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The ADFC's discussion of
German provisions for
contraflow bicycle traffic

germany1.gif (169 bytes)The material following this introduction (below, inside the border) is a translation of a page in German from the Web site of the Allgemeiner deutscher Fahrrad-Club (German Cycling Federation ADFC -- since 2009 on archive.net).

The German legalization of contraflow bicycle travel is probably the most extensive anywhere. The article below states that negative effects on safety were not observed. Such statements are credible with many "right-way" contraflow installations, but questionable with others.

Safety effects depend on the basis for comparison. Important issues include

  • the type of cyclists using the installations, regarding their level of skill as well as their speed.

  • cyclists' habits which preceded the installation -- possibly including travel on sidewalks and illegal contraflow travel.

  • What type of facilities were available and used, preceding the installations.

Sidewalk cycle tracks are common in Germany. Research has shown them to be highly hazardous. The ADFC campaigns against them. Sidewalk cycling also is common when demand is not served by a lawful and reasonable route on streets. A contraflow installation may very likely increase safety if the comparison is with sidewalk cycling, as the ADFC article below specifically mentions.

Another page on this site describes advantages and problems of contraflow installations in some detail, with examples from several countries. Some of the examples show how contraflow installations can provide a higher level of safety as well as convenience in comparison with lawful routes on the streets in a standard street plan.

A reading of the references cited at the end of the ADFC document below would help in developing independent opinions. In any case, the opinions stated below are those of the ADFC. They are presented faithfully here except for any possible inaccuracies in translation from the German.


More rights for cyclists:
Contraflow travel on one-way streets

Prepared with support of the Federal Ministry of Transportation

Contents:

Correct conduct
Background
Traffic safety
Choice of suitable one-way streets
Possibilities for allowing two-way bicycle travel on one-way streets
Alternatives
Testing requirements
Decisions and reconfiguration
References


einbahn2.gif (511 bytes)

One-way streets with the new supplementary sign, "bicyclists permitted" Entry prohibited, with the new supplementary sign, "bicyclists permitted"
One-way streets (Z 220) with the new supplementary sign One-way streets (Z 353) with the new supplementary sign Z 267 / supplementary sign 1022-10

Correct conduct

  • Cyclists may travel opposite the normal direction of traffic on one-way streets where indicated by the supplementary sign.

  • They must ride as far right as possible (Rechtsfahrgebot) while maintaining sufficient safe clearance from hazards including, for example, parked vehicles.

  • With these exceptions, the same rules apply as on normal two-way streets.

Background

The 24th amendment to the Federal traffic laws (Straßenverkehrsordnung, StVO) and the approval of the proposals of 23 May 1997 for changes in the traffic law made it possible to open one-way streets to contraflow travel by bicyclists as a measure to promote bicycle use. The rulings, which were initially experimental and set to expire on 31 December 2000, were made permanent with the 33rd amendment of December 2000. Initial concerns about traffic safety were not confirmed; rather, experience in the test phase was positive, as research by the Federal Highway Research Institute showed. The new rules establish for what purposes and under what conditions one-way streets may be opened to contraflow bicycle traffic.

Advantages for cyclists:

  • Travel opposite traffic on one-way streets shortens trips and so reduces travel time.

  • Travel opposite traffic on one-way streets results in increased safety, relative to "detours."

  • Travel opposite traffic on one-way streets reduces the speed of traffic, thereby increasing the safety of all travelers using the street.

This amendment allows one-way travel to be mandated only for the types of traffic for which it is necessary. Generally, traffic controls, or the width of the street, require that only bicycle traffic, not motor vehicle traffic, travel in both directions.

The opening of one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic can considerably encourage bicycle use. This is especially the case in localities with extensive systems of one-way streets. The opening of one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic makes it easier to create a network of continuous bicycle routes.

One-way streets which are not open to contraflow bicycle traffic impede everyday bicycle travel, as they require cyclists to take circuitous routes or to walk their bicycles. As bicycle traffic is especially sensitive to detours and delays, cyclists often ride in the wrong direction, and on the sidewalk.

In addition, the designation of one-way streets, particularly in residential areas, often is beneficial in that they create parking spaces or contribute to traffic calming. One-way streets have the opposite effect when they interfere with bicycle travel, because they make bicycling unattractive. Bicycles are therefore used less often.

Traffic safety

For a long time, it was generally assumed that contraflow bicycle travel on one-way streets is dangerous. However, numerous experiments with the opening of one-way streets for contraflow bicycle traffic, in various legal contexts, allayed such concerns.

Crashes in contraflow installations are relatively rare between intersections, as the attentiveness of motorists to contraflow cyclists can be increased by appropriate signs and markings. Markings or, in addition, channelization at intersections can remind road users that the one-way restriction applies only to motorists.

