Intermediate-Level Cyclist Training Program: Objectives, Techniques and Results

Co-author: Diana Lewiston

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Elementary and middle-school children are the targets of almost all bicycle safety programs in the U.S., but while traffic safety is the prime focus of nearly all of these programs practically none of them teach the traffic skills that child cyclists need to make their normal journeys in reasonable safety. Furthermore, although particular skills are necessary for safe cycling, the practice of testing the participants of any school program to see whether they have acquired these skills appears to be unknown in the U.S., except for those few programs that have been adapted from the Adult Effective Cycling program.


The reasons for these deficiencies need not be discussed herein. Suffice it to write that despite the decades of "bike-safety" efforts no practical favorable results have been achieved and there is no body of current practice to serve as the base for further progress. If anything has been achieved, it is the negative result of producing a population that not merely does not know how to ride safely but, in general, opposes safe cycling practices. Against this background the Intermediate-Level Effective Cycling Course was developed and tested.

The Adult Effective Cycling 1 Course2 takes 30+ class hours in 10 units of 3+ hours each, plus outside study and practice. The most frequent criticism directed against it is that it is too long, not because its material is inefficiently presented, nor because it covers extraneous information, but simply because those making the criticism believe that cycling is not worth the expenditure of 30 hours to learn. Whatever the accuracy of that opinion, based as it is upon ignorance of what needs to be known to become effectively mobile by bicycle, the strength of the opinion must be recognized in designing any school program for general use. Schools at this time are unlikely to allocate 30 class hours in any year to a cycling program for the general student. Furthermore, 3-hour sessions won't fit into the typical school schedule, which uses 45 or 50 minute sessions. Therefore, two major constraints on a general school program are that it must be capable of being presented in 45-minute sessions and must not appear to take an excessive amount of time. Considering that cycling combines endurance sport with road transportation these constraints create major difficulties.

The program must therefore be restricted to only those most important matters that can be taught within its limitations. The question of values is inescapable. The public calls for bike safety but cyclist mobility, confidence , and health have equally impressive claims to importance. Bike safety itself is misnamed, for by that phrase the public does not refer to the causes of the great majority of cyclist casualties, which are caused by falls, bike-bike collisions and bike-dog collisions, but only to car-bike collisions, which cause only 10% of cycling casualties among elementary-school children3 and 17% among adult4 cyclists5. Far from these important subjects, lowly mechanical maintenance is probably taught more than any other cycling subject, probably because people are much more ready to admit or to recognize their lack of mechanical knowledge than their lack of traffic skills.

Among these choices, I (Forester) concluded that the most appropriate for publicly-supported instruction is a blend which I term traffic skills. The low level of traffic skills is the most obvious deficiency of the U.S. cycling public, and this lack is a major factor in the other socially-important cycling deficiencies. For example, in Palo Alto the average score of adult cyclists on the Forester Cycling Proficiency Test is 58% (6), and in nearby Sunnyvale short observations (averaging less than 1 mile each) of adult cyclocommuters approaching their places of employment showed 14 out of 15 committing at least one error sufficient to fail them on either the Forester Test or a standard auto driving test. 7 This low level of skill produced a large proportion of our car-bike collisions. Cross's data show that over half of U.S. car-bike collisions are caused by several silly mistakes by cyclists: riding on the left, entering a superior roadway without yielding, swerving in front of overtaking traffic, and the like.8 I estimate9 that 80% of U.S. car-bike collisions can be prevented by applying normal traffic skills to the collision patterns de- scribed by Cross, an estimate which is supported by comparison of the accident rates given in Schupack and Driessen4 for college-associated adults with those in Kaplan5 for experienced adults.

This low level of traffic skills adversely affects cycling in other ways. Fear of motor traffic has been shown by many surveys to be a major cause of circuitous cyclist routing or for not cycling at all. (These questions are usually phrased to ascribe the effect to "dangerous traffic", but since they are asked of people who have inadequate knowledge of, but plenty of superstitions about, the motor-traffic hazards of cycling, the answers cannot reflect an objective view of the real world, but merely the summation of individual feelings.) Since the traffic conditions regarded as frightening are frequently those that are easily handled by reasonably competent cyclists "with no sweat at all," it is reasonable to conclude that the acquisition of traffic skills removes one impediment to cycling transportation. Less directly, but more importantly, the practical absence in society as a whole of both the traffic-cycling skills themselves and also of the knowledge that reasonable levels of traffic-cycling skills can exist, misdirects public cycling policy into attempts to create a cycling transportation system suitable for incompetent cyclists. Since the only practical, known methods of allowing incompetent cyclists to ride in urban areas require inefficient operational procedures; since the requirement to follow such procedures adversely affects all cyclists because it is usually based not on the driver's competence but on the fact of riding a bicycle; since the facilities deemed safe for incompetent cyclists would consume at least the major part of the total resources society cares to devote to cycling; since such facilities, considering the real accident distribution rather than the distribution that is assumed by the public, are likely to be more dangerous than roadways improved to an equal extent; for all of these reasons this public policy resulting from the public lack of traffic-cycling skills is detrimental to cyclists and to cycling.

Important as these social values are, the acquisition of traffic-cycling skills is also valuable to the individual. Knowing how to handle the various traffic situations in reasonable safety with reasonable efficiency provides not only the objective ability to travel wherever one wishes with a low probability of a traffic accident, but also the subjective confidence and sense of personal worth as a cyclist which such competence generally engenders.

In summary, since the constellation of characteristics termed the cyclist-inferiority complex is the greatest problem of U.S. cycling transportation, and since the acquisition of traffic-cycling skills is the best- recognized correction for this condition, training in traffic-cycling skills should have the highest priority in publicly-supported training of cyclists.


In considering which traffic cycling skills should be taught in an intermediate-level course, one must consider not only which skills ar most important but also which skills the participants are easy to learn. For example, the motorist right turn is a significant cause of car-bike collisions, yet detection of the circumstances which indicate that it is likely to occur in any given situation requires a basis of experience in traffic driving (as cyclist or as motorist) which has not yet been acquired by the middle-school students who are the most likely targets of an intermediate-level cycling program.

Cross has proposed 10 that training against each type of car-bike collision should be given at or before the time at which 10% of the lifetime probability of that accident type has occurred. Moran et al are developing the forthcoming Bicycle Driving Task Analysis 11 with one intention of providing a prioritized list of detailed actions to be taught. These proposals sound very reasonable and easy to justify to the educational establishment, but they are unworkable in practice. Traffic cycling is a group of actions which must be performed in concert in order to achieve useful results. By the 5th grade all the different types of car-bike collision caused by incorrectly performing the standard maneuvers have started to occur; 5th- grade cyclists need to possess all the standard traffic skills, whatever we may think suitable for them. The Task Analysis may describe one action as most important when making a left turn, say looking over one's shoulder before moving to the center of the roadway, but no instructor can responsibly teach merely that aspect of turning left. The entire sequence of actions involved in turning left must be taught in order to enable the student to turn left safely and efficiently. There is no point in teaching only part of the maneuver; either left turn technique must be taught, or it should be ignored. Some other prioritization rationale must be devised for an intermediate-level cycling course, which by its social context cannot cover all that is necessary.

Such a prioritization rationale was devised for this course, based not only upon selection of particular skills but also on the simplification and combination of similar skills and concepts into fewer, more easily- learned units. The first selection is based on the principle of teaching proper operation within the traffic system as it now exists and operates, leaving to a later course the detection and avoidance of instances when the system fails to operate properly. This agrees with the Cross data, which show that the preponderance of car-bike collisions incurred by younger cyclists is caused by the cyclist's failure to properly perform standard maneuvers. This disagrees with the works of La Fond and many others, which give first priority to detecting and avoiding unusual hazards. The experience of teaching the intermediate- level course supports the adopted rationale, as will be discussed.

The second selection is based on the concept of cycling in traffic of gradually-increasing intensity. While elementary-school cyclists need the skill of making all the standard maneuvers, they do not usually ride in areas of high traffic intensity. Even when trained in the sequence of actions that constitutes a maneuver, say a left turn, they may not perform these actions with the skill necessary for safe and reliable performance in conditions of heavy and fast traffic. Higher traffic speed, and with it larger differences in speeds of various vehicles in sight at one time, and greater numbers of vehicles in different lanes in sight at one time, and more complicated lane patterns and signal phases to understand, all tend to overload the mental ability of the adult but inexperienced driver. This effect must be stronger still for young cyclists who have much less experience with the traffic system, and possibly have less mental ability because of youth. These considerations led to the decision to teach all the standard maneuvers, starting with easy- traffic situations and progressing as far toward intense-traffic situations as the travel needs of the group of students required or their abilities allowed.

The class time allowed was 12 hours: one period a day for a three-week block. This was chosen because it is the duration of each sport in the physical education classes, the most logical home for cyclist training. It is probably impossible to teach all the standard maneuvers, each by itself, to persons without any prior training, within that schedule. Consideration of the Cross statistics, 8 of Forester's observations of the deficiencies of behavior in cycling6 populations7 and of the deficiencies in "bike-safety" programs, and of the characteristics of the cyclist-inferiority complex, led to the conclusion that by simplification and grouping of certain concepts a workable level of skill could be imparted for most of the standard maneuvers. This analysis produced four key concepts which control the standard maneuvers: the two interrelated concepts of right-of-way and yielding, and speed positioning and intersection positioning.

It is significant to note, as another example of how deleterious previous "bike-safety" programs have been, that none of these four had been properly taught before Effective Cycling. Speed positioning, the prime emphasis of most programs, is taught only as cyclist curb-hugging. Yielding is taught only as "stay out of the way of the cars." Both of these have opposite aspects - the proper actions for faster traffic and that which has the right-of-way. These opposite aspects, and right-of-way and proper intersection position, have been strictly avoided. Right-of-way has been especially denigrated by the stock phrase in "bike-safety" programs: "Take the right-of-way and you'll be right - Dead Right!" Such biased training imparts the psychological certainty into the cyclist that he has no way of performing safely and lawfully, which is the essence of the cyclist-inferiority complex.

Right-of-way and yielding are interrelated because in almost all traffic conflict situations one party has the right-of-way and the other party has to yield it. (The legal argument that neither party has the right-of-way, but that even so one party must yield what it does not possess, is a semantic muddle contradicted by its own legal definition of right-of-way. While some insist in the "logic" of the muddle, it has no practical significance in traffic operations.) The essence of these concepts is knowing when you can proceed and when you must yield,and how to yield when that is required. The various ways in which these concepts appear in traffic law and in different traffic situations were drastically grouped. The requirements to yield were simplified into two: "Yield whenever entering a superior roadway," and "Yield whenever changing lateral position." The act of yielding was defined as "Looking and waiting until you observe that nobody is coming.:

Speed positioning was defined as: "Slower traffic near the curb, faster traffic near the center." Intersection positioning was defined as: "Get into position early for the maneuver that you want to make; for right turns near the curb, for straight-through keep straight, and for left turns next to the center line. That way you don't cross in front of other traffic while in the intersection,where it is hard to pay attention to everything at once."

Teaching these concepts and explaining the various traffic situations as examples for applying them proved eminently satisfactory. It enabled 10-minute lectures and 30-minute rides to cover the material, which probably could not have been done with the former more complicated presentations. It enabled one set of practice sessions to cover all the cross-traffic yielding situations, without separate presentations for uncontrolled intersections, driveways, yield signs, stop signs and traffic signals. (Naturally, a red signal had to be described as a permanent yield.) It enabled one set of practice sessions to cover the various lateral movements,no matter what the particular lane pattern.

Teaching by means of traffic concepts also conveyed an understanding and appreciation of the traffic system, while avoiding the former errors of concentrating on cyclists' duties. Most previous programs concentrated on what the cyclist must do. While this simplification may appear to be efficient and conservative, it leaves the student with two erroneous impressions. The student tends to "learn" that motorists have the right-of-way and cyclists do not, and fails to learn when he has the right-of-way. This develops into the too-frequent police officer, traffic engineer, and even motorist concept that cyclists have duties but only motorists have rights. Teaching through traffic concepts instead conveys the knowledge that the criteria for who has the right-of-way and who must yield lie in the traffic situation and not in the type of vehicle. Thus these students easily recognized and commented upon the advantage of riding on protected arterial streets instead of minor streets impeded by stop signs. Thus also, when these students were confronted by well-wishing motorists who refused to accept the right-of-way as the students yielded it, these students beckoned and shouted "Come on" to the reluctant motorist and commented on the motorist's stupidity for fouling up the system so that all had to wait. These are real signs that some among the students understand how the system is supposed to work and are willing to support its proper working. At some other times, it must be recognized, students saw that they had been given a chance to beat the system and they accepted that invitation.

As a matter of practical teaching, it was found that no learned subject could be covered in one session. Reasonable performance required a sequence of: 1) Introductory lecture; 2) Initial practice; 3) Review lecture and critical performance evaluation; 4) Second practice. Only by the second practice did the performance smooth out. This agrees with the classic teaching format embodied in the adult Effective Cycling course: tell the students what will be done,demonstrate it, have them practice it, then evaluate their performance and repeat until it is adequate. There is too little time in a 30-minute ride to get the students to think for a second time about the action that they are learning.

Time had to be devoted to other matters also. There were the mechanics of running a class - roll call, excuses, announcements. It took some effort to convince the students to arrive at the classroom every day with their bicycles; at first they didn't believe that they would ride almost ever day, so they had to go out to get their bicycles during class time instead of during the previous passing time. There was a continuous string of mechanical problems - flat tires, slipping gears, a pedal that broke apart during class, loose wheels, loose cranks, dropped chains, inadequately adjusted brakes. Note that many of these are drive train problems, rather than the basic safety problems first inspected for, but each one required the attention of the teaching assistant and discommoded some students during class time. In addition, some mechanical cycling information was taught in an attempt to get and keep the bicycles in working order, and to relieve the instructors from responsibility for defective bicycles. There were two such subjects. Tire repair was demonstrated in an attempt to reduce the bicycle absences due to flats. The technique of quick mechanical safety inspection was taught in class, to be followed with an inspection at home in which the inspection record was signed-off by a parent, thereby acknowledging knowledge of the defect and accepting some responsibility for correcting it. These two, taught cursorily, took most of two periods. The remainder of these two periods was devoted to evaluating the students' cycling posture and pedalling form. This was done by having the students line up beside a wall and mount their bicycles while leaning against it. The instructor then evaluated each student's posture and suggested adjustments to be made that evening at home. The Effective Cycling film was shown on the first day as an example of what would be taught,and later as a review and further example of competent technique, now that students had practiced some items and could better recognize what they were seeing. These accounted for 4 periods of the 15. The last period was halved as a prelude to vacation.

Lastly, two periods were required to give each student a cycling proficiency test. Since only 8 could be tested at a time, the others had free time which was used for answering a form of Cross's bicycle users' survey 12 and a survey of student attitude about the course.

There were therefore 9 on-the-road teaching sessions out of 14.5 periods for each class.

The lectures were reinforced by the provision of a 10-page summary of the traffic cycling instructions, 13 and of instructions and forms for performing mechanical safety inspection. Since these were written as the program proceeded, their use was not emphasized right from the start. Naturally, the students did not expect homework for a physical education class. Given the future known availability of such text material,and of a proven, therefore fixed, course outline,the instruction would be more effectively learned if reinforced with definite reading assignments from the beginning session of the course.

The program was requested by James Ernst, the principal of Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto, California, which serves 800 students of 7th and 8th grades. While I have frequently stated that cycling instruction should be voluntary because only a portion of students have bicycles and because some parents are likely to raise objections to traffic-safe cycling technique, Palo Alto is a rather special community. Nearly all students have bicycles and a large proportion ride to school, while, in common with other areas, the school bus service is being reduced for budgetary reasons. Ernst decided that cycling was such a known problem for the school's students that the community was ready for a cycling program for substantially all students, both boys and girls. A few did not participate, either because they had no bicycles, did not have parental permission, or because they had arranged some excuse. On the other hand, one student forged his parent's signature in order to get permission to participate in the cycling sessions. At the end, 48 students rode the final proficiency test out of the 54 present on those days, out of a total enrollment of 65.

Teaching classes of 30 students required one instructor and at least one assistant; two assistants proved better. When riding along the road both classes tended to form into three groups of riders. First were the active enthusiasts, second the general mixed group, and last those who required the mechanical repair support of the assistant instructor. The principal instructor was frequently at or near the front, because directions had to be given and the exuberance of the enthusiasts had to be controlled, functions which could not be transferred to the assistant who had to remain in the rear to take care of troubles. When two assistants were present, the principal instructor could direct one assistant to the front while he dropped back to pay attention to the large middle group.

The principal instructor (Forester) is a certified Effective Cycling Instructor who has established the criteria for certification. The assistant instructor (Lewiston) has taken the Effective Cycling course and has studied the subject closely, both individually and with Forester. In our opinion, although the course content of the Intermediate-Level Effective Cycling Course is significantly less than that of the Adult EC Course, the principal instructor, at least, and preferably both principal and assistant instructors,must be fully qualified Effective Cycling Instructors. The decisions involved in selecting appropriate routes which provide appropriate instructional opportunities within reach of each school, the assessment of traffic intensity as compared with student proficiency, the methods of answering parental questions, the evalua- tion of student performance (even within the restricted performance envelope described by this course), all require a high degree of cycling skill and expertise (by today's standards, at least).

The original instructional schedule (Table 1) was prepared before the principles discussed above had been fully developed through actual experience. As the classes progressed, it was found necessary to concentrate upon fewer, more general points, leading to the full simplification and combination discussed above. The revised schedule incorporating the changes developed by experience is given in Table 2.

3.1 Instructional Notes

Preliminary Arrangements In arranging for this program Diana Lewiston and James Ernst worked closely together to keep the parents and the administration in agreement, particularly to avoid giving the impression that either group was imposing on the other. It is desirable to build confidence by inviting parents to participate in a training session, as stated in Fig 1. Until similar programs have become generally accepted, politically careful maneuvering will probably continue to be necessary.


The classroom must have easy access to the street and the bicycle parking area. It must have sufficient floorspace so the students can either park their bicycles at the back while sitting in chairs, or can stand next to their bicycles for mechanical inspection. The classroom needs a chalkboard and movie screen. The floor should not be sensitive to falling bicycles, or drops of oil or water. A medium-sized bicycle toolkit in a lockable toolbox and two floor-type bicycle pumps with built-in gauges and lever-type Schrader air chucks are necessary.

Session 1

In addition to lecture and film, issue texts, mechanical inspection forms, parental permission slips. Impress students to arrive at class with bicycles read every day. Point out that there will be reading assignments and some homework, including inspection and repair.

Session 2

Collect permission forms, issue replacements. Instruct students to inspect bicycles at home, list the OK parts and the defects, show to one parent and get parent to sign-off the inspection form.

Session 3

Spot-check inspection forms. Get 2 students to show what's right and what needs fixing on their bicycles. Review test procedure. Explain bicycle adjustments. Then line students with bicycles alongside wall, get students to mount and lean against wall. Then evaluate posture and (back) pedalling action, advising changes where desirable.

Session 4

At start of practice, demonstrate starting and stopping. Tell students that they'll have plenty of practice. Proceed to intersection where a no-traffic street crosses a little-traffic street, preferably protected by stop signs. (Or use school or playground driveway if suitable.) Position instructor to observe both head turning during yielding and approaching traffic. Have students cross superior street from inferior street one at a time, moving at the first proper time after instructor gives permission, practicing proper yielding procedure. Having crossed the street,each student then U-turns and lines up with the others for a return crossing. Repeat. Then let them prepare to cross several bikelengths apart. After practice, allow return to school at own pace on a 1-mile route.

Session 5

Quick practice of no-traffic yielding. Then proceed to location where students can repeatedly cross a 2-lane arterial road with significant traffic by riding around a 2-block rectangle. Station one instructor at each arterial crossing. Have students ride loop until all show good yielding procedure, probably about 3 circuits for most. Return to school at own pace by a 2-mile route with no left turns.

Session 6

Determine that all students can look behind over either shoulder without serious deviation. Use a driveway or playground circuit. Stand beside it, have students look at you after they have passed you. Practice until adequate - probably little practice required. Then practice 2-lane left turns on little-traffic street. Without the presence of traffic, performance will be sloppy.

Session 7

2-lane left turns with significant traffic. An effective sequence is: left turn from major street, U-turn on minor street, left turn onto major street, left turn off it again. With traffic around, performance will sharpen. Return at own pace on 2-mile route.

Session 8

Lead ride to shopping or business district. Practice 2-lane left turns, multi-lane stop signs, traffic signals and straight-through or right-turn on multi-lane roads. This will be a 3 to 4-mile ride.

Session 9

Similar to Session 8 ride, but add avoid right-turn-only lanes.

Session 10

Show film in sections, discussing material between sections. Emphasize nighttime equipment, rain problems, multi-lane intersections.

Session 11

Multi-lane left-turn practice, left-turn-only lanes. Start at low traffic intersection, but students should be ready for medium-intensity traffic. 3 to 4-mile ride.

Session 12

Similar to 11

Session 13

Review ride, with all previous maneuvers included. Again 3 to 4 miles.

Sessions 14 & 15

Cycling Proficiency Testing. Take out 8 at a time. Use tape recorder technique with students bearing numbers. Follow a route which includes as many of the taught maneuvers as possible in no more than 2 miles. With assistant instructor assigning and pinning-on numbers the principal instructor should be able to take out 2 test groups in each period. The assistant instructor also administers the questionnaires. Scores must be calculated after class, but performance that is obviously adequate can be praised at close of test.


Favorable Results in Achieving Course Objectives

The immediate objective of the Intermediate-Level Effective Cycling Program is to develop certain traffic cycling skills. These skills are all those that are required for making the standard traffic maneuvers in a medium-traffic urban environment. It would have been useful to have extended this training to levels of higher traffic intensity and to techniques for detecting and avoiding motorist errors, as is done in the Adult Effective Cycling Course. There was insufficient time to cover these subjects, and there was also some evidence that the students would not be ready to progress further without more extensive traffic- cycling experience. The results achieved within this defined performance envelope were eminently satisfactory. Out of 48 students riding the cycling proficiency test only 2 failed, and the average successful score was 97%.

The skills covered are:

1) Riding on the right-hand side of the roadway and not on the left-hand side or on the sidewalk.
2) Technique of yielding to cross traffic at driveways, superior roadways, yield signs, stop signs, traffic signals, and when turning left.
3) Technique of yielding to same-direction traffic whenever moving laterally on the roadway, used for overtaking parked or slower vehicles (including cyclists), and when lane changing.
4) Proper roadway position with respect to travel speed.
5) Proper intersection position for right turns, straight-through and left turns.

To what extent did the students develop these skills?

Proper side of the roadway.

After the first road session nobody rode on the left-hand side (except in the bikelane entering the school driveway, where there was great temptation and no obvious danger). Riding on sidewalks was controlled with greater difficulty, because these children had been told to ride on the sidewalk beside several of the practice streets. They are smart enough to realize that the sidewalk offers a free path to the front of traffic congestion, but did not realize the dangers inherent in crossing driveways and in dashing from sidewalk to roadway. Understanding was hastened when a recent graduate, on her way to high school, swung off the sidewalk and was hit by a car immediately in front of this school just before class time. All the students knew of the accident, and the instructor took advantage of the incident to emphasize the dangers of sidewalk cycling. Another temptation for "sidewalk" cycling was the chance to ride the curb-top and jump at driveway cuts. This had to be controlled by strong reprimands. By the end of the course nobody diverted onto sidewalks.

Yielding to Cross Traffic

All students learned the technique of yielding to the cross traffic of 2- and 4-lane arterial streets with medium traffic at non-signalized intersections. However, they did not always practice this technique in class because, as a particularly visible group of cyclists, motorists on the arterial tended to stop for them, inviting the contrary action of going without the right-of-way. The students frequently took advantage of this invitation, and in fact seemed adept at persuading Palo Alto motorists to extend it. I have noticed myself that even for a single cyclist Palo Alto motorists are too well-wishing, creating the Alphonse and Gaston syndrome that neither will proceed at minor intersections. This motorist tendency made it more difficult to train the students, as at least one perceptive student remarked. On the other hand, sometimes the students waved the motorists onward, and complained that the motorists were making everybody wait. Training proceeded best when the students were transferred as rapidly as possible to heavy-traffic streets on which the motorists were less likely to incorrectly yield the right-of-way. Under these circumstances the students all showed that they understood the proper technique.

On the final examination, the one failure in yielding to cross traffic occurred as a small group made a stop-sign-right-turn too fast, knowing the road was wide enough for them to slip around without getting in the way of the cars. During class the same actions occurred at both stop signs and at red traffic signals (right turn allowed on red), requiring and later reprimands.

Yielding to Same-Direction Traffic

All students learned the technique of looking over one's shoulder and yielding to faster traffic, either cyclist or motorist, before moving laterally. However, the action was occasionally omitted, generally when the student expected no faster traffic was present. Under traffic conditions, particularly on multi-lane streets, performance was very good. Students looked, yielded if appropriate, and proceeded when safe. They recognized each lane of traffic as a separate maneuver.

Speed Positioning

All students learned speed positioning, generally passing each other on the left and leaving room for faster traffic.

Intersection Positioning

Students learned the simpler, by rote, aspects very well, but had trouble learning the more complicated aspects where correct lateral position has to be judged. Correct left turn positioning from a straight-or-through lane (which is right against the centerline) was learned very well. They also used left- turn-only lanes, but followed the centerline or bunched up in these instead of lining up along the right- hand side. They had no opportunity to learn the proper selection of multiple left turn lanes.

Straight-through positioning on wide intersections remained a problem, for the students frequently traveled further to the right than desirable.

Intersection etiquette remained a problem. Students frequently filtered forward, generally on the right- hand side of cars but also, when preparing for a left turn, on the left-hand side of cars which were quite close to the centerline and obviously, to the practiced eye, were going to turn left. The tendency always existed to move forward whenever it was physically possible to do so.

The two students who failed the examination rode together, largely with hands in pockets. At a stop- signed T intersection where they could not go straight they filtered forward on the left-hand side of a waiting car. Considering the type of intersection the motorist had to be intending to turn left because there was no way straight through. At a 4-lane signalized intersection with left-turn-only lanes but no left-turn signal phases they filtered forward on the left of a motor vehicle which was waiting in the left-turn-only lane, and observing that cross traffic had the yellow phase they swung left and turned before the waiting opposite-direction traffic could start.

It may be that these students have developed little ability to read the signs which indicate the maneuver a driver intends to make, or it may be that they read these signs well enough to guess when to take a chance, or it may be that they seize opportunities which they understand, without appreciation of the more complicated situation.

Cycling Proficiency Test The cycling proficiency test given in the last 2 days of the class covered a 2-mile circuit involving: 5 traffic signals; 4 stop signs; 4 2-lane left turns; 1 4-lane left turn; 3 lane change locations; 2 right turns; 1 wide intersection approach.

48 students rode the test. Two failed with scores of 57% and 52%. The average score for the remainder was 97.6%, although none earned 100%.

Since no test was given to the students before the start of instruction, this is not a direct measure of improvement. This lack is a real difficulty in scientific assessment of cycling training. To direct untrained cyclists with dangerous habits through a driving test is to incur responsibility for the accidents that are likely to happen. Neither of the authors is worried bout supervising the cycling of cyclists whose state of training is known and whose route and maneuvers are appropriately chosen, but we refuse to accept responsibility for directing uninstructed, unknown cyclists (of any age) over a driving test route which encompasses the situations which we expected to later instruct the cyclists to handle. However, measures of the average proficiency of cycling populations are available through the observation of unwitting, undirected cyclists going about their normal business, as described in Forester (6). Forester's observation of 50 Palo Alto (the same city in which this instructional program was proceeding) cyclists during commut- ing hours (and hence largely adult cyclists) in the fall of 1977 gave a population average score of 58%. Similarly, Forester observed 16 adult commuter cyclists in Sunnyvale (only a few miles away) in much heavier traffic in October, 1980, which produced a population average of 54% (7). Compared with these scores the class average of 94% represents a great improvement.

The student class average of 94%, however, is not at all comparable to the 98% that Forester reported for club cyclists in the same paper as the Palo Alto observations. The club cyclists were rated much more stringently than other adult cyclists, both because they were rated by criteria that allowed only minute deviations from the most desirable path and because they traveled a route which included merges and diverges, multiple-turn-lanes, roadways with 40,000 ADT at 50 mph, overcrossings and underpasses. The students were good within their performance envelope, but they did not have the competence to handle this range of situation.

Comparison of the particular errors shows where the improvement took place. For example, Palo Alto adults turning left neither looked behind nor moved to the correct initial position in 65% of their left turns, and started from the incorrect position in a further 27%. 59% of Palo Alto adults arriving at stop signs neither slowed nor looked, and a further 22% slowed but did not look. When Palo Alto adults changed lanes, in 95% of the time they did not look. Sunnyvale adult commuters, although a smaller sample, present a similar practice: 50% defective left turns, 64% defective lane changes, with the same types of errors. Against these very bad rates of dangerously defective maneuvers, the average defective maneuver rate of 2% for the same maneuvers performed by the students is extremely significant, not simply in the statistical sense but in terms of fewer collisions and increased effectiveness of cycling operations.

