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The Capital’s Colossal Contraflow Cycle Track

While we were down in Washington, DC for the National Bike Summit, Streetfilms got the chance to check out some of the innovative bike infrastructure.
Tops on our list: the city's first protected, contraflow lane for bicyclists. The district DOT has redesigned 15th Street NW between U Street and Massachusetts Avenue to accommodate two-way bike traffic on a one-way street. Northbound cyclists get a shared lane moving in the same direction as car traffic, and southbound cyclists ride in a parking-protected lane. The treatment has also slimmed down the street, removing a vehicle lane and calming traffic.
DC transportation officials say that when designing this protected bike lane, they looked to New York and Montreal for inspiration. Additional use of contraflow lanes could help make critical new connections in New York's bike network, like the gap between Park Slope and Fort Greene that Brooklyn CB 2 recently asked DOT to take a look at. Although not captured in the video DC has just finished a lower tech contraflow lane on Champlain Street in Adams Morgan (See images below). So hopefully some of that inspiration will flow back up the Acela corridor to NYC.
champlain 1champlain 2
[music] Narrator: [0:08] We had a big one way street, four lane, and we wanted to figure out how we could get a bike lane on there, but also allow for two way bike traffic. So one option was just to put a bike lane going in the same direction as traffic, with pain. We thought, "No, let's take a whole car lane and make it go the other direction."

[musical interlude]

Narrator: [0:32] Like we see sometimes in New York and Montreal, they moved the parking over from the curb about eight or nine feet, and then that became the bike lane. And then, for the other bikes who want to go the same direction as cars, they can share the right lane, because we still have three lanes on that street.

Gabe Klein: [0:47] We did a lot of studies, and we looked at it. We realized we could take an entire lane out without affecting throughput for automobiles, at all. [musical interlude]

Narrator: [0:57] We have special signs at each intersection warning drivers, when they turn, to look for bikes.

[musical interlude]

Narrator: [1:08] So the contraflow aspect of this helps us get two way bike traffic on a one-way street. We're looking at that in other parts of the city, too, where we may have a short block or two where bicyclists, frankly, they're already riding.

Gabe Klein: [1:19] And as we all know, when you shrink the width of the road, you calm traffic.


Elizabeth Press is a Filmmaker for Streetfilms. She joined Streetfilms in 2007 to focus her video work on advocating for better biking, walking and mass transit.

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  • http://pausingtothink.blogspot.com Think MPS

    Check out borderstan's description of the lane becoming two-way. This corresponds with my experience. I think the lane is not quite wide enough for two-way, but too wide in that does encourage two-way traffic.

    http://borderstan.com/2010/03/22/15th-street-the-2-way-multi-purpose-bike-lane/

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicyclesonly/ BicyclesOnly

    Love that sign at 0:57: "[Cyclists] May Use Full Lane".

    NYC DoT says that their "shared lane" signage is intended to convey the same message, but regardless of what is intended, the effectis quite different. I'd be very happy if the DC signage wre used for all of the sharrowed routes in NYC.

    Thanks for bringing these images to NYC, Elizabeth!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I like the idea on contraflow bike lanes but ONLY when they are to the left of the one-way motorized traffic. This replicates conventional traffic norms of a regular two-way street but for bicycles only.

    Simple, effective and easy for all users to understand!

  • Glenn

    Totally agree about the "(Cyclists) may use full lane" - If they do that, the Sharrows become more powerful

  • Phil

    This seems to be the way people use bike lanes in brooklyn.

  • Brent

    I wonder whether the contraflow lane gets a lot of bike salmoning.

  • Planner Man

    Why not allow bidirectional travel in that parking protected bike lane. Should slow down cyclists, thus reducing complaints from peds.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Planner Man,

    Because bidirrectional cycletracks violate traffic norms by placing one direction of bicycle travel on the left side of the road.

    Streets with contraflow bicycle lanes are often classified as two way streets where motorized traffic is only allowed to move in one direction.

  • archie

    I'm already seeing this working great where I ride in downtown Seattle, along 2nd Avenue and 4th Avenue, where the bike lanes are already on the left side of the road. One question though: where any changes made to the signal timing, which was probably optimized for the direction of car travel?

  • archie

    "I'm already seeing this" ...I meant in my mind, it's not actually implemented (yet) :)

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    Archie,

    I love that clarification. I busted out laughing. Just make sure Mayor McGinn sees this video.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/johnxorz John C

    We need this in San Francisco yesterday. I'm looking at you, Fell st.

  • Chris Boyle

    When you refer to D.C. as the city and seat of government it's "Capital" with an "a". "Capitol" with an "o" is the building. Just an FYI.

  • http://www.waba.org Eric

    Great piece! Thanks Streetfilms. You should come on down for the ribbon cutting on the Penn Ave bike lanes when that happens. America's Main Street is soon to be bike-friendly.

    BTW The title should read "Capital" not "Capitol". "Capitol" refers to the building.

  • David

    I don't like the bidirectional cycle tracks because they are in conflict with normal traffic flow.  Rules of the road should be consistent to insure maximum safety. 

  • Geof

    Personally, I think counter-flow cycle tracks are insane. But YMMV.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Green_Idea_Factory Todd Edelman

    What is sort of funny not really is that two-way linear travel is the very least which streets should deliver. So at least this happens for bikes - David and Geof this means you can have more time at home to make love! - but as one of the engineers said automobile throughput is not affected which means driving is not disincentivized -- though another engineer says traffic is calmed... But, in sum, much much better than noth.

  • What up Buttercup?

    To those anti-contra flow....what's the big freaking deal? I mean really??? This section of D.C. it makes sense to accomdate cyclists so they can have an easier time of it. Frankly, I find the objections silly and foolish. I mean what is the alternative - take away the lane and go back to giving the cars four lanes? No. No way. This is good and contra-flow makes sense as long as it is protected and separate.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/vhamer vhamer

    I would love to see contraflow on DeKalb Ave in Brooklyn. It's a big one-way street, but folks are biking against traffic anyway, due to the surrounding traffic patterns.

  • Dylan P

    Yes, it's a nice facility for North America. Too bad so few people seem to be using it. I'm sure that will pick up with time though.

    A few better shots here:
    http://www.flickr.com/search/?z=e&w=all&q=washington+cycletrack&m=text

  • Greg Hinchliffe

    In Amsterdam, contraflow is quite common, ranging from barrier-protected lanes on major roads, to just posting "except bicycles" on the one-way signs on smaller streets, without any barriers or stripes. Seems to work very well, but, hey, it's Amsterdam.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/luton/3054759060/ Krity Dactyl

    Contraflow works great for bicyclists in Madison, WI on University Avenue.  Contraflow cyclists have their own signalization at each intersection.

  • Bruce Marcucci

    One way streets are like speedways for autos. First create a 2 way street and then add bike lanes moving in the same or contra direction. Add a planted center divider maybe 2 feet wide and it will add to the traffic calming. Will it be less efficient for autos?Maybe, but so what.