How Government Mis-Educates Bicycle Planners:

FHWA Graduate Course in Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation

Review by John Forester

home         government

1 Introduction

The FHWA intends its Graduate Course Book on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation (hereafter referred to as BPT) to be the national basis for technical training in bicycling and walking transportation. In 2001, John Fegan, the FHWA's non-motorized program director, and Andy Clarke, the director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, pushed the National Bicycle Safety Conference to recommend that this subject would be taught in at least one university in each state according to their textbook, which at that time had been seen by nobody else at that conference. Obviously, this is the textbook to which they referred.

This text could be assigned as part of a proper graduate course. Graduate study is intended to develop a critical understanding of a subject, recognition of the boundaries of its knowledge and the controversies therein, the ability to perform research, and the ability to evaluate the results of research. Were this text assigned as part of a proper graduate course in either transportation or planning, the proper graduate student would quickly discover that both the general anti-motoring planning and the bicycle transportation fields were not cut and dried as the FHWA presents, but are highly controversial, and that the bicycle transportation aspects of the FHWA's presentation had been thoroughly disproved many years ago. This review demonstrates this assertion.

Rather, than being an academically or professionally acceptable presentation, this text is written for a short seminar to be taken by persons already employed in the transportation field. Since such seminars are subsidized by the FHWA, their instructors do largely as they are told, and hence will obey the commands of this text with little scrutiny.

Insofar as bicycling transportation is concerned, such scrutiny is required. This field has been the subject of intense controversy, which the authors know because they have been targets of its criticisms for twenty years, but which their text refuses to recognize. Far from being an examination of the subject, this text is a set of improper commands that, if obeyed, will cause the government to fund your projects.

2 Purposes

2.1 Immediate Financial Gain

Considering the known actions of the authors over the years, this text has one overriding purpose. That is, to employ bike-and-pedestrian planners. The evidence for this is that whenever given the choice, they chose employment for bike planners over doing good for cyclists. I write this for two purposes: to inform the reader of my strong opinions on the subject, and to inform him that there are facts supporting my opinion. The authors are fully aware of the criticisms by cyclists that have been directed at bike-planning actions for more than twenty years. Governmental bike-planning documents have acknowledged that such criticisms have been the major opposition to bike-planning activities. (FHWA 1994, Forester 1994) However, bike planners have never been able to provide replies that have any scientific or engineering validity. Yet these authors, so well informed, persist in presenting what they ought to recognize as untruths.

2.2 Ostensible Purpose: Anti-Motoring

The ostensible purpose of this text is anti-motoring, reduction in the use of the private car. This purpose is implemented through three general means:

    1: Making motoring less useful and less convenient

    2: Encouraging walking

    3: Actions regarding bicycling

I will not further discuss the walking component, because that is not my field and, I think, it is not very controversial. The text appears to me to be a reasonable presentation of methods for making walking safer and more convenient.

2.3 The Bicycling Connection

I discuss both the anti-motoring and the bicycling actions because they equally affect cycling, which is a vehicular activity. Because the text covers subjects from as wide as the design of cities to as narrow as the width of lane stripes, so must my discussion spread.

Cities depend upon transportation because they are agglomerations of people far in excess of the carrying capacity of their own area. Being so dependent upon transportation, their form is largely determined by their transportation systems. Wherever automobiles are readily available, the city form changes to that which is most suitable for automobile transportation, more slowly in the older areas, almost immediately in the newly constructed areas. This change is obviously driven by powerful forces; those persons who are very unhappy with this change to motoring have desperately sought countermeasures, while others have found in that desperation a source of funds.

The measure of that desperation is the futility and irrelevance of the countermeasures proposed and, therefore, the mendacity of the arguments for them. The proposed countermeasure to motoring is urban redesign in which walking, bicycling, and mass transit take large market shares, while being silent about staying home. This text covers walking and bicycling and their connections to mass transit, all in the context of opposition to motoring through urban redesign.

3 Discouraging Motoring

The direct anti-motoring recommendations are of two kinds:

    1: Lessening the need for motoring,

    2: Making motoring more inconvenient.

3.1 Making Motoring Less Useful

Old cities got along without motoring. Today, motoring is less useful in them than in modern cities or modern suburbs. (Although, the intense motor congestion of these older cities demonstrates the utility of motoring even when greatly inconvenienced by the urban form.) Therefore, much of the anti-motoring argument goes to advocating pre-motoring urban designs at either the neighborhood or the street level. Lessons 1, 5, 6, 7 of the 24 lessons in this text are devoted to this subject.

Lesson 1, The Need for Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility discusses the connection between transportation and urban form. Lessons 5, 6, 7, and 23 describe different ways of implementing older urban designs. The argument is that if the urban form is similar to that of the past, then less motoring will be used. The impracticability of rebuilding our cities into the form which they would have achieved had motoring not become available limits this advocacy to small communities, either detached or neighborhoods of larger ones. The text gives two optimal sizes for these, 0.25 sq. mi. and 1.0 sq. mi., with no explanation of the reasons for the difference.

The concept is that most of the trips taken frequently would be either within the neighborhood, and therefore within the range of walking or bicycling, or by means of mass transit to outside locations. This has not worked. It implies small shops and services, each in a monopoly position, which is exactly why customers who have cars available drive elsewhere. This is why these anti-motoring advocates rail against shopping centers and big-box retailers, which both require a large market area and have the attractiveness to bring in customers from all over it. Mass transit in modern distributed cities has very little utility, except for direct transportation to a dense urban core, and for those who cannot drive. This has been well known among transportation analysts for decades. While Lesson 9 of the text advocates combining bikes and mass transit, it shows no recognition of why mass transit is so ineffective in modern cities.

In summary, the methods that this text on bicycling and walking advocates for reducing the usefulness of motoring have not worked and cannot be expected to do so.

3.2 Making Motoring More Inconvenient

Lessons 6, 7, 11 are largely devoted to this subject. The first two recommend narrow lots with few driveways that interfere with on-street parking, putting garages at the back side of lots to be reached by alleys, siting the house at the front edge of the lot without a garage, having only narrow streets. Lesson 6 gives the two opinions about the proper size of neighborhood, 0.25 sq. mi. and 1.0 sq.mi.

Some of the logic is suspect. Certainly, putting the garages at the back of the lots is an anti-motoring action, but one wonders how many Americans would buy such houses, particularly in the areas subject to climatic extremes. While narrow lots, assuming the same area, reduce the length of street that the householder must pay for, the requirement for a back alley to service the garages probably negates that. On-street parking is plainly controversial. One wonders whether it is accepted as a necessity, or desired to narrow the roadway. The house facades are to be designed so that the householders have better rapport with passersby, which may not be a perceived advantage. For commercial areas, parking should also be at the back, while the attractive front faces the bus route.

The strongest anti-motoring recommendations are in Lesson 11, Traffic Calming. Traffic calming has two objectives: send the motor traffic elsewhere, slow down that which still insists on coming. The two are hard to distinguish, because slowing down traffic persuades drivers to choose a different route. The slowing methods described include: speed humps, pinch points, medians to reduce the effective width, curb bulbouts and similar devices, chicanes, play streets (voonerven), bicycle boulevards, traffic circles, sharp curves. There are also descriptions of various types of diverting barriers to compel motor traffic to stop or to turn.

The justifications given range from the absurd to the mendacious, plus the valid one that lower speeds mean lesser injuries. Absurd: traffic calming reduces crime because it slows getaway cars. (Just what proportion of the crimes committed on the residential streets that might be traffic-calmed have getaway cars waiting?) Mendacious: "Little change in overall traffic volumes; Reduction in average vehicle speeds by almost 50%; Average increase in motorist trip time of only 33 seconds." This is mendacious because it leads the reader to think that traffic calming will cost him only those 33 seconds per trip. The truth is easily worked out by high-school algebra, which shows that the trip originally took 40 seconds and now takes 73 seconds. Where can you get in 40 seconds? If the trip were 40 minutes, then it would take you 73 minutes, or a 20 minute trip would require 37 minutes if taken over traffic-calmed routes.

The text also claims that traffic calming increases the amount of bicycling transportation. That is dubious, particularly since most traffic-calming actions are bad for cyclists.

3.3 The Traffic-Calming Conundrum

BPT fails to address the anti-motoring, traffic-calming conundrum. What do the various methods of making motoring inconvenient do for cyclists? For that matter, what do they do for or to motorists?

BPT disapproves of the hierarchical system of roadways. Here is its criticism: "Only arterials, fronted primarily by stores, offices or apartments, provide direct connectivity between land uses and other neighborhoods." Having so criticized the conventional hierarchical system, it then, with only a paragraph break between the sentences, praises a different system. "By contrast, Neo-Traditional Neighborhood Design calls for an interconnected network of streets and sidewalks to disperse vehicular trips and to make human-powered modes of travel (such as walking and biking) practical, safe and attractive for short trips. Motorists, pedestrians and public officials will find the regular pattern more understandable." (Pg 6-6)

First, Clarke and Fegan disapprove of concentrating traffic on arterial streets, and say, explicitly, that they want "an interconnected network of streets and sidewalks to disperse vehicular trips." Their whole Lesson 7, Neo-Traditional Neighborhoods, is devoted to praise of this system, as well as considerable parts of other chapters in which similar details are recommended.

However, when the traffic does disperse onto the dispersing network, they recommend a complete program of making that experience so bad for the drivers that they will take their traffic elsewhere, presumably back onto the arterials. That is the content of their entire Lesson 11, Traffic Calming, and similar details appear in other chapters. I could probably invent a logical excuse for their system, but why should I do the work of these enemies of cyclists? People who have so little understanding of what they are doing should never be allowed to do it, let alone be paid for writing the instructions for that task.

4 Bicycling Actions

For this section, unless otherwise stated, I consider only the bicycling portions of the lessons.

4.1 Lesson 1: The Need for Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility

We cyclists don't lack mobility; our bicycles and the public streets have always provided it. If there is a problem, it is ignorance of how to cycle. (Forester 1976, 1993, 1977, 1994)

4.2 Lesson 2: Bicycling and Walking Today

Under reasons for choosing or not choosing bicycling, they state: "Distance, or its companion factor, time, is often sited (sic) as a reason for not..." They consider distance and time as locked together, ignoring the positive effect of speed and the negative effect of delays, both of which are of vital importance in assessing the utility and enjoyment of bicycle transportation. They mention the other difficulties, such as lack of parking, lack of showers at places of employment. Considerable space is given to fear and safety, but largely conventional. One phrase recommends, among other things, "Training opportunities that help bicyclists feel more competent riding in traffic". Much is made of the stated preference surveys for bicycling, ignoring the significant irrelevance of such in predicting actual behavior. There is no recognition of the actual reasons why people use bicycle transportation. With respect to children and the aged, they make the usual recommendation that we must make bicycling safe for those who are physically and mentally unable to drive a car. This shows the typical amalgam of bikeway superstition and cycling ignorance: the superstition that bikeways make cycling safe, ignorance of the ease of learning safe cycling and of its importance for both safety and enjoyment. (Forester 1993, 1994)

4.3 Lesson 3: Bicycling and Pedestrian Overview

The government requires that all areas have transportation plans that include elements for bicycling and walking.

The bike plans shall be based on the concept of Advanced, Beginning, and Child cyclists, the standard bikeway superstition that bikeways are required because they make cycling safe for Beginners and Children. Nothing much need be done for Advanced cyclists, but arrangements must be made for B/C cyclists to travel everywhere. (FHWA 1992) This requires a bicycling facility network that provides: 1: Accessibility; 2: Directness; 3: Continuity; 4: Attractiveness; 5: Low motor traffic; and be practical to build.

Planners need to answer the question: "[W]here would [cyclists] be if they could go where they preferred?" The answer, of course, is that people owning bicycles want to go where everyone else goes: "[B]icycle planning attempts to provide for bicycle use based on existing land uses, assuming that the present impediments to bicycle use are removed. These desire lines are, in fact, well represented by the traffic flow on the existing system of streets and highways." Big conclusion: cyclists want to make the same trips that other people do. Two assumptions are assumed. First, that whatever roads carry people today are dangerous for use by cyclists. Second, that adding bikeways to or near these roads will make them safe for cyclists. Neither assumption is correct.

With this wholesale condemnation of the existing road system, the planner must prioritize his efforts. This requires two parts. The first is to estimate the level of fear developed by some cyclists on the roads that serve the desired trips. The estimation is done by using the Bicycle Level of Service score sheet, and is based on the intensity of same-direction motor traffic. The greater the estimated fear, the more that needs to be done.

The second part "measures the relative amount of bicycle travel that would occur on a road segment if there were no bicycle travel impedances." It is impossible to measure something that does not exist. In fact, since the authors neither recognize the major impedances to bicycle transportation nor know how these will change, all we have is a crude guess dressed up in the trappings of knowledge. The basic idea is to convert from existing motor traffic patterns by applying a probability function to trip distance to wipe out all the long trips. In simplified form, for each proposed bikeway segment and each location (residential block, sports arena, etc.), we compute the number of possible trips to and from the segment as reduced by a probability function that is inverse to the distance between the segment and the location. Sum them all up and we have a number. Not very realistic, because it depends on far too many guesses, but, maybe, the guesses will share common errors in the same directions, so that the numerical ranking of the scores will have some rational relationship with the ranking of bicycle traffic volumes that might occur sometime in the future.

By considering the BLOS scores and the postulated volumes, the planner can guess at an appropriate priority for work.

4.4 Lesson 4: Crash Types

This section illustrates the common types of car-bike collision. However, car-bike collisions are only about 12% of accidents to cyclists; the rest are ignored. The authors apparently fail to recognize that none of their bikeway recommendations is a countermeasure to the most frequent types of car-bike collision, and, in fact, probably make most of them more likely. ( Cross 1976; Forester 1993, 1994)

4.5 Lesson 5: Adapting Urban Communities for Bicycling and Pedestrian Travel

As far as bicycling is directly concerned, there is much talk of safety, with recommendations for striping, shoulder widening, curb cuts. No statement of how these might reduce car-bike collisions, no recommendations about reducing car-bike collisions.

4.6 Lesson 6: Neo-Traditional Neighborhood Design

Nothing here about bicycling.

4.7 Lesson 7: Using Land Use Regulations to Encourage Non-Motorized Travel

Nothing here about bicycling.

4.8 Lesson 8: Torts and Liability

A typical outline with no special bicycling significance.

4.9 Lesson 9: Bicycle and Pedestrian Connections to Transit

Bikes on bus. Bikes on rail. Bike parking. Bikeways to stations. Little recognition of the limitations of multi-mode transportation, forced by the fact that bicycles can be accommodated only on the least-demanded routes and times, which have the worst service, and not on the routes and times most desired.

4.10 Lesson 10: Off-Road Trails

There's no real recognition of the transportational limitations of trails imposed by the rarity of functional locations, the dangers produced by the mix of users, the problems of crossing motor traffic. The authors state that the problems of side paths can be mitigated as follows: "For these reasons, the AASHTO Guide further states that there should always be a minimum of 1.5m (5 ft.) between the trail and the roadway." This shows no understanding whatsoever of the traffic-collision problems of sidepaths. (Forester 1994)

4.11 Lesson 11: Traffic Calming

The anti-motoring aspects of traffic calming have been discussed above. The authors show no awareness that creating dangers to motorists, for the purpose of slowing them down and diverting them, also endangers bicyclists. The authors show no recognition that the pedestrian environment is about the most dangerous one for cyclists. The authors, therefore, fail to distinguish those traffic-calming features that are least harmful to cyclists from those that are most harmful.

4.12 Lesson 12: Construction Areas

This overemphasizes the small importance of this subject. Just letting cyclists through is generally good enough.

4.13 Lesson 13: Walkways

No bicycling significance.

4.14 Lesson 14: Pedestrian Signs and Markings

No bicycling significance.

4.15 Lesson 15: Pedestrians at Intersections

No bicycling significance.

4.16 Lesson 16: Midblock Crossings

No bicycling significance.

4.17 Lesson 17: Pedestrians with Disabilities

No bicycling significance.

4.18 Lesson 18: Shared Roadways

This is the typical anti-motoring superstition that ends up as anti-cyclist activism. While the authors grudgingly admit that cyclists are legally allowed on nearly all roadways, they state that cyclists should not cycle on roadways with motor-vehicle speeds over 25 m.p.h. or motor-vehicle volumes over 3,000 ADT. You encourage cycling by telling people that they can't ride to any useful destination? Absurd, since cyclists have been doing so for a century. While the authors think that their claim is true, and they make it the entire basis for their program, it is only a superstition because nowhere is there any scientific support for it.

The authors' dismissal of wide curb lanes because "they simply allow a motor vehicles (sic) to pass cyclists within a travel lane," equally expresses their anti-motorist and anti-cyclist superstitions. We who first formalized the definition of wide curb lanes know that they have three purposes:

    1: To benefit motorists by largely eliminating the delays that might be caused by cyclists, thus eliminating the major cause of motorist opposition to cyclists.

    2: To make cyclists more comfortable through the knowledge that motorists can easily overtake them, thus reducing the feelings of guilt that our society produces in cyclists who may delay motorists.

    3: To produce these advantages for both motorists and cyclists without creating the dangers, inconveniences, and illegitimacy for cyclists that are produced by the bikeway solutions to the problem. (Forester 1977, 1994)

Since such purposes are abhorrent to anti-motorists, both they and their value must be denied. The authors praise of paved shoulders on rural roads as "[A]n excellent place for cyclists to operate" demonstrates the intellectual inconsistency of the bike-planning theory. That praise fails to recognize that rural paved shoulders are the functional equivalent of urban wide curb lanes.

(I was probably the first person to formally state the definition and effect of wide curb lanes, some thirty years ago.)

The authors attribute values to Bike Route signs that don't exist. What is the value of informing a person that this street prohibits parked cars when he can see that none are there? The real value of Bike Route signs is when they indicate a convenient route to some specific destination, and how far away it is. However, the authors merely recommend that such information be used, rather than saying that this is the real value of the sign. The other values are largely imaginary.

Bicycle boulevards are merely an attempt to make traffic calming less detrimental to cyclists. They require barriers to prevent through motor traffic (no other means is legal), but, since that motor traffic is physically prevented, the street can be protected with Stop signs without creating another arterial roadway that motorists would use as a cut-through.

The authors recognize the value of bicycle-proof drain grates, of making rail crossings smooth and of providing space in which cyclists can cross a diagonal rail crossing at right angles (copying the drawing of this that I made some thirty years ago).

The authors discuss the controversy over rumble strips.

4.19 Lesson 19: Bike Lanes

The only justification that the authors give for bike lanes is stated with the usual mendacity. "Bicycle lanes serve the needs of all types of bicyclists in urban and suburban areas, providing them with their own travel lanes on the street surface." The fact that cyclists have used the streets for a century without having their own lanes proves that bike lanes are not needed. Logically, the only persons whose needs are satisfied by bike lanes are bike planners. Bike planners require this mendacity because the original claim, that bike lanes make cycling much safer for cyclists, be they adult, child, or aged, has never been demonstrated by accident statistics and, when analyzed for the changes bike lanes cause in the traffic patterns, bike lanes are more likely to increase car-bike collisions than reduce them.

Logically, therefore, the rest of the chapter must be rubbish, but, unfortunately, it is rubbish whose dangers, physical and otherwise, are imposed on cyclists.

The authors oppose what they call "right-turn lanes," when they actually mean right-turn-only lanes. Here are their words: "In general, right-turn lanes should be used only where warranted by a traffic study, as they present problems for both bicyclists and pedestrians -- Right-turning cars and through bicyclists must cross paths." It is difficult to imagine how any American adult could be so blinded by superstition as to write that. Of course, the paths of right-turning cars and straight-through bicyclists must cross, assuming the usual road positions, but the presence or absence of a right-turn-only lane is completely irrelevant to that. The authors' logic indicates that motorists should be prohibited from turning right. The virtue of the right-turn-only lane, which I pointed out thirty years ago, is that it separates, in both space and time, the crossing movement from the turning movement, enabling each to be done much more safely.

With respect to the right merging lane, the authors force the straight-through cyclist to turn sharp right, towards it, so that he crosses it before the merge. They recognize that this is so dangerous that they require the cyclist to obey a Yield sign before crossing the merging lane.

With respect to the right diverge, the authors route the cyclist rightwards alongside the diverging lane until they turn him sharp left across it. At least, they recognize that this is so dangerous that they require the cyclist to obey a Yield sign at that point. If the right diverge lane carries much traffic, the cyclist should get to the left side of the lane before reaching the diverge, thus letting diverging traffic go to his right. If the right diverge attracts little traffic, the cyclist may just go straight, leaving it to the motorist to make his diverge lane-crossing movement properly.

When the authors get to multiple-right-turn lanes their intellectual limitations really show. The configuration discussed is of three lanes: straight, straight-or-right, right-turn-only: "The design for single right turn lanes allows bicyclists and motorists to cross paths in a predictable manner, but the addition of a lane from which cars may also turn adds complexity; some drivers make a last minute decision to turn right from the center lane without signalling, catching bicyclists and pedestrians unaware." The authors are unaware that their description of the movements at a right-turn-only lane directly contradicts what they had just written above for the single right-turn-only lane, or that it uses the explanation that I had given twenty years ago. As for the criticism of the actions of motorists in the straight-or-right lane, why that is just the normal problem on most streets, where the curb lane is normally straight-or-right. As for the lack of signalling by the motorist catching the cyclist unaware, at that point the cyclist is not looking behind to see the motorist's signal, but ahead at the other problems of the intersection. (Forester 1976, 1993)

The authors offer four different designs for this configuration, giving three drawings, all cases where the #3 lane is an added lane.

    1: Bike lane stops, but RTO lane stripe is first dashed from the curb and then solid.

    2: Bike lane continues, first dashed, then solid.

    3: Bike lane terminates well short of new RTO lane.

    4: Island put in between #2 and #3 lanes. There is no drawing of this, and one wonders just how this would look and work.

When there is insufficient width for a bike lane, the authors recommend marking it with a dashed stripe inside the RTO lane.

The authors have convincingly shown, either because they were unaware of this (which is hardly credible) or because they thought that they could get away with this mendacity, that bike lanes create numerous traffic conflicts of the types that are known to cause many car-bike collisions. Nowhere have the authors shown any advantages to having bike lanes, particularly not the original claims that bike lanes made cycling much safer and lowered the level of skill required for safe cycling by those who don't know how to ride safely. Convicted out of their own word processors, are these authors.

4.20 Lesson 20: Bike Lanes on Old Roads

This chapter is just as much rubbish as the previous, because all that it does is to suggest ways to install bike lanes on old roads.

    1: Use shoulders.

    2: Widen roadway.

    3: Narrow motor lanes to install bike lane.

    4: Reduce number of motor lanes.

    5: Remove parking.

4.21 Lesson 21: Bicycle Facility Maintenance

Pretty obvious.

4.22 Lesson 22: Bicycle Parking & Storage

Some useful thoughts, but not much detail.

4.23 Lesson 23: European Approaches

This purveys the traditional superstitions. The Netherlands and Germany go for sidepath systems, with some bike lanes. The authors mistakenly consider some sidepaths to be bike lanes. The authors praise the special traffic signals, without realizing (as was demonstrated many years ago) that the special traffic-signal phases are required to prevent the car-bike conflicts that are created by the sidepath design from actually causing collisions. (Forester 1994) Without the sidepaths, the special traffic-signal phases, and the delays that they produce, are unnecessary. There is some description of British rural paths.

4.24 Lesson 24: Education, Encouragement, Enforcement

The authors' recommendations for these are pretty general, and can be summed up as follows:

    1: Education of Cyclists. Figure out your crash types; figure out what to do about them; do it.

    2: Enforcement. Enforce traffic laws based on accident statistics.

    3: Encouragement. Bike to Work. Employer plans. Recreational events.

5 Wider Conclusions

In addition to the detailed comments made above, much wider conclusions need to be stated. This is partly because the text fails to mention so many factors important to bicycle transportation, and partly because there is need to tie all of these together into a coherent whole. I conclude that the attempt to combine anti-motoring with bicycle transportation is both a failure in itself and a disaster for those who use bicycle transportation and who enjoy cycling.

5.1 Failure of Anti-Motoring

Anti-motoring, as presented herein, is a failure. It has not succeeded in reducing the amount of motoring, and there is no reason to suspect that it will. While the anti-motorists have written much about the relationship between transportation technology and urban form, as in this planning text, they haven't really understood its causes. While it is easy to show areas of the world in which there is considerably less motoring and more walking and bicycling than in the typical US city, it is far less easy to duplicate those conditions in the US, and foolish to expect that they would produce the same result. Poverty, of course, is the most powerful and widespread of the anti-motoring forces. I presume that it is unacceptable to impoverish the US in order to reduce motoring?

That leaves us with the combination of prosperity but little motoring. Those locations with this pair of characteristics are all cities of pre-automotive, even pre-rail, design, in which motoring is extremely inconvenient. (Prof. John Finley Scott names these: Obsolete PreAutomotive Cities - OPACs). The anti-motorists delight in praising these locations, believing that if we install the bikeways and such, we will have an equal proportion of bicycle transportation. (Pucher 1999, 2000, 2001) That, after all, is the presumption behind the planning portions of this text. However, the anti-motoring argument is wrong, because the bicycling is not caused by the bikeways. (Maddox 2001, Forester 1994) In such places as Amsterdam, bicycling is more difficult than it is in Los Angeles. Amsterdam's inhabitants walk and bicycle not because these are easier, but because motoring is so inconvenient. Your car is parked a long way from your dwelling, the roads are congested and motor traffic is slow, and you cannot park near your destination. Under these conditions, bicycle riding in the slow, rolling-pedestrian style (the style so praised by anti-motorists) is faster than motoring. However, note this paradox. Even though motoring is so inconvenient in the urban center, its streets are clogged with cars. Much of that traffic originates outside the urban center, and serves to carry its users in. That demonstrates the enormous utility of the private car, a utility so large that its owners will use it despite much inconvenience for at least part of the trip. The anti-motorists fail to understand this. They call the use of the car an addiction, or some other psychological term, rather than accept it as a rational use of the existing technology.

The anti-motorists also hope that effective mass transit can replace much motoring, and write much about this. Such a hope is most unlikely to succeed, because of the fundamental problems with mass transit in the modern, distributed city. Mass transit provides successful service only to dense urban centers, particularly those that are difficult to reach by car during commuting hours. In reaction to this, the commercial areas of American cities are growing at the urban edges in a distributed pattern (the industrial areas long preceded them). Mass transit cannot provide competitive service to such a system; in most areas, it has become largely a social service to the poor (although this is denied by its advocates).

Americans will not rebuild their cities to duplicate Amsterdam, or even Philadelphia. The most that can be expected in anti-motoring urban design are small neighborhoods in which traffic calming is undertaken. These neighborhoods cannot be expected to be autarkic, except for services such as barbershops and quick-stop shops. All other services either require a larger customer area, or offer much more attractive wares when they attract from that larger area. Those who can drive will drive to the "big-box retailers." The employment will also be limited to those local services, so the residents will commute to jobs elsewhere, largely by car. Therefore, traffic calming will not reduce motoring; it will just drive it elsewhere.

Residential areas that have only one or two connections to the outside world are bad; they limit one's choice of movements too much. As the anti-motorists say, we need a connected grid-type street pattern, but not to distribute the major traffic movements, just to provide freedom. By and large, the minor residential streets get used by cut-through motor traffic only when the main arterials are so congested that driving fast on minor streets becomes quicker. That means that, contrary to anti-motoring doctrine, the means to protect residential areas from out-of-area cut-through fast motoring is to have main arterials of adequate capacity to carry the traffic fast. In other words, designing for motoring as the dominant mode of urban travel is the best plan.

5.2 PBT's Bicycling Safety Failure

The most basic criticism of the bike-planning operation is that it is completely fraudulent. For three decades it has said that it is based on making cycling safe, using much talk about bike safety while, nowadays, carefully avoiding any explicit claims. The implicit claims are two:

    1: Bikeways make cycling much safer for all users.

    2: Bikeways make cycling much safer for those users who are presumed to lack the ability to obey the traffic laws, such as children and the aged.

The general claim of making cycling much safer has a very limited meaning. It means only protection against some aspects of motor traffic, when, in fact, it does nothing at all about reducing accidents to cyclists. Car-bike collisions are only about 12% of accidents to cyclists; the remaining 88% are ignored. PBT shows the most frequent types of car-bike collisions, facts that have been known since 1977, and none of these is caused by a straight-through motorist hitting a straight-through cyclist. Yet that type is the only type of car-bike collision that bike-planning considers. It is the only type that bikeways might prevent. All the propaganda about the danger of cycling is laid around the intensity of same-direction motor traffic, which is a very minor cause of accidents to cyclists in the urban areas in which bike-planning operates. (Cross 1976. Forester 1993, 1994)

Bike planning advocates have tried for thirty years to demonstrate that bikeways significantly reduce the car-bike collision rate, but have failed to do so. Collision statistics demonstrate that very few car-bike collisions are of the type that might be prevented by bikeways, while standard traffic-engineering methods demonstrate that bikeways make the most frequent car-bike collisions more difficult to avoid, and therefore more likely to occur. Development of this knowledge has forced bike planners to avoid making the explicit claim of accident reduction.

The claim of making cycling safe for those who are presumed to be incapable of obeying the traffic laws has an equally long history. It was formally stated as the planning division of cyclists into two groups, the 5% of cyclists in the Advanced group who know how to obey the traffic laws while cycling, and the 95% of cyclists in the Beginning and Child groups who don't, and for whom bikeways are presumed to be necessary. (FHWA 1992) This distinction is specifically stated by PBT 2.5, Need for Action: Pedestrians and Bicyclists at Risk, Age Groups Affected. "Children have not yet acquired the skills needed for traffic safety." The aged "move around more slowly than they used to, have poor eyesight, hearing loss, and a range of other disabilities."

For three decades, bike planners have been challenged to show which traffic skills are required on a plain street that are no longer needed if a bike-lane stripe is painted. They have never even tried to answer that challenge, because they cannot. Analysis of the skills required shows that bike-lane stripes increase the level of skill required because they make traffic movements more complicated. (Forester 1982, 1994)

The claim that bike-lane stripes enable the partially blind and the partially deaf to cycle safely is newer, but is equally absurd. It is absurd to believe that painting a bike-lane stripe enables a cyclist to better see the motor vehicles with whose drivers he must negotiate his way. Equally, safe cycling does not require hearing, any more than motoring does, for which license there is no hearing requirement.

The fact that bike planners, as evidenced by this FHWA PBT text, continue to base their public support on the known false superstition that bikeways make cycling much safer, particularly for children and the aged, demonstrates the completely fraudulent nature of their activity. It is reasonable to say that today's bike planning is the business of stirring up the fears of the general public regarding cycling in traffic for the purpose of condemning motoring. And, like any other business, it does whatever it can get away with to increase its revenues.

6 What Should Be Done for Bicycle Transportation

There is a coherent and complete body of facts and theory about bicycle transportation engineering, that which should be done by and for cyclists. (Forester 1994, 2001) This is based on official car-bike collision statistics, statistics on other types of accidents to cyclists, standard principles of traffic engineering used to analyze the movements of vehicles, measures of cyclists' traffic performance, and courses that train cyclists. The basic facts and theory have been established without question. Furthermore, it is reasonable to suppose that cycling under the best practical conditions for cyclists will promote the optimum amount of bicycle transportation. This can best be summarized as the vehicular cycling principle: "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."

6.1 Proper Cyclist Behavior

Cyclists shall act as drivers of vehicles. There shouldn't be any problem in believing this principle. The traffic laws specify that cyclists on the roadway have the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles. The traffic laws have been refined through a century of use to describe the methods by which drivers can operate without colliding. The problem is that our present condition is the result of the long American history of wishing and teaching that cyclists should not operate as drivers of vehicles. There is insufficient space to give this history here, (See Forester, 1993, 1994) but PBT makes it obvious that its bicycling policy is based on this cyclist-inferiority superstition, because its anti-motoring program would fail without it (not that it hasn't failed for other reasons also). The result of this anti-cyclist history is that we have had several generations of Americans who not only don't know how to obey the rules of the road while riding a bicycle, but who believe with emotional fervor that doing so will kill them. When confronted with the fact that many persons who choose to cycle survive while obeying the rules of the road, Americans credit these cyclists with superhuman skills and strength. Naturally, if the dangers were extreme (which they aren't), then survival would require extraordinary abilities.

