Cycling for Everyone
Cycling for Everyone

CROW Updates Bike Lane Width Recommendations

11 September 2023 - Author: Hillie Talens

The following article was originally published in Dutch on the CROW-Fietsberaad website.

In Spring 2022, CROW-Fietsberaad updated the national recommendations for bike lane width. There were several reasons for the update. The “old” recommendations were based on studies from the 1980s and ‘90s. The use of bike lanes has since changed dramatically. Moped riders have been relegated to the carriageway. All kinds of new vehicles have appeared on the bike lanes, such as cargo bikes, electric bikes, and speed pedelecs.

At the same time, the number of users on many bike lanes increased significantly over the past few decades. In many ways, the growth in bicycle use is a positive development. However, the additional crowding combined with an increase in the average age has also led to a sharp increase in serious casualties.

The Importance of Bike Lane Width

Pavement width is one of the most important design aspects of bike lanes, according to the studies listed in Chapter 3. Width is a major determinant of road safety and bicycle enjoyment. On wider bike lanes, cyclists have more room to avoid other road users and are less likely to hit the shoulder. The common thread in the studies consulted is clear: the narrower the bike path, the higher the safety risks. The effect is especially large for one-way bike lanes. Globally, for one-way bike paths, 10 percent more width decreases the number of collisions by 13 percent.

Surveys also show that bike path width can have a major influence on the opinion of cyclists about the bike path. This is especially true for busy bicycle paths with many speed differences (mopeds, sport cyclists) and many oncoming traffic. In the near future, width is likely to become even more important. The growth of bicycle use and the greater diversity of new (electric) vehicles places higher demands on bicycle paths.

More Than Width

Although in this article we limit ourselves to bike lane width, this is by no means the only aspect that determines the quality of a bike lane. Other design aspects include the type of surfacing and the attractiveness of the surroundings. A narrow unpaved path through the woods will be rated higher by many recreational cyclists than a wide asphalt bike path along a busy county road. But even for that unpaved path, the fun is soon gone for many cyclists if they have to frequently enter the verge because of the many oncoming vehicles.

Update of Recommendations

In Chapter 2, we present tables of updated recommendations. The differences from the “old” recommendations are limited. The most important change is that the minimum width has been increased from 200 to 230 centimetres. This is because various studies show that the greatest safety gains can be made on the narrowest bicycle paths.

Despite the limited changes, the percentage of bicycle paths in urban areas that do not comply with the recommendations increases considerably. From over 40 percent with the “old” recommendations to almost 60 percent with the new ones. However, these figures also show that the application of “old” recommendations already left much to be desired. Thus, consistent application of the recommendations, whether old or new, can already contribute significantly to safety and comfort.

We realize that not all bike lanes can be addressed at the same time. This is why we have developed the “Width Tool for Bike Paths,” which can help the road manager with prioritization. The tool can also be used for deviating situations, such as the presence of many sport cyclists or cargo bikes. In fact, the tables with recommendations apply to average situations.

Substantiation of the Recommendations

Chapter 3 describes how the various studies have been translated into a coherent system to determine the desired width of a bike path. The systematics has two pillars:

  • The minimum width needed by two cyclists to cycle side by side safely and comfortably, regardless of intensity. This minimum width is set at 230 centimetres.
  • The maximum number of annoying and dangerous “encounters” with other users of the bike path. This does correlate strongly with intensities, but also with vehicle width and differences in direction and speed. Research shows that there is a strong relationship between the number of “encounters” and the rating cyclists give for width. Therefore, the criterion chosen for the recommendation was that the average report grade be higher than 7.4.

When determining the desired width, it is always necessary to consider which of the two criteria is the strictest. As an aid, we have developed a labelling system for the width of bike lanes. This is similar to the energy labels for electrical appliances. Width label A is perfect, width label F is far too narrow. For recommendations, width label B is the starting point. The width label of a bicycle path can be determined relatively easily with the “Width Tool for Bicycle Paths.”

Factors for the Number of Dangerous Encounters

In Chapter 4, we discuss the various factors that determine the number of nuisance and hazardous encounters (the second pillar in the systematics behind the recommendations). They are the “knobs” a road manager can turn to reduce the likelihood of conflicts and increase bicycle comfort. This chapter shows that in addition to widening, other measures are possible to ensure that a bike path that is too narrow meets the recommendations. Consider moving moped and sport cyclists to the carriageway, for example in combination with a 30 km/h limit. Or reducing intensities on the bike path by providing alternative routes.

For the entire month of September 2023, the Dutch Cycling Embassy and CROW-Fietsberaad are partnering to offer the ‘Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic’ for just €75 (plus VAT and shipping). Purchase your copy online today.

More information


Hillie Talens

Involved partners


For more information

Get in touch

Related to this: