A counterflow lane or contraflow lane is a lane in which traffic flows in the opposite direction of the surrounding lanes. *
Contraflow is a common part of decent cycling infrastructure and is often seen on one-way streets. A standard example is that car and other vehicular traffic might have only one lane while on both sides there are bike lanes; one going in the same direction as the vehicular traffic, the other (the contraflow bike lane) allows cyclists to safely go in the opposite direction to the cars
This is allowed as the road may not be wide enough for two lanes of car traffic but there is enough room to allow for the additional bicycle lane; and without it cyclists may be forced to take a long, and perhaps unsafe, detour.
Another example is where there is only one bike lane, the contraflow lane, with other bicycles travelling in the same direction as the cars sharing the main traffic lane.
A Better Ride
However this works only (this being a view based on considerable day-to-day personal experience in different cities as well as the literature) when the traffic is slowed. Ideally to 30 kph, if not less.
For the cyclist there is considerable comfort and sense of security in riding in the opposite direction from the motorized traffic. At slower speeds there is not only plenty of time for both driver and cyclist to see each other and react, but more than that – there is also the phenomenon of direct eye contact which has a very important not only for information and reaction purposes but also plays an significant psychological and social calming role. (When was the last time you smiled and nodded to a car driver when riding your bike?)
In Belgium since about 2005, and in France since 2010, the default position in towns has been for one-way streets to be available for cycling in either direction, known in French as sens unique limité (SUL). In this case, a contraflow cycle lane is often marked in paint, with dotted white lines and ideograms of a bicycle, either all the way along the street if busy, or more commonly just at junctions.
* Source: Parts of this text have been taken directly from the very good Wikipedia entry under this heading which I have adapted and added to here. Thanks to Jimmy Wales and the numerous contributors. And thanks too to Vladimir Zlokazov for that good shot of a cfc lane in Paris.
Simple Ideas Department
Countersense cycling is a simple, cheap, easy to implement, proven idea which is ready for study an adaptation in your city. The advantages are considerable.
How much does it cost? Cheap. Planning, signage, paint and enforcement (more oversight really since these schemes tend to be largely self-enforcing).
Contraflow cycling is often assumed (without evidence) to be associated with higher accidents risks, however where it has been properly evaluated, contraflow cycling actually seems to reduce the accidents risk, and in places considerably. Not only notably fewer incidents, but significantly less damaging to the cyclist.
Then there is “dooring”, i.e., getting wiped out by someone quickly swinging their ar door without looking to see if there might be a cyclist coming up. When the cyclist is on a counterflow lane next to rows of parked cars (see above illustration), the odds change radically. First, the cyclist can see if someone is about to get out of the car and take the necessary precautions.But it works on the car end as well, since the driver and passengers can see in front of their eyes, the bikers as they approach. Win/win.
Another utilitarian advantage is that in cities where there are complicated one way and limited access schemes intended to control, reduce and channel motor vehicle traffic, the lucky cyclist may end up with a shorter and faster (as well as safer) trip.
And not to forget that by removing road space for motorized traffic, the lanes also work as de facto traffic calming.
For more on World Streets Simple Ideas Department, click here – https://worldstreets.wordpress.com/tag/simple-ideas/
Counterflow lane in Amsterdam
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9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France
Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton