July 31, 2013

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Stop blaming vehicular cycling

People love to bash John Forester's Vehicular Cycling and blame it for all sorts of U.S. policy failures.

I'm still waiting for anyone to identify a single state where vehicular cycling was an official policy at any point in the past 30 years. That is, a state that repealed cyclist-specific far-right restrictions, where bicycles are legal vehicles, where motorists are not allowed to overtake within the same lane as a bicycle.

As far as I can tell, unicorns are at least as relevant to mode share as supposed official support for vehicular cycling.

U.S. policy for the past 30 years hasn't been driven by vehicular cycling advocates, but by motorists and motor-oriented engineers doing the least they can to comply with checklist requirements for bicycle accommodation.

AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, which publishes the national Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, isn't made up of cycling advocates of any sort. Its standards don't follow vehicular cycling principles any more than they do Dutch or Danish principles. They follow the principle that cars are fast and bikes, if we have to allow them, should be kept out of the way of real traffic.

Josh 331 days ago


A single state? Try California, where his ideas were written into engineering guides, oh and the national engineering guides. The people who make today's engineering guides are foresterites through and through. They have blogs where the cite him and they question the idea of bike lanes. They have a tremendous amount of power to this day. Forester still holds sway in San Diego, Ohio and many other parts of the country, including Boston.

John Merrick 330 days ago

Please STOP Spreading Misinformation

Ken Cross did NOT think that rear-end collisions were rare. Just b/c Forrester said so does NOT make it so. He lied:

Here's what Cross said:

"Problem 13 must be considered one of the most important problem types revealed by this study because it accounted for nearly 1/4 of all fatalities, three times as much as any other problem type. The distinguishing characteristics of this problems type are: the motor vehicle overtook and collided with a bicycle travelling in the same direction as the motor vehicle:"

Seriously, READ the original study. It's online:,d.cGE

Fred Ollinger more than 1 year ago

Thanks for the pointer to that paper

Compare also with problem type 8, no fatalities (5.3% of injuries), sidewalk riding across driveways. Crap. Everything I thought I learned from Effective Cycling is suspect, till I can fact check it.

dr2chase more than 1 year ago


Cross said the rear end collision ranked 8th in collision types. You also need to be aware of when and where the type 13 collisions were recorded. Also the when of this study, 1977. I have a set of bike lights from the 70s (as if many people used them) and they are laughable compared to what we consider acceptable now. A lot of things have changed since this study that make some of the information misinformation if you don't keep it in context.

Dave Holland more than 1 year ago

Did Forester have a time machine?

The problem is that when Forester wrote Effective Cycling, today's LED lights did not exist. He wrote it then, not today. I read EC, I own a copy, and the stats in that report look nothing like what I got from reading EC. Sidewalk cycling -- not that dangerous after all, and collisions from the rear are plenty dangerous, far more than Forester implies. Even salmoning is not that dangerous if you are looking at fatal accidents.

dr2chase more than 1 year ago

Bike-friendly by law

What helps the Dutch a lot (besides their bike culture) is that there are well-defined and well-enforced rules of the road, especially for car-bike interaction. Also that the law recognizes the relative vulnerability of cyclists and corrects for it. For instance by putting the liability of bike-car accidents on the motorists, until proven otherwise. In the case of a child cyclist, the driver is liable no matter what. The physics of a car-bike collision is not subtle. The road laws governing it should not be, either.

CelloMom more than 1 year ago

You forgot Montreal

Bravo - except you forgot Montreal. While NYC was crowing over painted lanes, Montreal was building the Pistes Cyclables network along Maisonneuve:

amm more than 1 year ago

Please Help! What can I do? My town is living in the Stone ages

I recently moved to Huntsville AL. I actually had never heard of the place until a buddy told me to look into it. It is a booming small city with an abundance of high paying tech jobs and I believe the highest concentration of Rocket Scientist in the country. Unfortunately it can be so much more than what it is. We do not have any bike lanes anywhere. There are maybe 3 or 4 greenways that run about 3-4 miles and nothing more than that. So on one hand plenty of high paying Tech jobs with the potential to attract young , educated healthy minded people but there is this old mindset still lingering around and unfortunately they all are in the positions that would approve a change. What can I do to try and get some organizations with some weight to help us out or take a look at us for future projects? Its an awesome area great weather, great cost of living and I'm thinking there is no hope. So much potential and they do not see it. The people in charge don't understand they will attract more educated people by showing some effort in making this place bicycle friendly. Chattanooga is just an hour and a half away and they are a great example but it seems to fall on blind eyes and deaf ears. I may need to move.

Danny more than 1 year ago

re: please help

Hi Danny! Here is a good link: This talks about how businesses should cater to cyclists. Starting with for-profit companies might be good since they can change things faster than the government sometimes. You can also read Mia Burk's Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet which details her job in the Dept. of Transportation in Portland as she made it the best bicycle city in America. Maybe start a bicycle advocacy group and get people involved? It's a daunting task and I wish you the best of luck.

kristin more than 1 year ago

Re: Please Help! What Can I do?


I would suggest that as Kristen has said that YOU start the ball/bike rolling. I would also ask why you feel the need to have bike lanes? Are you aware that in reality that bike lanes do NOT add to cyclist safety? As all they really do is to give the cyclist, particularly the new/inexperienced cyclist a FALSE sense of security and safety.

As I have personally heard numerous accounts of cyclists who were driving their bicycle within a bike lane have been hit and injured or killed as well as having been harassed. I have also personally witnessed TOO many cyclists operating the WRONG way in bike lanes.

I would also suggest researching and seeing if there are any Cycling Savvy instructors in your area and if there is taking the Cycling Savvy course.

But PLEASE do not feel that just because your adopted home doesn't have bike lanes that that is a "bad" thing.

Another danger of bike lanes is when there is on street parallel parking right next to the bike lane. As that sets the cyclists who are using the bike lane up to be doored, i.e. to have a car door opened into their path by an occupant of the car without first looking to be sure that it is safe to open their door.

Also I have personally witnessed lawn care crews parking their trucks w/trailers IN the bike lanes thus blocking them.

Herman more than 1 year ago

Re: Please Help! What Can I do?


The type of bike lane you speak of is a "regular bike lane." They are unequivocally not safe, precisely for the reasons you state - dooring, and cars parking or driving in them. None of these things are issues in protected bike lanes, also called separated bike lanes or cycle tracks. They are safer as indicated by this study:

They're safer because they are protected - they are separated from moving cars.

Since you propose that a city lacking bike lanes is it not a bad thing, where do you propose a biker ride?

Cherie more than 1 year ago


On the sidewalks where runners, jokers, power walkers and dog walkers are.

JD more than 1 year ago

Join your statewide bike advocacy organization

Join and support Alabama Bicycle Coalition and ask them what to do. Statewide advocacy organizations need local advocates and vice versa.

See if your city has a bicycle advisory board or bike master plan. If not, start working to get both. One person with energy can start a whole movement. Your people are there just waiting for you to lead them!

Barb Chamberlain, Bicycle Alliance of Washington more than 1 year ago

I too live in Huntsville....

Huntsville is a very difficult place to be a cyclist. I ride my bike everywhere within a 6 mile radius. Every time I go out, I know I am taking my life into my own hands. I Would LOVE to have a safe, protected lane that makes connections to the major city centers. The drivers are NOT bike friendly. I have ridden my bike all over the globe, and this is a hard place to ride. However, I feel that the more people who actively use their bikes for transportation, the more likely the city will so a real need for protected bike lanes. I want to see one connecting Bailey Cove with Jones well as a few leading to the new Grissom HS site..

Laura M more than 1 year ago

You serious, boy?

Just because Huntsville (a city, actually -- filled with more than 150, 000 people) doesn't cater to your biking lifestyle does not mean it's in the Stone age.

JD more than 1 year ago

Huntsville, Al

I too live in Huntsville, AL and I am so glad to read that I am NOT alone on this matter. I think we can combine forces and change this into the right gear. I am working with some local cycling advocates and enthusiasts. and SCCC, though I'm not an official of any sort. Recently I assisted on pulling together a presentation for a grant to improve cycling.

Trang more than 1 year ago

Great article

Thanks for this fabulous article Angie. May the protected bike lane become commonplace all accross America!!!

Cherie more than 1 year ago

Re: Great article


I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with you. Bike lanes, "protected" or otherwise really do NOT improve cyclist safety. All they really do is to give the cyclist, particularly the new/inexperienced cyclist a FALSE sense of security.

Herman more than 1 year ago

Re: Great article

Perhaps you should read the article before commenting, including its discrediting of the argument you make against protected cycle lanes, complete with evidence.

