe that they are not necessary and sometimes dangerous, while others advocate strongly for the use of bike lanes to protect cyclists and make it easier to share the road.

A bike lane typically runs between the section of the road dedicated to cars and the curb or shoulder. Commonly, a road will also include a space for people to pull out and park, placing the bike lane between rows of parked cars and the roadway. By creating a designated space for cyclists to use, the bike lane can make cycling safer when both bikes and cars are aware of each other.

Cities install bike lanes in the hope of routing traffic smoothly and with the goal of reducing conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. Alas, these goals are not always met. For example, cyclists sometimes need to cross vehicle traffic when turning, and this can confuse motorists, as the cyclists must leave the bike lanes. In some cases, bike lanes are also not engineered very well, forcing cyclists into potentially dangerous and conflicting situations, and vehicles are sometimes forced into bike lanes for things like turning, thus making the lanes dangerous for cyclists.

One of the major arguments for bike lanes is that they tend to encourage cycling, and this does appear to be the case. New cyclists perceive bike lanes as beneficial, and they may be more likely to bike when they see that their cities are making provisions for them. Bike lanes are also a good idea in cities with a high volume of bike traffic, as they allow cities to establish municipal laws which are aimed specifically at cyclists, using bike lanes as safety tools. Novice cyclists also benefit from bike lanes, as they help by creating a designated section of roads for cyclists to use.

In order to be effective, bike lanes must be combined with common sense. Cyclists must be responsible for signaling their intentions and keeping an eye on surrounding traffic, for example, while motorists need to yield to cyclists in bike lanes. Motorists are also responsible for clear signaling, and both parties should be aware of prevailing right of way laws, ensuring that they stay safe and traffic remains unobstructed.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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