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Contra-flow Bike Lane – Boulder, CO

Boulder, Colorado recently achieved the creme de la creme - Platinum bike status from the League of American Bicyclists so Streetfilms decided to pay the city a visit to get the scoop. Among the many bicycle amenities the city can boast, none spoke to us more than the contra-flow bicycle lane that runs three city blocks, connecting their popular Pearl Street pedestrian mall to a vital link of interconnected greenways. Streetfilms was impressed - and a little bit obsessed - by it.

Marni Ratzel, the Bike and Pedestrian Transportation Planner for GO Boulder met up with us to talk about the art of contra-flowing.

[intro music] 

Marni Ratzel:  [00:08] A contra-flow bike lane is when the bikes travel against traffic, motor vehicle traffic that is.  So here we are at the 13th Street contra-flow bike lane.  Bikes share the motor vehicle lane going northbound and they have their own lane contra-flow going south.  So we have a shared lane going northbound and a dedicated bike lane, physically separated, going southbound.  It really is one of the spines.  It’s one of the north/south spines going through Downtown.  It brings bikes right where they want to be, connecting from our retail corridor of Downtown to the Farmers Market, which is one of the best things to do on the weekend.   

[music] 

Marni Ratzel:  [00:56] In this section of 13th Street there are more bikes travelling in this corridor than there are motor vehicles.  Great bike parking all along it, particularly Downtown.   

[music] 

Marni Ratzel:  [01:09] It was controversial to put this contra-flow bike lane in.  Trade-offs of taking away parking or motor vehicle lane are never easy, but this is a successful project that works for everyone. 

[music] 

Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://hembrow.blogspot.com David Hembrow

    This looks pretty good. It's precisely the sort of think that increases subjective safety of cyclists and leads to more cycling.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/npGREENWAY Scott for npGREENWAY

    That looks like a great project. From what I saw, the "Contra-flow" part doesn't really seem to be the essential aspect. The physically separated bike lane. (with beautiful landscaping, I noticed)

    Was there something intrinsic about contra-flow that I missed here?

    That being said, great work, Boulder! I would LOVE to see something like that along the top of the bluff on Willamette Blvd here in Portland.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/npGREENWAY Scott for npGREENWAY

    so.... I just watched it again. Is the contra-flow setup in effect, a compromise where there is not room for physically separated bike lanes in both directions? --thus the sharrows in main traffic lane for bikes and motor vehicles? What drove the implementation of the contra-flow idea? Are there other examples of this in the world?

  • Alek F

    Separated Bike Boulevards are great!!
    This is what they have all over Europe;
    in fact, this video reminded me of my recent trip to Amsterdam...
    very similar bike routes.
    Los Angeles needs some of those safe, separated bike boulevards, on many of its streets as well.
    The success in Boulder, CO is obvious.
    So, it's time to implement such invention in the rest of the country ;-)

  • http://spryeye.blogger.com Evan Ravitz

    Scott, I'm the guy who spearheaded the 2-year battle to get the contraflow lane here in Boulder built. You're about right: It's on 13th St. which is a one-way going N. for cars -and bikes. So the "contraflow" for bikes goes S. only. It's too narrow for 2 bike lanes AND the parking on one side.

    We really wanted them to close the street entirely to cars, and make a 2-way bikeway with wide pedestrian walks -which would expand our pedestrian Pearl St. Mall (which 13th bisects) into a cross-shaped Mall. That was the original plan for expanding the Mall, which the City abandoned due to opposition by businesspeople -including some of the people who had the original vision for the Mall, but grew old and crotchety when we wanted to expand on their idea. This way, they lost 30 parking spots instead of 60 which the expanded Mall would have covered.

    These same businesspeople have often used the contraflow lane to park trucks while loading, and to pile up snow removed from the road. I think they hoped to tear it out due to disuse which this would encourage. But now with the price of gas, cycling is finally increasing in Boulder after plateauing for 15 years.

    You can email me: evan@vote.org

  • http://spryeye.blogger.com Evan Ravitz

    PS: we have 1 other contraflow lane on a narrow 1-way street (Pleasant St. on the CU campus), but it just has a white line separating it.

  • http://www.shekscrib.com Abhishek

    Great stuff. I like it and would like to see something similar in my side of the country. One question though, why is everyone wearing a helmet? The routes seem very safe and the cyclists have safety in numbers!

  • http://www.bbtouring.com bbtouring

    This is fantastic. I too would like to see designated bike "boulevards" built into city plans. It's safer for everyone and doesn't irk drivers.

    Thanks Boulder!

  • http://www.vabike.org mattotoole

    This film features a lot of expensive hardscape/infrastructure. But simpler solutions can work well too, such as the a double yellow line marking the contra-flow bike lane on Back Bay Dr. in Newport Beach, CA, pictured in the photo at the top of this blog: http://www.cyclingdude.com/