America's Bicycle Transportation Program
Considered as an Engineering System

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1 America's Bicycle Transportation Program

1.1 Historical Outline

1.1.1 Origins

From their beginning, bicycles have always been intended to be vehicles to carry their riders on the public roads among the mix of traffic that used those roads (track racing and theatrical bicycles being rare exceptions). Cyclists first rode on the roads that then existed. Dissatisfied with the surface conditions, cyclists initiated advocacy of smoother roads, with some success. When the automobile became generally available, the increasing political power of motorists took over this function. Since then the political power for better roads has come from motoring organizations, and, to some extent, from government.

Despite the reduced number and political power of both horse drivers and bicycle drivers, their right to use the roads was never questioned; they were a legitimate part of roadway traffic. Since motor vehicles provided greater speed, when the traffic laws became codified, horse drivers and bicycle drivers were required to generally stay to the right so that motorists would have a better opportunity to overtake. In all other respects, so far as methods of operating on the roadways was concerned, all drivers of vehicles had equal status.

1.1.2 Cyclists Presumed to be Children

Regardless of the legal equality in status, the public developed a conceptual separation between drivers of horses and motor vehicles, as one class, and drivers of bicycles, as a different class. Any person trusted to be in charge of a car or a horse was considered to be sufficiently mature, skilled, and informed about driving it. However, any person riding a bicycle became considered to be a child, incapable of properly driving a vehicle. Instead of providing training in driving a bicycle as a vehicle, American highway safety authors provided bike-safety instruction purely from their viewpoint as motorists and parents. Desiring to relieve child cyclists of any responsibility for exercising the judgement that the children were presumed to be too young to possess, bike-safety authors insisted on the prime safety requirement of staying at all times out of the way of powerful, fast, and dangerous motor vehicles, under pain of death. No longer being cyclists themselves, the authors never tested their instructions in real traffic and never realized how dangerous it was to ride without using judgement.

1.1.3 Opposite Views of Cyclists

As the result, the American population acquired the extraordinarily strong and powerful beliefs that bicycles cannot be safely ridden in traffic and that motor vehicles approaching from the rear are by far the greatest danger of all. The only dissidents were American adult cyclists who, as the result of a mix of foreign training and much domestic experience, recognized that the only safe way to travel by bicycle was by operating in accordance with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, exactly as the traffic laws laid out. These two positions can well be termed the cyclist-inferiority superstition and the vehicular-cycling principle.

1.2 Bicycle Transportation in America Today

Until 1970, American bicycle transportation operated on two systems without controversy. The general bicycle-riding public, mostly children, operated according to the cyclist-inferiority superstition, while the few adult cycling enthusiasts operated as drivers of vehicles. The child bicyclists couldn't know any better, while the adult cyclists recognized the impossibility of correcting the general public.

This dual system suited American society as bicycle traffic decreased from 1900 on, although with understandable exceptions in the Great Depression and World War 2. However, in the late 1960s, there was such a noticeable increase in cycling that American governments started to pay attention to what they saw, incorrectly, as the permanent bicycle traffic problem. Those persons with predominantly motoring interests saw bicycles as a source of worry and delay to motorists intent on avoiding collisions. Those persons with safety interests, many of whom disliked the dominance of motoring in American life, saw same-direction motor traffic (though they didn't think of it so clearly) as the greatest danger to bicycle riders. Once sufficient concern had developed to generate the political will to do something about the bicycle traffic problem, the solution was obvious to both groups. That was, to take the existing bike-safety programs really seriously and to implement their cyclist-inferiority style of operation with the facilities that would enforce it. Bikeways would clear bicycles from the roadways, thereby simultaneously solving the worries of the motorists, the safety concerns of the parents, and the anti-motoring agenda of the environmentalists. That is the course that American bicycle transportation programs have followed until now.

1.3 The Bicycle Transportation Controversy

The fact that there was no item of evidence in favor of any of the premises of the cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building hypothesis bothered none of those who wanted it. They knew that they were right and they easily steamrollered the few in the two groups who objected. A few traffic engineers objected at first, because they recognized that cyclist-inferiority cycling, particularly when implemented by bikeways, contradicted the way that traffic naturally operated, and would therefore cause collisions rather than prevent them. These far-sighted engineers got steamrollered for their trouble. Adult cyclists were tougher, those who understood the value of their right to operate in the same way as other drivers. They knew that the cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building way endangered both their physical safety and their right to operate safely. They have fought the American governments' bicycle transportation programs to preserve their right to operate safely and efficiently as drivers of vehicles on properly-designed roadways. The opposition of cyclists, those who are best informed about cycling and are most affected by the governments' bicycle programs, is the reason for the controversy about those programs.

