Bicycle facilities

Bicycle facilities consist of the space designated for bicycles on the road, adjacent to the road, or on a separate path that supports safe and efficient travel by bicycle.

Key characteristics

Strategy description

Bicycle facilities are roadway and path enhancements that designate space for bicycle travel. Facilities can mix bicycles with other modes (such as vehicles or pedestrians), or separate bicycles completely. Installing or designating bicycle facilities on or adjacent to roadways promotes the safe and efficient use of the transportation system.

Bicycle facilities enhance safety for all road users by separating people on bikes and people in cars. Bicycle travel has been shown to increase when designated facilities are present.

In Washington State, bicyclists traveling on the road have the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle driver. Except where access is explicitly prohibited, bicycles may operate on roadways with or without bicycle facilities.

There are several different kinds of bicycle facilities, ranging in cost and level of protection for people on bicycles*:

Bicycle boulevards or greenways

Designated streets with low motorized traffic volumes and speeds. Signs, pavement markings, signaled or signed intersections, and parking and speed management measures limit motor vehicle trips and encourage bicycle travel. Different cities and regions may use different names for these kinds of facilities.

Bicycle lanes

A defined portion of the roadway designated for bicycles by striping, pavement markings, intersection treatments, and signage. These are typically aligned with the direction of traffic flow. Conventional bike lanes typically run curbside when there is no on-street parking, and between parked cars and the travel lane when curbside parking is present.

Cycle track/Protected bicycle lanes

Bicycle lanes with a physical barrier that separates people on bikes from motor vehicle traffic. Barriers can include bollards, medians, raised curbs, and planters, with parked vehicles as an additional barrier. These facilities can be aligned with the direction of traffic on one or both sides of the road, or can be two-way installed on one side of the road.

Separated/shared-use paths and trails

Designated paths of travel that are completely separated from motorized vehicular traffic. These may be shared with pedestrians, and may or may not be paved. Rail trails, or former rail lines whose right of ways have been converted

converted into pathways for non-motorized vehicles, are a popular example of this bicycle facility.

Bicycle facilities can impact all road users, including people who bike, walk, take transit, and drive.  When deciding to install these facilities, and what the level of separation should be, agencies should consider the following:

  • Existing traffic levels and speeds for motor vehicles
  • Potential use by bicycles and pedestrians (keeping in mind that roadways with no bicycle facilities may currently have little to no bicycle traffic due to lack of infrastructure and safety concerns)
  • Existing neighborhood/city connections
  • Existing city or regional bicycle plans
  • Assessment of land use and transportation context (see WSDOT’s Context and Modal Accommodation Report Learner’s Guide)
  • Stakeholder input

*Adapted from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide

When to use this strategy

Bicycle facilities are appropriate for nearly all roadways, although the appropriate facility varies based on the roadway characteristics. For example, bicycle boulevards or greenways work best on low-volume, residential streets; while cycle tracks or protected bicycle lanes are more feasible on roadways with higher volumes.

Bicycle facilities can be installed incrementally. What starts as a bicycle lane can be built up as a cycle track in the future as stakeholder and traffic needs change.

Through collaboration with other agencies and community groups, bicycle facilities can be incorporated into planned re-surfacing/paving projects and other street improvements. Building on existing projects can reduce costs and project timelines.

What you need in order to implement

Policy needs:

Agencies should develop policies encouraging the construction/designation of bicycle facilities, including the incorporation of bicycle facilities into street maintenance and capital improvement projects.

Planning needs:

  • Agencies should consider working with stakeholders and partners to develop a bicycle master plan, which identifies planned bicycle facility investments and sets timelines.

Coordination needs:

  • Agencies should coordinate with bicycle advocacy groups, neighborhood groups, safe routes to school organizations, businesses, schools, health and well-being organizations, and its own planning & engineering staff to ensure all users are being serviced.

Equipment needs:

  • Equipment ranges from signing and striping to constructing a new separated path, depending on the bicycle facility that is being implemented.

Maintenance needs: 

  • Signage, pavement striping, and signals must be maintained. Paved roadways may need resurfacing, and should be monitored for root damage, potholes, cracks, etc. Installing durable marking materials increases the useful life of these pavement markings.

Agency resources needs:

  • Staff with knowledge in the safety, operations, and maintenance needs of bicycle treatments.

About key characteristics

Location notes:

Bicycle facilities should be considered on all roadways, and especially those with an observed presence of bicyclists.

Cost notes:

Cost varies widely depending on the type of bicycle facility implemented. Signage and pavement markings are low-cost, while new, paved bicycle trails are high-cost.

Technology notes:

Most bicycle facilities require little technology, but at some locations, like intersections with traffic signals, more technology is needed.

Collaboration notes:

Agencies implementing bicycle facilities must collaborate among a wide variety of stakeholders, including bicycle advocacy groups, business owners, and local citizens.

Need or issue this strategy addresses