Separated Bicycle Facility

Cycle Track on Vassar Street

Separated Bicycle Facilities, Protected Bike Lanes and Cycle Tracks

The term “separated bicycle facility” is generally used to refer to bicycle facilities that follow street alignments but where there is a physical separation between the bicycle travel area and the motor vehicle travel area, often through barriers or grade separation. They are located between the street and the sidewalk, or between the parking lane and the sidewalk and may be referred to as buffered bike lanes, raised bike lanes, cycle tracks, or one-way bike paths. They incorporate the convenience of riding on the street with the advantages of physical separation from motor vehicle traffic. They are also advantageous because motorists are not likely to drive or park in them; and bicyclists who are apprehensive about riding in the street are more likely to ride in these types of facilities, leaving the sidewalk for pedestrians. Most designs reduce or eliminate the risk of dooring. Perhaps most significantly, separated bicycle facilities provide the necessary support for a greater range of people, including children and those who are traffic-averse, enabling more people to choose to ride a bicycle.

In some cities these facilities are standard, particularly in northern Europe, but can be found in various forms throughout the world. In North America, the number of successful examples is growing rapidly, and there is increasing interest everywhere in implementing this option.

A consideration with the creation of separated bicycle is the additional maintenance required for cleaning and snow clearance. The additional costs are somewhat mitigated by reduced long-term maintenance costs: the bike lane portion receives less wear and tear than the travel lanes; the bike lane accumulates less debris; and the bike lane markings don't need frequent remarking.

Given the policy to promote and support bicycling, the mandate to strongly encourage mode shift, and the fact that separated facilities attract users who might otherwise not choose to bicycle, the case for creating more of these facilities is compelling and City is will continue to evaluate them as an option on a case-by-case basis. One significant constraint is that raised lanes require more space than on-road bicycle lanes.


newNew White Paper!

Please read the newly released white paper on cycle tracks from the City of Cambridge/Toole Design Group: Cycle Tracks: A Technical Review of Safety, Design, and Research (June 2014)

What are Cycle Tracks?

cycle tracks - kids

Cycle tracks are exclusive bicycle facilities that are physically separated from motor vehicle lanes and sidewalks. Separation is achieved through a variety of treatments, such as vertical grade changes; parking lanes and pavement markings; curbs; or landscaping, all of which can enhance the comfort and safety of bicycling on urban streets. Cycle tracks can create a more low-stress, path-like bicycling experience and are also referred to as protected or separated bicycle lanes.

Benefits of Cycle Tracks and Separated Bike Lanes

  • Cycle tracks provide increased comfort and safety for bicyclists through separation from motor vehicles to
    create a more path-like experience.
  • Cycle tracks are more comfortable and accessible for people of all ages and abilities, children and the elderly alike. They attract new riders at all levels who otherwise may not bicycle, and therefore increase ridership more so than bicycle lanes.
  • Cycle tracks reduce crashes, overall injury risk, and fear of collisions with over-taking vehicles at mid-block.
  • Cycle tracks remove bicyclists from the door zone, eliminating the risk of “dooring” and potentially being struck by a motor vehicle.
  • Cycle tracks can reduce or eliminate potential obstructions that occur commonly in bicycle lanes, such as
    motorists parking or driving in the lane.
  • Providing a dedicated space for bicyclists improves clarity about expected behavior for all modes of travel.
  • Cycle tracks can enhance the pedestrian environment by creating a buffer between pedestrians and vehicle
    traffic adjacent to the sidewalk.
  • Narrowing the roadway width, either physically or visually, through the installation of cycle tracks can have a traffic calming benefit and help to create a more human-scale environment.
  • Intersection designs can reduce or separate conflicts with motorists.
  • Cycle tracks provide a better air quality environment for users than riding in the roadway.
  • Cycle tracks provide economic benefits—they attract more bicyclists than standard bike lanes which results in more productive workers and more spending at local businesses.

Cambridge Locations

The City of Cambridge was one of the first cities in the United States to design and construct cycle tracks. In 2004, a raised cycle track was installed on Vassar Street from Main Street to Massachusetts Avenue, with full construction to Audrey Street completed in 2009. A second cycle track was more recently installed on Concord Avenue from Alewife Brook Parkway to Blanchard Road. Cycle tracks are also included in the Western Avenue Reconstruction Project (in construction) and Binney Street/Galileo Galilei Way.

Versions of cycle tracks that are most commonly referred to as separated or protected bike lanes exist currently on Ames Street (Broadway – Main Street) and will be constructed on Main Street (Longfellow Bridge – 3rd Street) following the Longfellow Bridge reconstruction.

Parking Protected Bike Lane

The terms “separated bicycle facility” and “cycle tracks” encompass all kinds of facilities where bicycle travel is physically separated from motor vehicle travel. One type of facility is a “parking protected bike lane,” where the physical separation is made by a row of parked cars.

The first of this type of facility in Cambridge can be found currently on Ames Street, between Broadway and Main Street.

As a driver, what am I supposed to do?

Do not block the bike lane

You may never drive or park in any bike lane, including protected bike lanes.

Watch for bikes when turning

Please make sure to look for and yield to bikes when entering or exiting a driveway or when turning at an intersection. You should always do this, at every driveway or intersection.

How cyclists should use protected bike lanes?

Protected bike lanes afford the same access as regular bike lanes. As always, pay special attention at driveways at intersections for turning cars.

Slower cyclists are encouraged to comfortably position themselves to the RIGHT side, so they may be passed by faster cyclists on the LEFT.


The lanes on Ames Street are wide enough that regular sweeping and plowing equipment will be able to navigate.

Separated Bicycle Lane

For More Information

For more extensive information and technical documents about Cycle Track/Separated Facility Design:

The “White Paper” includes references and information about a number of studies but new research is coming out all the time.

Here are some of the latest findings (updated June, 2014): 

For some interesting reports of bike facilities from around the world, check out:

Staff Contact

For more information about bicycling in Cambridge, please contact Cara Seiderman,, at 617/349-4629.