Via TheCityFix comes news that the Federal Highway Administration has officially blessed the concept of contraflow bike lanes as part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
Summed up, a contraflow bike lane is a bike lane that puts cyclists riding on street against the flow of traffic.
Arguments in favor of such lanes typically relate to allowing cyclists to use one-way streets in both directions, which makes it more convenient for cyclists. Some also argue that it helps calm traffic, although I don’t know that there’s good data on that.
While TheCityFix seems to lump opponents in with people who also oppose mode shift, saying “(t)hose against the idea argue on the basis of traffic laws, safety, directing resources away from automobiles and even based on the cost of new signage,” the pro-auto folks are their own group. Many bicycle advocates argue against contraflow bike lanes without being pro-automobile. Going against traffic flow creates confusion, and the laws of physics are pretty immutable in that a head-on collision between two moving objects — even one at a lower speed — is more damaging than a rear end collision or a collision where the moving bodies are moving in a direction other than straight at each other.
It’s obvious that opening up streets with contraflow lanes will reduce travel time for the group receiving the road rights. I’m still not sold on the safety of it, particularly in situations in which cars attempt to pass one another, or bicyclists attempt to pass each other. Momentum cares not for MUTCD guidelines. Advocate John S. Allen did a very nice piece on contraflow lanes that I think sums it up well in that sometimes a contraflow overlay can serve a good purpose, but at other times it’s a hazardous addition to the road. Much like many other guidelines in the MUTCD, I expect to see contraflow lanes implemented in ways that are both good and bad.