Where contraflow cycling is no longer "illegal," conflicts with the drivers of motor vehicles also are avoided; these drivers could get annoyed with cyclists traveling in the opposite direction and even, for example, intentionally endanger them by driving on the left side of the roadway. Motorized road users get used to the the new ruling more easily if it is applied in an entire area and not only on certain specific locations. This makes an important contribution to traffic safety.

Vehement objection to the opening of one-way streets to bicycle traffic can no longer be based on concern about traffic safety, though it can be based on objection to a rule which applies to some people (drivers of motor vehicles) and not to others (cyclists).

As cyclists riding illegally in the contraflow direction frequently leave the street for the sidewalk, the legal permission to ride in the contraflow direction on one-way streets also increases the safety of pedestrians.

Road users who have been warned through markings or distinctive details of construction  approach intersections with more caution and come to expect cyclists from the "wrong" direction (similarly to the priority of traffic from the right in 30 km/h speed limited zones).

It is an important principle that motorized road users are more likely to get accustomed to the new ruling if it is applied over an entire area and not only at one location or another. This is an important factor in increasing traffic safety.

Choice of suitable one-way streets

In principle, there should be no one-way streets which are not open to contraflow bicycle travel, so that cyclists can approach or leave any point on any street in both directions.

Important indications of the need to open a street to contraflow bicycle travel follow from local planning (of a network of routes), the origin of bicycle traffic on the streets in question, and the number of cyclists who are already riding illegally in the contraflow direction.

Depending of the type of street and the traffic volume, there are two possibilities for opening one-way streets (using signs Z 220 / Z 353) to contraflow bicycle traffic.

  • On arterial streets, a separate roadway/path or bike lane is used.

  • On local streets, cyclists may use the ordinary roadway. Markings may be desirable at intersections and driveways. I

Possibilities for allowing two-way bicycle travel on one-way streets

The traffic law does not allow motor vehicles to travel in the contraflow direction on one-way streets. A "false one-way street" arrangement with a marked bike lane or separate sidepath was, on the other hand, already possible with earlier versions of the law. The amended law allows for contraflow bicycle traffic on the roadway, though certain strict criteria must be met. Research by the German Federal Highway Research Institute shows that bicycle travel is generally safe on local one-way streets. Cyclists benefit from the generally high level of safety on local streets, with a 30 km/h speed limit, compared with arterial streets. Opening of one-way streets as permitted under the law does not increase either the number of crashes or their severity.

Opening of one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic may be considered if   area-wide bicycle traffic planning requires the use of particular street segments in urban areas, and these can not be redesignated as two-way streets; or other measures can not accommodate bicycle traffic (for example, designation as "false" one-way streets -- see the section of this page about alternatives -- or the provision of a separate bicycle roadway or path alongside the one-way street).

a) Opening of arterial one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic

One-way arterial streets have been open to contraflow bicycle traffic in many communities for years, but separate bicycle paths or roadways have been installed for the contraflow bicycle traffic.

The opening of one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic by the marking of bike lanes has, however, been used only rarely. The suitability of this measure depends to an especially high degree on the volume of traffic (especially, of large trucks) and on whether the street is on a bus line. The separation between the contraflow bicycle traffic and the truck traffic should be as great as possible, in order to account, among other things, for the subjective sense of safety of the cyclists, which is important in the choice of bicycling and of routes.

Both solutions for the opening of arterial one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic require especially careful planning at intersections and entryways to avoid endangering the cyclists (cf. ADFC/SRL, FAF8).

b) Opening of local one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic

The opening of one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic without a separate path or bike lane is new in the German traffic law. On a one-way street with low traffic volume and a posted speed limit of 30 km/h or less (for example in 20 km/h zones), permission for contraflow bicycle traffic may be indicated by the sign in along with the signs Z 220 and Z 353. In the contraflow direction, the supplementary sign "bicyclists (image of bicycle) permitted" is posted along with the sign Z 267 ("no entry").

In the administrative preface to the new law, the following prerequisites are stated:

  • The roadway must as a rule be 3.50 meters or more wide, in addition to the width of parked vehicles, or at least 3.00 meters wide with enough locations to pull aside and give way even when bicycles with trailers or cargo tricycles encountering wide motor vehicles such as delivery vehicles. If the street is on a bus line or if there is much truck traffic, then the width must be greater than 3.50 meters.

  • Attention must be paid to parked vehicles.

  • It must be possible to survey the traffic controls in segments between intersections, and they must be easily understandable at junctions (entryways and intersections).

  • Where warranted by the location and the traffic volume, a separate, safely designed entrance must be provided for cyclists entering the one-way street to travel in the contraflow direction.

