How Wide Is A Cycle Lane: Official cycle lane widths of different countries


Riding around London’s cycleways, I often forget how lucky I am to have a clear and safe cycle path to use on my daily commute. The other day I got to wondering how the cycle path that I use each day matches up to other bike lanes around the world. Are they all the same size? I took some time to look into how wide a cycle lane is in different places around the world?

In the USA, cycle lanes have a minimum width of 1.2m, the joint lowest cycle lane width for any country along with Italy. Other countries, such as the Netherlands (2m) and the UK (1.5m) have much wider cycle lanes. Within the US, some states set higher standards, for example, New York has a cycle lane width of 2m.

So, we’ve established that the USA and Italy have the lowest cycle lane width requirements of any country, but why is this? And how do countries all decide on how wide their cycle lanes should be? I take a look into the cycle lane width of many different countries as well as these topics in the rest of the article.

How wide are cycle lanes?

Cycle lanes around the world are required to meet different standards depending on the country or state in which they are located. If you take a look at the table below you can see a summary of the minimum cycle lane width in each of the most common cycling countries around the world.

CountryCycle Lane Width (Meters)Cycle Lane Width (Feet)
England (UK)1.5m5 feet
The Netherlands2.0m6 feet 6 inches
Italy1.2m4 feet
Australia2m6.5 feet
Germany1.8m6 feet
Slovenia1.5m 5 feet
Austria1.5m5 feet
USA (General)1.2m4 feet
USA (New York)2.0m6 feet 6 inches
Norway2.5m (Bidirectional)8 feet (Bidirectional)
New Zealand2.4m (Bidirectional)8 feet (Bidirectional)
Ireland2.0m6 feet 6 inches
Canada1.5m5 feet
Japan2.4 (Bidirectional)8 feet (Bidirectional)
Finland2.5m (Bidirectional)8 feet (Bidirectional)
Hong Kong1.5m5 feet
United Arab Emirates2.2m7 feet
Brazil1.7m5 feet 6 inches
Denmark2.5m (Bidirectional)8 feet (Bidirectional)

If you notice that any obvious countries are missing from this list (for example Spain, a very popular country for cycling), that is because these countries do not have clear regulations or suggestions on the size of their cycle lanes.

So if all countries use the same bikes, why do all these countries have different size cycle lanes? The answer becomes clearer when you realize how countries calculate how large they think their cycle lanes should be in the first place.

How do countries decide on the width of their bike lanes?

Let’s take the most famous bike riding country in the world, the Netherlands as an example.

Initially, the town planners designing the cycle paths have to calculate the width of a bike, and more importantly, the widest a bike could reasonably be. In the Netherlands, this is set as 0.75m.

However, obviously, you can’t have a cycle lane that is the same width as the bike or it would not be able to cycle, so a buffer is added to allow movement from side to side as the bike is ridden. In the Netherlands, this is set as 0.25m.

So now we have come to the value of 1.0m for a cycle path while the bike is being ridden. However, the cycle paths in the Netherlands are suggested to be 2.0m minimum. So where does this extra meter come from?

First of all, you need to add on some extra space for obstacles that might be on the path (for example drains, curbs, tree roots, etc). Extra space is required on the path to allow riders to swerve and avoid these.

On top of this, you need to allow some extra room to let cyclists ride beside each other. This is important to allow a parent to cycle next to their child or allow cyclists to overtake one another on the cycle lane.

FactorRequired Space (meters)
Bike0.75m
Movement while riding0.25m
Extra space to avoid debris or overtake1.0m
Total2.0m

As you can see, the size of a bike lane quickly adds up. But this isn’t even the end of the story. Many countries will adjust the size of cycle lanes if more cyclists are using them. For example, In the Netherlands, a cycle path with more than 150 users per hour is suggested to be 2.5m, rather than the baseline of 2m.

So why do different countries have different cycle lane widths?

The difference in cycle lane width across the world comes from the different values that each country attributes to each of these categories.

For example, a country such as Italy is likely to have allocated less space for bikes to overtake one another or to avoid debris.

If you consider that the average road size in New York is 3.7m compared to 2.75m in Italy. It is easy to understand why they would not want to be allocating as much space to a bike lane as they do in New York.

Which country has the widest bike lanes?

The largest regulated cycle lanes in the world are based in Norway, Finland, and Denmark. However, this answer is a bit disingenuous as these cycle lanes are all bidirectional. This means that they are designed for 2 bikes to be cycling past each other in opposite directions and therefore, only half of this allocated space is given to each cyclist.

When you look at the areas with the largest one-directional cycle lanes, the winners are New York, Ireland, and the Netherlands. All of these countries suggest a minimum cycle lane size of 2m (6 feet 6 inches) wide.

Which country has the narrowest bike lanes?

The countries with the narrowest suggested bike lane width were the USA and Italy, with a recommended bike lane width of 1.2m as a minimum.

However, this again needs some clarification as these minimum cycle lane sizes were (in both cases) only allowed in to be used in certain situations such as on rural roads or locations where there was no curb next to the cycle lane itself (allowing cyclists to also use part of the pedestrian pathway if the road became overused).

How wide is a two-way cycle lane?

Two-way cycle lanes have fewer regulations on them as they are used less frequently. When you look at the table above, you can see that the few countries that did specific sizes for two-way or bidirectional cycle lanes suggested that they should be between 2.4m and 2.5m depending on the country in question.

Ths increased size is actually allocating far less per person, however, it is assumed that riders can overtake one another when there is a gap in the “bike traffic” coming from the other direction. Consider it like trying to overtake in a car.

Are wider cycle lanes better?

Cycle lanes have been shown to be beneficial in almost all urban environments. Not only are these effects seen by cyclists, but they have also been shown in studies to have a positive economic impact on the local community when they are put in place. But are wider cycle lanes better?

Larger cycle lanes have been shown to increase biker confidence, especially on roads where there is a lot of daily traffic, where speeds are above 25 mph, or on streets with a large number of trucks and lorries.

On top of this, wider cycle lanes can also reduce the rate of accidents between bike riders, helping to give more leeway in case a cyclist “misjudged” the gap between riders while overtaking. It also helps car drivers to treat cyclists more predictably as there is less chance of them leaving the cycle lane to join the road.

Finally, the wider a cycle lane is, the more of a psychological effect this has on car drivers. Reminding them of cyclists’ right to also use the street, and thus may be linked to more considerate driving practices.

Are there any other requirements for bike lanes?

What happens when a bike lane cannot fit this minimum width?

What happens if a road needs a bike lane but you cannot fit one of the required size on the road without impeding traffic?

Some countries advise that when the minimum cycle lane width cannot be met, you might instead use an unmarked lane. This involves making no physical changes to the road itself but simply marking off an area of the road for cyclists to use.

While this offers no actual changes in the area given to cyclists, the marked-out section has been shown to make cyclists feel more comfortable when cycling.

What are the requirements for cycle lane surface quality?

So apart from clear recommendations on their width, what other requirements do bike lanes have to meet?

The main other area of regulation for cycle lanes relates to the type of material the cycle path is made from. Bike lanes that are in contact with a road are required to meet the same tarmac standards as the roads themselves.

This is to allow more flexibility in any future changes to the design of the road itself, for example allowing the cycle lane to be converted back to a road if necessary.

It also allows bike lanes to be used by emergency vehicles, and delivery trucks or to allow them to be used as a breakdown area.

Overall

Overall, the size of a bike lane will be very different depending on which country you are cycling in, where in that country you are cycling and whether or not the cycle lane you are riding on is designed for single file bike traffic or is bidirectional.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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