Because of the strong hold that the cyclist-inferiority superstition has on American emotions, several several points must be made:

    1: Collisions occur because one or both parties disobey the rules of the road.

    2: Those groups of cyclists who are most likely to obey the rules of the road have car-bike collision rates per mile traveled only one-quarter of the rate for the general public, despite traveling under more difficult conditions.

    3: Obeying the rules of the road is so obvious an activity that almost anyone can learn to do so. If this were not so, we could not have the automotive society that we have, in which we assume that almost anybody can learn to drive a car.

    4: Obeying the rules of the road is so obvious an activity that even children can learn to do so while riding bicycles, and the learning time is comparable to adults learning to drive cars. Any child who can play a creditable game of soccer has the mental and physical abilities required to ride a bicycle safely. There is development over time, ranging from ages seven to ten or so, and appropriate difficulty of traffic, ranging from slow two-lane streets to multi-lane streets.

    5: Cyclists who obey the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles do not need bikeways and, in fact, recognize that many features of bikeways require or encourage that they operate in ways that disobey the rules of the road to their own disadvantage. (all above, Forester 1994)

It has to be noted that this principle of having cyclists operate as drivers of vehicles is bitterly opposed by the bike-planning advocates. They call it an elitist program of extreme difficulty and great unpopularity that endangers the general bicycle-riding public. They oppose the beneficial effect of teaching cyclists to ride safely because it removes the supposed justification for their anti-motoring bikeway program (and for their employment as bike planners). (Pucher 2001, Pucher correspondence)

6.2 Proper Treatment of Cyclists

The basic first step in improving American treatment of cyclists is to stop treating cyclists as incompetents who cannot learn how to ride safely, just to provide the excuse for an anti-motoring program. Instead, American society and government need to accept cyclists as legitimate roadway users according to the vehicular cycling principle: "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."

6.2.1 Change in Official Attitude

The most important part of this change is the change in attitude. As long as the attitude continues to be that cyclists are incompetents who cannot learn how to ride safely, nothing will be done correctly, no matter how much conscious effort is applied, because of the unconscious tweaking of the results. Once the attitude is changed, then the actions taken are much more likely to be beneficial, just because those who act will both consciously and unconsciously direct their thoughts in the better direction.

6.2.2 Training of Cyclists

When American society and government accept the vehicular-cycling principle, they are going to have to correct several generations of cyclist-inferiority bike-safety training. There's no problem about method; the proper training methods have been known for a long time. (Forester 1980, 1981, 1993. Forester & Lewiston 1980) The problem is getting the appropriate people to participate. Government and society need to proclaim that learning to ride according to the rules of the road is both the best method of reducing accidents and that such behavior is the only acceptable method. Those people who intend to ride bicycles need to take the training that will teach them how to ride safely. It will be impractical to try for mass training of the general population, because only a few Americans will want to obtain it. The first target must be those who want to cycle, for whatever purpose they desire to participate.

6.2.3 Design of Highways

It is commonly thought that highways are unsuitable for cycling because the designers did not consider bicycle traffic. This is not so. Bicycles are well within the envelope of designed vehicles. They are not too heavy, they are not too large, they do not damage the roadway, they can be operated in accordance with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, and they are not slower than is allowed (on all except those freeways which are built for continuous, high-speed motor traffic). They are, most often, slower than most of the other traffic, but, in compensation, they are narrower. Most of the design of highways to accommodate bicycle traffic is to simply have sufficient width for the volume of traffic carried. When considering congestion delays that might be caused by bicycle traffic, this width can be produced by either making the outside through lane somewhat wider (the wide curb lane), or by adding a whole full-width lane. The choice depends on other considerations. There are, of course, other conditions which are frequently deficient. Traffic signals need to respond to bicycles (the technology has long existed). Drain grates need to be bicycle safe (proper designs have long existed). Road surfaces need to be smooth (just another reason to keep them so). There are some really difficult conditions, typically those concerning expensive bridges and tunnels, where accommodation of bicycle traffic might cause either much delay to other users or cause much expense. In some of those cases, provision of means of carrying bicycles across is the most cost-effective solution. In cases where the only useful route has been taken over by a highway from which bicycles are prohibited, it is necessary to study the missing link to see how bicycle traffic can be served; often the problem is largely one of attitude, not engineering. (all above; Forester 1994)

6.2.4 Other Societal Actions

Police forces need to understand that proper enforcement is with respect to violations of the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles by either motorists or cyclists, prioritized with respect to danger. Mass transit operations need to provide, where reasonable, for carriage of bicycles. Businesses need to provide proper bicycle parking nearby, or accept bicycles inside the premises. Employers need to provide for those employees who choose to cycle to or from work, with parking and facilities for showering and changing clothes. People in general, particularly when driving motor vehicles, need to accept lawful cyclists as legitimate companions on the roadway. (Forester 1994)

6.3 How Much Cycling?

The anti-motorists complain that this program will not serve their anti-motoring purpose. The first answer to that complaint is that thirty years of bikeway program haven't done that, either. As long as motoring is easily available, then most people will use it for most trips, either as drivers or as passengers. As long as motoring is easily available, few people will be unable to use it. Those who are unable to drive might choose to bicycle, in which case they will be best served by cycling properly, so that the presence or absence of bikeways will make no difference. Some who have motoring available now choose to cycle for particular trips, and will probably continue to do so. These are the persons who enjoy cycling, despite the additional inconveniences that are involved. For many of them, the inconvenience that cycling takes more time than motoring is seen as an advantage, provided that they can travel at the speed they desire with few delays. A forty-minute cycling trip in place of a twenty-minute motoring trip is seen as giving forty minutes of enjoyable exercise and conditioning at the cost of only twenty minutes of time. These persons do much more cycling than does the general person. Generally, these are persons who recognize the value of operating as drivers of vehicles and see bikeways as either unimportant or detrimental. They do not fear same-direction motor traffic, and generally feel comfortable with the traffic in which they operate. Each of them likes to travel at the maximum speed that feels comfortable for him or her, disliking slow speeds and delays. While they like such bike paths as allow them high speed with few delays, they find that few paths provide that service for the trips that they make.