During the introductory and familiarization phase of the opening of one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic, residents must be informed about the new situation. Especially, extra attention needs to be given to stationary vehicles, as parked vehicles which obstruct sight lines are particularly likely to lead to  hazardous situations.

Alternatives

The legal permission for cyclists to travel in the contraflow direction includes not only the opening of ordinary one-way streets, but also the possibility of "false" one-way streets. The establishment of "false" one-way streets -- or possible conversion of ordinary one-way streets into "false" one-way streets -- is explicitly preferable to the opening of ordinary one-way streets, according to the traffic law.  As far as  improving conditions for bicycle travel is concerned, the type of designation is, however, of secondary importance. 

"False one-way streets" are streets on which traffic in one direction is prohibited with the use of the sign Z 267 StVO, but which are not signed as "one-way streets" using signs Z 220 / Z 353 StVO. As no signs Z 267 are posted along the length of the street, it may be used in both directions even by trucks (for example, entering the street from a driveway). These streets may be opened to contraflow bicycle traffic by using the supplementary "bicyclists permitted" sign along with sign Z 267.

In other words, true one way streets differ from "false one-way streets" only in that the blue one-way signs Z 220 / Z 353 are used.

Even "false" one-way streets which are "suddenly" opened to contraflow bicycle traffic sometimes require markings as safety measures.

The possibility of opening one-way streets to contraflow travel by cyclists in the context of "bicycle streets" is not explicitly mentioned in the traffic law. However, bicycle streets can be limited to one-way travel by motor vehicles, as has been the practice in Bremen for many years, while bicycle traffic in both directions is permitted.

Testing requirements

The authority which has jurisdiction over street traffic must document the traffic conditions and crashes (i.e., traffic volume, traffic composition, type and severity of crashes) before the street is opened to contraflow bicycle traffic. The authority must then observe, document and evaluate developments after the change is made. If an increase in crashes occurs (i.e., two or more bicycle crashes with serious property damage or injury), then the installation must be removed immediately.

Decisions and reconfiguration

Whether the possibility, as established in the traffic law, of opening one-way streets to contraflow bicycle traffic is used in a particular location depends on the involvement of the relevant authorities and bicyclists' representatives. The initiative to try this measure can come from members of local advocacy organizations (for example, members of the ADFC), officials in the local traffic or planning offices, politicians or other interested persons and authorities. 

Blanket permission is possible in 30 km/hr zones, but must be decided in each individual case if applied outside them, and so the following steps are recommended:

  • a list of all one-way streets should be drawn up

  • local conditions should be examined, and

  • suitable streets or street segments should be selected and proposed, and when necessary, improvements should be suggested (for example, markings at intersections).

The testing and orders for changes are the responsibility of the authorities in charge of streets. Suggestions may be presented directly to these authorities, or to the officials or politicians in charge of them.

It is, however, not normally sufficient to hand over suggestions. Usually, some political pressure is required in order to get one-way streets opened. At the very least, it is recommended that the progress of the suggestions through government offices be followed up.

References:

ADFC/SRL (editors): Radfahren an innerörtlichen Kreuzungen und Einmündungen [ADFC Saarland (editors): Bicycling at urban intersections and junctions], FAF 8, Bremen 1997.

Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen: Verkehrssicherheit in Einbahnstraßen mit gegengerichtetem Radverkehr [Federal Highway Research Institute: Traffic safety on one-way streets with contrafow bicycle traffic], Bergisch Gladbach 2001 (Unterreihe Verkehrstechnik, V83) (Document in English in HTML format) (Document in German in PDF format) (Information about this document in German and English)

Forschungsgesellschaft für Straßen- und Verkehrswesen (editors): Empfehlungen für Radverkehrsanlagen [Road and Transportation Research Association (editors): Recommendations for bicycle traffic installations]. ERA '95. Ausgabe 1995. Köln.

Hansestadt Bremen (editors): Von der Einbahnstraße zur Fahrradstraße. Der Senator für das Bauwesen der Freien Hansestadt Bremen in Zusammenarbeit mit dem ADFC (Faltblatt) [Hanseatic city of Bremen (editors): From one-way street to bicycle street. The Senator for Infrastructure of the free Hanseatic city of Bremen, in collaboration with the ADFC (pamphlet)]. Bremen 1992.

Werle, Jürgen: Radverkehr in Einbahnstraßen, das Saarbrücker Modell [Bicycle traffic on one-way streets, the Saarbrücken model]. In: Polizei, Verkehr, Technik, 4/1992


Authors: Tilman Bracher, Rainer Bier, Jörg Thiemann-Linden; IVU GmbH Berlin.
Preparation: Wilhelm Hörmann, August 2002. Translated from the German by John S. Allen, December 2002.


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Last modified 17 October 2011