Despite questions about North American studies of protected bike lanes, for decades, Forester’s ideas were tremendously influential in the United States. For a time Effective Cycling – Forester’s manifesto – was the official educational training offered by the League of American Wheelmen – now the League of American Bicyclists. More importantly, many of Forester’s ideas were adopted and codified by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in its “Green Book,” often referred to as the “bible” of traffic engineering.
Meanwhile, for the last three decades, small but vocal groups of vehicular cyclists effectively quashed bike infrastructure projects in cities like Boston, Dallas, and Cleveland.
“For the longest time, the bicycle movement had been led and dominated by people who thought that bikes had to be on the road, in the travel lane and didn’t need any or want any special help or any separated space,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. The league now supports protected cycling infrastructure.
What has become clear in recent years is that vehicular cycling – teaching cyclists to behave like car drivers – has at least one very critical shortcoming: it did not do much to increase the number of cyclists on American roadways. While cycling rates exploded in the Netherlands and Denmark – which were experimenting with, and then gradually perfecting, protected cycle tracks – in America, cycling rates have yet to surpass 1 percent. In Denmark, 16 percent of all trips are by bicycle. In the Netherlands, the number is 27 percent nationwide and 57 percent in cities.
While there are many aspects of Danish and Dutch culture and law that helped produce their remarkable cycling rates, it seems clear that the physical infrastructure played an important role, said Roskowski.
“You cannot convince a person who is not comfortable riding on the road to be comfortable riding in the road,” she said. “You cannot market them into it. You really have to change how the streets work.”
Another reason vehicular cycling has fallen out of favor with many top advocates and planners is that it has become clear that the whole philosophy is an obstacle to increasing diversity in the cycling community. There is evidence that women in particular are less likely to get involved in cycling in the absence of dedicated infrastructure. The same sort of concern applies to anyone who isn’t at the height of their physical fitness – children, the elderly, and novices.
One obstacle for advocates in overcoming safety concerns, however, is that there simply haven’t been enough examples of functional protected bike lanes in the United States yet to rigorously study.
“Because these facilities are relatively new in this country, the body of research is relatively small,” Roskowski said. “You have to have them on the ground before you can study the effects of them.”
Installing these facilities takes professional engineering judgment, consideration of the individual context, and it may even take adjustment. Roskowski said that the designers of these facilities have to use care to make sure, in particular, that intersections are carefully engineered.