These voluntary cyclists are those whom we can expect to use bicycle transportation in a society in which motoring is easily available. When that society accepts that cyclists should operate as drivers of vehicles and that lawful cyclists are legitimate roadway companions, then the social inconveniences of cycling will be reduced. With this lower level of social inconveniences, more people will respond to the attractions of cycling, until the amount of cycling approaches the level at which the individuals do it whenever it is advantageous for them. That is a pretty admirable result. (Forester 1993, 1994)

7 Bibliography

Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials; Guide for the Development of New Bicycle Facilities; Washington; 1981 to present

California, State of; Bikeway Planning Criteria and Guidelines; Sacramento; April 1972

California, State of; Planning and Design Criteria for Bikeways in California; Sacramento; 1976 to present

Chlapecka, T. W., S. A. Schupack, T. W. Planek, H. Klecka & J. G. Driessen; Bicycle Accidents and Usage Among Elementary School Children in the United States; Chicago, National Safety Council; 1975

Cross, Kenneth D. & Gary Fisher; A Study of Bicycle/Motor-vehicle Accidents: Identification of Problem Types and Countermeasure Approaches; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Washington; 1976

Federal Highway Administration; Safety and Locational Criteria for Bicycle Facilities; 3 vols. FHWA-RD-75-112 is the research report. Washington; Dated 1975, not issued until 1976

Federal Highway Administration: Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles, Federal Highway Administration Manual, 1992

Federal Highway Administration; National Bicycling and Walking Studies 1-24; Washington; 1994. Forester's review available at www.johnforester.com

Federal Highway Administration; Bicycle-Safety-Related Research Synthesis; FHWA-RD-94-062: 1994. Written by Andy Clarke and Linda Tracy of the Bicycle Federation of America

Forester, John; Effective Cycling Instructor's Manual; Palo Alto; Custom Cycle Fitments; 1977, 1980

Forester, John; Cycling Transportation Engineering Handbook; Palo Alto; Custom Cycle Fitments; 1977

Forester, John; Bicycle Transportation; Cambridge Mass; The MIT Press 1983, 2nd ed 1994.

Forester, John; Effective Cycling; Cambridge Mass; The MIT Press 6th ed 1993. First ed, 1976.

Forester, John: The Effect of Bikeway System Design Upon Cyclists' Traffic Errors; 1978, 1982; now available at www.johnforester.com

Forester, John & Diana Lewiston: Intermediate-Level Cyclist Training Program: Objectives, Techniques and Results. Bicycling Committee, Transportation Research Board; Washington; 1980. Now available at www.johnforester.com.

Forester, John: Elementary-Level Cyclist Training Program: Objectives, Techniques and Results; 1981. Now available at www.johnforester.com.

Forester, John; Review of Bicycle-Safety-Related Research Synthesis; 1994. Now available at www.johnforester.com.

Forester, John; The Bikeway Controversy; Transportation Quarterly Vol 55 No. 2, Spring 2001

Geary, Riley R.; US Bicycle Traffic Fatalities: Trends & Characteristics; VeloCity 2000

Hunter, William W., Jane C. Stutts, Wayne E. Pein & Chante L. Cox; Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Types of the Early 1990s; USDOT FHWD-RD-95-163; 1996

Oakley, William; The Winged Wheel; The Cyclists' Touring Club; Godalming UK; 1977

Kaplan, Jerrold A.; Characteristics of the Regular Adult Bicycle User; MS thesis, U. of Maryland; FHWA; 1976; Springfield VA; National Technical Information Service

Maddox, Heath; Another Look at German's Bicycle Boom: Implications for Local Transportation Policy and & Planning Strategy in the U.S.A; World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol 7 No 3, 2001, p40-44

Moritz, William E.; Adult Bicyclists in the United States: Characteristics and Riding Experience in 1996; Bicycling Committee, Transportation Research Board; Washington; 1998

National Committee for Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances; Uniform Vehicle Code; Alexandria, VA

Pucher, John, Charles Komanoff & Paul Schimek: Bicycle Renaissance in North America? Recent Trends and Alternative Policies to Promote Bicycling; Transportation Research Part A, Vol 33, Nos 7/8, 1999, pp 625-654

Pucher, John & Lewis Dijkstra: Making Walking and Cycling Safer: Lessons From Europe; Transportation Quarterly, Vol 54, No. 3, Summer 2000

Pucher, John; Cycling Safety on Bikeways vs Roads; Transportation Quarterly, Vol 55 No. 4, Fall 2001

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

Wachtel, Alan, Diana Lewiston & Gayle Likens; Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections; ITE Journal, Sept. 1994

Watkins, S. M.; Cycling Accidents; Cyclists' Touring Club; Godalming UK; 1984

 

Return to: John Forester's Home Page                                              Up: Government