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Operating space takes into account the dimensions necessary for exclusive and preferential operation of a bicycle including the space needed to ride comfortably and safely under different conditions. It also considers the unique needs related to powering a bicycle and staying balanced. Operating space may take into account that the facility may have multiple users (including non-bicyclists) traveling at different speeds who all need space to safely maneuver and pass each other.
Design Standards & Guidelines::
  • Bicyclist essential physical operating width: 40 inches min.
  • Operating width to exclusively or preferentially accommodate forward movement: 48 inches min.
  • Preferred operating width: 60 inches
  • Essential physical operating width to accommodate bicycling with adjacent barrier (guardrail, curb, etc.) or in stressful environment: 60 inches or more
  • Vertical clearance to accommodate adult bicyclist standing upright on pedals: 100 inches
  • Distance bicyclists tend to ride from curb: 32-40 inches
  • Eye height of adult bike rider: 60 inches approx.
  • Eye height of recumbent bike rider: 46 inches approx.

Design & Safety Issues to Consider:
  • Providing sufficient operating space eliminates the need for bicyclists to shift position
  • Room is needed for bicyclists to react to unexpected events in their path
  • Extra width is required to allow passing and to maintain balance at low speeds or in windy conditions
  • Space may be required to accommodate non-standard bicycles (for example recumbents and cargo bikes)
  • Bicyclists may need to pedal upright (such as going uphill) and require additional vertical clearance
  • Bicyclists’ skill, confidence and comfort levels vary so operating space comfort levels differ
  • Gutter area directly next to the curb should not be included in calculating available operating space
  • Area close to curb where most bicyclists tend to ride should be kept clear of road hardware
  • In assigning space in the roadway, the design should recognize that bicyclists are more vulnerable to injury when in a crash
Review Checklist:
  • Width of exclusive space
  • Passing space
  • Conflicts with other users
  • Lateral and vertical clearance
  • Non-standard bicycles
  • Low-hanging branches
  • Traffic mix and volume
  • Obstacles and road hardware
  • Buffers around fixed objects
  • Gutter space not part of operating space

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Guide for Reviewing Public Road Design and Bicycling Accommodations for Virginia Bicycling Advocates