2 Preserving Bicyclists' Right to Operate as Drivers of Vehicles

2.1 Two Strategies

There is debate about the best strategy to preserve cyclists' rights to operate as drivers of vehicles. The two views can be described as the emotionally persuasive marketing approach and the intellectually challenging engineering approach. Both groups place key emphasis on training cyclists in the vehicular-cycling method, although for slightly different purposes.

2.1.1 Marketing Strategy

The marketers rightly see that the problem is one of the public opinion that supports the governmental program of cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building. Therefore, they advocate a strategy directed straight at changing public opinion. To that end they emphasize how easy it is to change public opinion and how little opposition there will be. Because they see that the advantages of vehicular cycling are so obvious, they predict that a program of offering vehicular-cycling training will convert so many people that government will change from its cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building policy to a vehicular-cycling policy.

To provide the attraction to accomplish this end, they require that promotion concentrate on the benefits of vehicular cycling and that all hints of controversy be suppressed lest they push people away. To justify their prediction that this strategy will develop a sufficient number of voters to overturn the present governmental bicycle transportation activities, they argue that there is so little support for those activities that it will take only small numbers of vehicular cyclists to persuade government to change. They foresee a program of vehicular-cycling training that will gradually change the mind of the bicycle-riding public and the mind of government, area by area.

Among other things, this view assumes that the bicycle transportation programs of the various governments in America are largely independent, so that they can be overcome in detail, as the military would describe it, one by one.

2.1.2 Intellectual Challenge Strategy

The intellectual challengers predict that the marketing approach will never develop sufficient numbers of dedicated vehicular cyclists to persuade politicians to change to a vehicular-cycling policy and program. They give several reasons for this prediction.

  1. The great majority of Americans believe the cyclist-inferiority view that cyclists cannot safely operate in motor traffic.
  2. In a population in which the cyclist-inferiority view dominates, few will bother to learn vehicular cycling, which is almost the only way to change this opinion.
  3. Governmental agencies have institutionalized the cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building view with research reports, standard designs, planning instructions, legal requirements, funds, and professional bike planners.
  4. The cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building system suits both those with motoring interests (because it keeps bicycles in their place) and those with anti-motoring agendas (because they see it as encouraging bicycling).

Therefore, intellectual challengers advocate a strategy that combines engineering science with sociological analysis with practical demonstration. Judging the bicycle transportation system according to engineering science shows that the vehicular-cycling system has plenty of support while the cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building system has none. Applying reasonable sociological and psychological analysis to the facts shows why the cyclist-inferiority system has such strong public support despite its engineering inferiority. Training cyclists of all ages in vehicular cycling demonstrates its practicality as well as its value.

Such a strategy of demonstrating the superiority of vehicular cycling in safety, efficiency, and practicality, ought to persuade the traffic-engineering profession to apply its scientific and ethical principles to bicycle transportation and adopt the vehicular-cycling policy. When those who design the system declare that the cyclist-inferiority bikeways are too dangerous and that vehicular cycling is much safer, more convenient, and more practical, then the governments will change their system.

2.1.3 Two Factual Disagreements

Marketers and intellectual challengers differ on two large factual issues.

  1. Does the Cyclist-Inferiority Emotion exist, and how strong is it?
  2. Does an American Bicycle Transportation System or Program exist?

Marketers say that neither exists. They say that claiming that such do exist dissuades people from joining classes in vehicular cycling, thereby destroying the marketing strategy. They deny that there is a consistent system of bicycle transportation program,insisting that all efforts are local in both function and source. They also describe those who believe in the existence of these conditions as defeatists who are afraid of their own ideas. Obviously, the absence of such complications would make the marketing strategy much more likely to be successful.

Challengers say that both of these conditions exist and both are strong, pointing to empirical evidence. They say that the existence of these conditions has made necessary the greater complications of their strategy, that only by taking these conditions into account can they be defeated and the vehicular-cycling principle become the national standard.

2.2 Does the Cyclist-Inferiority Emotion Exist?

2.2.1 Definition of the CIE

The Cyclist-Inferiority Emotion (CIE) is the feeling that typical people cannot operate a bicycle safely in normal traffic and that the predominant danger to bicyclists is same-direction motor traffic. Often allied with this feeling are others, such as the beliefs that bicyclists do not belong on roadways, that the roads were made only for motorists, that the traffic laws were made only for motorists, that bike lanes provide the right to use the road, and others.

In summary, the feeling that bicyclists are inferior to motorists in ability and in social and legal status and protection. Both bicyclists and motorists can be motivated by this feeling although the results differ; bicyclists tend to fear motorists, while motorists tend to despise bicyclists.

2.2.2 Existence and Power of the CIE

The existence of the CIE can hardly be questioned; both bicycle discussion groups and the discussions of bicycling in the public press express it frequently. It is the source of the most vicious arguments about bicycling. The fact that its beliefs are undoubtedly contrary to fact puts it into the category of superstition, at the least.