Roger more than 1 year ago

PPW Law Suit, It's Not Dead Yet

Despite gross errors by the pro-bono law firm donating time to the PPW opponents, such as missing filing dates and inadequate arguments, the law suit still gets another visit to court. Judges have found absolutely no grounds to support the NBBL (Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes - the ironically named opponents to the BBL path) suit against the DOT construction of the path, yet the judges continue to bend over backwards to give NBBL one more bite against some imagined administrative failure. Their lawyer is still making pronouncements as if the city had grossly failed the entire planning and implementation process.

This is all playing out as some kind of Vampire or Zombie movie, the case was dead from the start, but it can't be killed. The grounds for the next hearing are pathetically weak. One hopes that a proper legal stake will be driven through the stone heart of the NBBL suit.

Personal involvement: 30 years ago I brought my 2 year old son to day care by bike, northbound along PPW. There was, and still is, no safe roadways from mid Park Slope to Grand Army Plaza, so I rode on the sidewalk - as a defacto shared use bike path. I normally fit into the "A" type cyclist personality - a Kamikaze style of riding, but this does not work with a baby on the bike. Today, if I had to take my grandsons on the same route, I would be using the PPW Protected Sidepath, and not the sidewalk. Riding on PPW is not a matter of convenience, not an avoidable route and not an avoidable trip. Iris and her NBBL "friends" are trying to kill me and my children. We will ensure that this path will remain, and more protected paths and lanes will be built.

Steve Faust more than 1 year ago

As Obvious as the Nose on your Face

Angie, your documentation of the explosion of interest in protected lanes, as well as the historical opposition to them, is terrific. It is sad but true that American policy for a long time went with the Vehicular Cycling philosophy that said that bikes should be integrated into traffic rather than protected from it. As you point out, it doesn't work; few people are willing to challenge motor vehicles for space on the road. While a tiny fraction of the population gets worked up over esoteric arguments in favor of vehicular cycling, for the vast majority of the population it's as obvious as the nose on your face: bikes, like pedestrians, need to be protected from heavy or fast traffic. Whenever "normal" people get a voice -- as you document so well in Brooklyn, Denver and elsewhere -- they clamor for protected lanes. Montreal was one North American city that was mostly immune to the nonsense of vehicular cycling (thanks to a language barrier and a national barrier that freed them from U.S. guidelines), and developed a network of protected lanes early in the 1990's. That's helped make them one of North America's number 1 bicycling cities. Some of their protected lanes serve more than 8,000 cyclists per day (by comparison, a typical arterial lane carries about 5,000 cars per day), and they're building more protected lanes every year.

Peter Furth more than 1 year ago

How will they protect?

How do these separated lanes, making cyclists hidden from cars and giving them a sense of safeness that isn't there...protect them?

k loewen more than 1 year ago


I biked Montreal back in the 90's and was astounded at the infrastructure in place back then. Montreal is decades ahead of the rest of North America. Definitely one of my favorite biking cities! Nice to see so many other North American cities catching up. A shame that Montreal doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Bob more than 1 year ago

Pennsylvania Ave. not that protected, yet

The Pennsylvania Ave. cycle track is a welcome addition to D.C. bike infrastructure, but it is imperfect. It isn't really protected. The various arts and aesthetic commissions with jurisdiction over the road have objected to barriers that could detract from the view along the historic avenue. There is an ongoing problem of taxis making illegal U-turns across the cycle track, which endangers cyclists.

DC authorities may add Zebras along the cycle track this fall. These are small structures that could deter drivers from crossing into the cycle track. Hopefully this will provide a solution that benefits cyclists and that is acceptable to the US Commission on Fine Arts.

Michael H more than 1 year ago

Great read

Angie, thanks for laying it all out there! Very in depth article.

The NACTO guide has indeed been very helpful in presenting straightforward and beautifully illustrated examples of how to bring the best cycling infrastructure to our community. This is only the beginning!

CDL more than 1 year ago

Very helpful

Thank you very much, Angie. This article is very helpful in understanding the development of protected bike lanes in the US. I, Japanese, also read a Forester's book, Bicycle Transportation, around twenty years ago, and had somewhat believed in his theory until I went to the Netherlands.

Shinji more than 1 year ago

Dearborn Street

Not Avenue.

Adam H. more than 1 year ago