The criticism has been made before that performance on a driving test is not at all comparable to everyday performance. In this case it is the children who rode correctly and the adults - largely employed adults at that - who rode dangerously. Turning left from the curb lane without looking behind is so obviously dangerous that it is unreasonable to assume that an adult riding to work who knew how to look and yield would deliberately neglect to do it merely because he believed that no one was watching him. Any person to whom the assumption applies is by definition incompetent, because he does not understand the safety reasons for doing what he knows people think that he should do. A competent cyclist might occasionally forget when flustered by circumstances, or risk it when a greater danger threatened, but he would not casually neglect it merely because nobody was watching him. Forester has frequently remarked that among adult cyclists it is the most cautions who ride most dangerously; their combination of fear and incompetence causes them to ride dangerously while blaming supposed dangers upon other causes; in contrast, competent cyclists ride safely, accepting responsibility for their actions and with little fear. Since the dangerously-behaved adults are obviously not deliberately risking their lives through dare-deviltry, the cause must be incompetence. The test data prove that responsible adults do not exercise those skills when failing to do so is to risk death. Furthermore, while adult cyclists have been shown by many measures to develop better habits with experience [Cross (7), Kaplan (5), Forester (9)], there has been no showing that adult cyclists lose their safe cycling skills before senility. I claim that the most reasonable expectation from the data is that when these students cyclists grow up they will continue to practice their learned cycling safety skills.

Unfavorable Side Effects

There were four unfavorable side effects:

Teaching proper left turn technique

Public criticism for directing the students to ride next to the centerline when preparing for a left turn. "Utterly irresponsible" said one physician motorist who claimed that the students filtered forward on his left when he was intending to turn left. That may have happened, but the students there present behind the instructor claim that they did not overtake between his car and the centerline. The instructor was at the head of the line and did not observe the action. Various parents made the same complaint - they did not understand why students should be instructed "to ride out in the traffic," as they put it. These comments merely illustrate the public ignorance and prejudice, but they can be handled, as they were, by reference to the vehicle code and safe cycling practice.

Use of underpasses

Public criticism for using a route which included 2 underpasses. Various parents complained that using underpasses was extremely dangerous. In actual fact, of course, the known dangers of car-bike collision were far greater at other times and places, based on the car-bike collision statistics. This simply illustrates the public's unreasoning fear of overtaking motor traffic and failure to recognize the actual traffic hazards of cycling. Several persons suggested that we use the pedestrian underpass instead, as the city government originally intended, but that underpass had already been proved so dangerous for cyclists that stiles had been installed to deliberately impede cyclists. However, recognizing the quasi-religious fervor of this belief, against which logic is useless, the staff decided to abandon the instructional opportunities presented by the different traffic conditions available beyond the underpass.

Drive-train troubles when climbing

There were several cases of mechanical failure as students climbed the grade out of one underpass, resulting in two falls, one of which caused scraped knees. Most of Palo Alto is flat; students didn't know how to shift gears and gears were improperly adjusted; the underpass climb uncovered these defects. The situation in the pedestrian underpass would have been worse because of the obstructions and the steeper grades.


We had one bike-bike collision as one cyclist swung in front of another, without injury.

Student and Parent Attitudes

Attitude of the students toward the course was assessed at the end of the training period by an unsigned questionnaire (Fig 2). This consisted of seven items requesting the student's opinion about the nature of the course, four questions concerning structure of the course, and an open-ended request for comments. 54 questionnaires were returned. We realize that such an instrument administered to middle- school students concerning a required course begs for maximum negative bias. The responses to each of the questions were categorized as positive or negative.

Questions about the nature of the course and the percent positive response for each were:

1) Why is the school offering this course? 85%

2) Did you enjoy the course? 72%
3) Did you feel in danger during any of the rides? (Positive response indicates a feeling of danger.) 46%
4) Did you get anything out of the course? 65%
5) Did you understand the instructions? 96%
6) Have your feelings about bicycle riding changed? 52%
7) What do your parents think of the course? 53%

Chi-square analysis showed a strongly positive correlation between feeling of personal benefit from the course and parental attitude about the course. (p<.01) and also between benefit from the course and enjoyment of course (p<.001). There was no significant correlation between feeling of benefit and feeling of danger (p=.50) or between feeling of danger and parental attitude (p>.10) Students who did not enjoy the course and who said that they got nothing out of it said that their parents thought it was "dumb, crazy, waste of time, dangerous." Those students who enjoyed the course and felt that they got something out of it said their parents thought the course "a good opportunity, great, instructive, good idea." Parental attitude is, of course, mirrored through the opinion of the student. These perceptions of parental attitude had direct bearing on how the student felt about the course and the results of the training.

Questions about the course produced the following results:

Was the course:

too long? 37%
too short? 14%
right length? 46%

Was there too much riding? 39%

too little riding?
13% right amount? 47%

Was there too much lecture? 60%

too little lecture? 2%
right amount 38%

We suggested that if the student's best friend had inquired about the course, what would the student recommend?

Not take the course at all 41%
Take the course as part of P.E. 57%
Take the course after-school hours 2%

The request for open-ended comments elicited a variety of responses, mostly positive. We concluded from this, considering the bias, that the course format was satisfactory to the majority of the students.

Unlike Language Arts, which all agree are essential, on-the-road bicycle training is viewed with mixed emotions. For this course to be of maximum value, the entire school community must be familiar with and supportive of the on-the-road techniques. The educational community, in particular, must play an important role in providing a positive image of the course to students and parents. We recommend that at least one preparatory meeting be held with students and parents prior to the start of the course. Send- home material with a clear explanation of the course scope road routes also would be helpful.



Children of 7th and 8th grade level, assigned by class and not selected for physical ability, mental ability, or special interest b parent or student, and without previous cycling training (except the skill of controlling the bicycle), can, in a 12-hour course, acquire the skills required to perform the basic standard traffic maneuvers by bicycle on 2-lane and 4-lane roadways carrying medium traffic, up to 20.000 ADT at 35 mph. The skills necessary for these maneuvers are: riding on the right-hand side of the roadway, yielding to cross traffic, yielding to same-direction traffic, speed positioning, and intersection position.


There is some indication that these students, as a group, are less ready to learn the finer points of judging lateral position within a wide lane at intersections, or within turn lanes (single or multiple). This may be due to insufficient instruction time, or to lack of sufficient correct traffic cycling experience.


The relative ease of learning the standard maneuvers compared with the greater difficulty of learning to judge correct lateral position where an informed choice is necessary, observed in the students herein, also reflects the general sequence of learning among adult cyclists. It is therefore probably a valid measure of relative difficulty.


At the completion of the 12-hour course the students possessed traffic cycling skills far beyond those used by the employed adult cyclocommuting population in the same area.


The cost of such training is about 1.5 instructor-hours per student, using a mix of 1/3 full instructors and 2/3 assistant instructors.


The cost of poorly-maintained bicycles entering the class is the requirement for the second assistant instructor to ride at the rear to correct mechanical failures.


Those students with positive feelings about the case frequently had parents who expressed positive feelings, and these students felt that they benefited greatly from the class. Those students who felt that they did not benefit from the class generally had parents with negative feelings.


Because significant numbers of the general public disagree with traffic-cafe cycling practices, it is very important to generate public demand for proper cycling training; to alleviate apprehensions about the training by preliminary talks, presentations, and parent learning sessions; and to have a definite policy for diplomatically handling any objections that may arise.



How well students taught in this way will retain good cycling behavior is a question subject to many variables. There is first of all the difference between possessing a skill and using that skill. If using a particular skill is denigrated by society (as, unfortunately, cycling competently often is), only unusually persistent and independent persons will publicly display it. These students may, therefore, be pushed back into incompetent cycling behavior by societal pressures. Then skills decay through the gradual infiltration of unwitting or unrecognized bad habits. In a society in which incompetent cycling is the adult norm, this tendency will surely be pronounced. Also skills decay from lack of use. If the students do not continue to practice competent cycling skills, either through not cycling or through practicing incompetent cycling technique,their skill to cycle competently will decay.

Society has found it necessary to establish systems for praising, maintaining, and enforcing driver competence; without these systems society believes that driver competence would fall, even though initial training were continued. (Indeed, some argue that the evidence shows that maintenance of skills is more important than initial driver training, at least in our present good driving environment.) There is every reason to believe, therefore, that the degree of practical skill and behavior retention by intermediate-level Effective Cycling students will greatly depend upon the degree to which society praises, maintains, and enforces their present skills. Those students who graduate into the cycling world will undoubtedly continue to progress; all the evidence shows that to be true. But the future of those students who do not depends upon the attitude and wisdom of our society.


These students had no previous cycling training. Had they been raised in a society which taught most elementary school children the basic traffic maneuvers on low-traffic streets, at the start of the intermediate-level course they might have been ready for medium-density traffic, and might have pro- gressed to judging the behavior of motorists in order to select the best roadway position at intersections.


The attitude survey questions need to be improved, particularly #8.


We feel that the bicycle user's survey questionnaire (from Cross) could be improved to yield more useful information with little expansion.


1 Forester, John; Effective Cycling ; Custom Cycle Fitments, Sunnyvale CA 94086, 1975 [6th edition, 1993;] The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge MA 02142]

2 Forester, John; Effective Cycling Instructor's Manual ; Custom Cycle Fitments, Sunnyvale CA 94086; 1977 [4th ed., 1987]

3 Chlapecka, T. W., Schupack, S. A., Planek, T. W., Klecka, N., & Driessen, G. J.; Bicycle Accidents and Usage Among Elementary School Children In The United States : National Safety Council, Chicago IL 60611; 1976

4 Schupack, S. A., & Driessen, G. J.; Bicycle Accidents and Usage Among Young Adults: Preliminary Study ; National Safety Council, Chicago IL 60611; 1976

5 Kaplan, Jerrold A.; Characteristics of the Regular Adult Bicycle User ; Master's Thesis, University of Maryland; 1976

6 Forester, John; Effects of Bikelane System Design Upon Cyclists' Traffic Errors ; Custom Cycle Fitments, Sunnyvale CA 94086; 1978

7 Forester, John; Sunnyvale Adult Cyclocommuter Behavior ; Report to City of Sunnyvale, CA, 17 Oct 1980

8 Cross, Kenneth D., A Study of Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Accidents: Identification of Problem Types and Countermeasure Approaches ; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington DC 20590; 1977

9 Forester, John; Cycling Transportation Engineering ; Custom Cycle Fitments, Sunnyvale CA 94086; 1977 [Revised and reissued as Bicycle Transportation , The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge MA 02142; 1983, 1994

10 Cross, Kenneth D.; Bicycle-Safety Education - Facts and Issues ; AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Falls Church VA 22042; 1978

11 Moran, Kathleen; Wirth, Maureen; Cone, Ellen; Bicycle Driving Task Analysis ; Mountain Bicyclists' Assoc., Denver CO 80218; 1981?

12 Cross, Kenneth D., & Wheatley, Patricia L.; Causal Factors In Non-Motor-Vehicle-Related (Bicycle) Accidents ; Santa Barbara Bicycle Safety Project, Santa Barbara CA; 1980

13 Forester, John; Intermediate-Level Effective Cycling ; Custom Cycle Fitments, Sunnyvale CA 94086; 1980

Table 1: Intermediate-Level Cyclist Training Program for Grades 7 or 8; Planned Class Schedule 15 periods of 45-50 minutes each
 Sess Num Text Sects Type Content
 1     Cyclists are drivers. First showing Bicycling Safely on the Road
 2     Mechanical safety check by student. Basic brake test. Basic bearing check. Tire repair. (Half of students scheduled to be absent
3     Repeat of 2 for other half of students
4     Posture. Starting. Stopping. Pedalling style. Gear shifting. Ride on the right. Traffic lanes.
5     Meaning of yielding. Yielding to cross traffic. Driveway exiting. Stop signs. Traffic signals.
6     Yielding to same-direction traffic. Slower and faster traffic. Yielding when starting from curb.
7     Looking behind. Lane changing. Overtaking.
8     Intersection principles. Proper roadway position at intersections. Cyclist's Lane Rule. Straight through. Right-turn-only lanes. Right turns.
9     Left turns on 2-lane road. Pedestrian-style left turn on multi-lane road.
10     Second showing, Bicycling Safely on the Road. Nithttime safety.
11     Lane changing on multi-lane road.
12     Left turns on multi-lane road. Left-and-straight lanes. Left-turn-only lanes.
13     Emergency braking.
14     Rock dodging. Instant turns.
15     Cycling proficiency test.

Table 2: Intermediate-Level Cyclist Training Program for Grades 7 or 8; Suggested Class Schedule 15 periods of 45-50 minutes each
Sess Num  Text Sects Type Content
1 Intro 1.1 Lect Cyclists are drivers. Bicycling Safely on the Road, first showing
 2 1.2 1.3 Pract Mechanical safety inspection. Tire repair.
3 1.2 1.3



Mechanical safety inspection review. Show and tell.

Inspection of bicycles. Bicycle adjustments and posture.

4 2.1 2.2



Yielding to cross traffic

Starting & stopping. Yielding to cross traffic 1.

5 2.3



Yielding to cross traffic review.

Yielding to cross traffic 2. 2-mile ride with left turns.

6 2.4



Yielding to same-direction traffic. Left turns on 2-lane roads.

Looking behind. Left turns on 2-lane residential streets.

7 2.5.1 2.5.2



Left turns on 2-lane roads.

Left turns on 2-lane roads with traffic. 3-mile ride.

8 2.5.3 2.5.4 2.5.5



Intersection positioning

Ride in business district. Left turns on 2-lane streets with traffic. 3-mile ride.

9 2.5.6 2.5.7



Intersection positioning.

Avoid right-turn-only lanes. 3-mile ride.

10   Lect Bicycling Safely on the Road, second showing. Nighttime safety. Rain. Multi-lane roads and intersections. 



Lane changing.

Left turns on multi-lane streets. Left-turn-only lanes. 3 or 4 mile ride.

12 2.6



Lane changing.

Left turns on multi-lane streets with more traffic. 3 or 4 mile ride.

13 2.7  Pract Review ride over intricate route, 3-4 miles.
14 & 15   Test Cycling proficiency testing. Questionnaires.


John Forester, M. S., P.E., Cycling Transportation Engineer

The conventional bicycle safety programs of the last 40 years haven't worked. The child cyclist accident rate is far higher than could be reasonably achieved because these programs rarely address the real hazards and NEVER teach cyclists how to ride safely.

Typical bike-safety programs attempt to teach safe bicycle riding while in the classroom or on the play- ground, places where the students cannot benefit from supervised practice and evaluation of their performance. Of course you would not attempt to teach swimming, dancing or car driving through desk study alone; why then believe that desk study is an effective way to teach safe cycling in the traffic environment? Furthermore, typical bike safety programs are based on the fear of traffic, assuming that children who are frightened will almost automatically ride safely.

However, fear doesn't teach. Do you get successful swimmers by teaching children to fear the water? No, you get successful and water-safe swimmers by first overcoming the fear of water so that the students develop the attitude which makes it possible for them to learn how to swim safely. In the same way, typical bike safety programs produce people who are too frightened to be able to learn how to ride a bicycle correctly and safely.

The only proven way to reduce cyclist accidents is to teach cyclists how to ride safely. Present programs are so inefficient that average cyclists have 5 times more accidents per mile traveled than trained cyclists. However, because of the long-established typical "bike-safety" programs, today's parents and teachers don't know how to ride a bicycle safely and are too frightened of the traffic environment to ride safely. Therefore the idea of taking children out on the roads to show them how to ride safely is not only novel but frightening.

I'll be candid. Traffic-safe cycling is opposed as difficult, dangerous and elitist because people have been raised to fear motor traffic when on a bicycle. Naturally, what is feared for adults appears to be far more dangerous for children, who typically do not fear it nearly as much as adults. Therefore parents and teachers seek to make their children safe by making them as frightened of traffic as the parents are. It goes on for generation after generation.

This unconscious strategy would prevent bicycle accidents if it prevented children from riding bicycles, but we all recognize that nothing prevents children from riding bicycles. However, because this unconscious strategy has prevented several generations of adults from riding bicycles, it has destroyed our society's skill of riding safely, so that today neither parents nor teachers can teach our children how to be safe on a bicycle.

The children's version of the Effective Cycling Program aims to provide the knowledge and skill necessary to correct this situation. Because some parents wish to be informed of this program's content and teaching methods, and others wish to be able to assist their children when they are being taught, we are offering an eight-hour Effective Cycling Program for parents covering basic cycling knowledge and skills.

It is a riding program - verbal instruction in the meeting room is immediately followed by practice on the roads. But don't worry about getting left behind, or being faced with the need for expert skill; the instructional pace and the speed on the road are set for beginners, just as they must be for children. So long as you remember how to ride a straight line and steer where you want to go, you will be able to start with the others.

Participants will learn how to handle all the basic traffic situations in easy traffic conditions, just as is suitable for elementary-school children. We may go a bit farther if time and progress allow. How to yield to cross traffic, when to stay right and when to move left, how to look over your shoulder so you can be sure that no traffic is coming before you move left, correct positioning for turns, how to decide when to make a pedestrian-style left turn, what to do when faced with multiple turn lanes; all these and many more skills will be covered.



As you may remember, this course was a pilot to see if bicycle training of this type should be given to all middle-school students. We need your opinion of the course and contents to help us decide about future classes. Your answers will be anonymous so please be as objective as possible.

1) Why do you think the school is offering this course?

2) Did you enjoy the course?

3) What part(s) of the course were boring?

4) What parts of the course were fun?

5) Did you feel in danger during any of the rides? Explain.

6) What did you get out of the course?

7) Did you understand the instructions so you could carry them out? Explain.

8) Have your feelings changed about bicycle riding? Explain.

9) Was the course: too long: _____ too much riding: _____ enough lecture: _____ too short: _____

too little riding:_____ too much lecture: _____ right length:_____ riding OK: _____ too little lecture:_____

10) Your best friend is interested in the course. What would you recommend? a) Don't take it at all: _____

b) Take it as part of P.E. (as you did):_____ c) Take it after school as an elective: _____

11) What do your parents think of the course?

12) Do you have any other comments?

Check as many of the below as applicable: Took cycling test: _____

Did all or some of the on-the-road rides:_____ Did none of the on-the-road rides; _____

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