The only question might concern its power. It is the belief that most Americans have grown up with, no more to be questioned than that Wednesday follows Tuesday. It ranges from the mild form, in which a voter will vote for bikeways merely because they implement his belief, to the passionate expression in action, either as a motorist against bicyclists or as a bicyclist against motorists. It becomes expressed more strongly whenever it becomes combined with another emotional subject, such as child safety or anti-motoring environmentalism.

Probably because the CIE was inculcated in childhood by safety-minded parents, just telling the adult that it is false does not correct its errors. The only known way of persuading people that the CIE is false is successful experience of cycling in traffic. Only that experience has the emotional power to overcome the initial childhood emotion.

Even in its mild form, the CIE is a deterrent to learning vehicular cycling. Not many people are interested in learning more about cycling, and, among beginners, each has the opinion that they don't want to learn how to ride in traffic. They have to be enticed into it, and change their opinion only with successful experience.

When cycling is discussed, the discussion brings out those for whom bicycling is an emotional issue, meaning primarily those who are strongly motivated by the CIE. These people do not have to present credible arguments; indeed they frequently present incredible arguments. However, they frequently win the debate because their erroneous arguments merely reinforce the public's milder form of the CIE. The passionate presentation of a popular superstition merely inflames the attitudes of the population whose members believe it. Regardless of the proportion of such demagogues in the population at large, they exercise disproportionate power by playing on the popular beliefs.

2.3 Does an American Bicycle Transportation System Exist?

The marketers claim that all that is necessary to overturn the present governmental practices concerning bicycle transportation in any area is to achieve voting power in that area, because, so they claim, there is no governmental bicycle transportation program that requires these practices. In short, they claim that there is no national program and policy for bicycle transportation. The facts say otherwise.

2.3.1 Legal Requirements

Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (23 USC 217) 1202(a) "Bicyclists and pedestrians shall be given due consideration in the comprehensive transportation plans developed by each metropolitan planning organization and State. ... Bicycle transportation facilities and pedestrian walkways shall be considered, where appropriate, in conjunction with all new construction and reconstruction and transportation facilities, except where bicycle and pedestrian use are not permitted. ... Transportation plans and projects shall provide due consideration for safety and contiguous routes for bicyclists and pedestrians. ..."

1203, 1204: [Planning is required for] "the development and integrated management and operation of transportation systems and facilities (including pedestrian walkways and bicycle transportation facilities)"

23USC217 (d) "State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinators -- Each State receiving an apportionment under sections 104(b)(2) and 104(b)(3) of this title shall use such amount of the apportionment as may be necessary to fund in the State department of transportation a position of bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for promoting and facilitating the increased use of nonmotorized modes of transportation, including developing facilities for the use of pedestrians and bicyclists and public education, promotional, and safety programs for using such facilities."

23 USC 217 Definitions

"Bicycle transportation facility -- The term "bicycle transportation facility" means a new or improved lane, path, or shoulder for use by bicyclists and a traffic control device, shelter, or parking facility for bicycles."

2.3.2 Policy Statements

FHWA Guidance, Bicycle and Pedestrian Provisions of Federal Transportation Legislation, 23USC217

"Policy: Mainstreaming Nonmotorized Transportation

"Federal transportation policy is to increase nonmotorized transportation to at least 15 percent of all trips and to simultaneously reduce the number of nonmotorized users killed or injured in traffic crashes by at least 10 percent. ... To varying extents, bicyclists and pedestrians will be present on all highways and transportation facilities where they are permitted and it is clearly the intent of TEA-21 that all new and improved transportation facilities be planned, designed, and constructed with this fact in mind."

2.3.3 Design Guidance

FHWA Design Guidance: Accommodation Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach: A US DOT Policy Statement on Integrating Bicycling and Walking into Transportation Infrastructure

After repeating much of the above, this gives sources for design standards. After giving the conventional sources for highway design, this lists, among others:

Bicycle Facility Design Resources

AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities

Implementing Bicycle Improvements at the Local Level, 1998, FHWA

Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles, 1993, FHWA Manual

Bicycle Facility Planning, 1995, American Planning Association

Several state and local design guides.

2.3.4 Research Reports

Since 1972, the federal government has supported research that has been intended to justify its cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building policy, with publications ranging from Bikeways: State of the Art 1974 to the latest group of studies showing that bicycle riders greatly fear same direction traffic. However, as has been shown repeatedly, none of the studies demonstrate that cyclist-inferiority cycling on bikeways is safer or more efficient than vehicular cycling on well-designed roadways. With that failure after so much effort, the most reasonable conclusion is that vehicular cycling is by far the best way to travel by bicycle.

2.3.5 The National Bicycle Transportation Policy and Program

It is obvious from the above that the federal government intends to implement a national policy, program, and design standards for bicycle transportation, at least to the extent that this is possible in the American federal system. The big stick is that any area that chooses not to comply will get no federal money. So far as I know, no State or Planning Area has declined to comply with the requirements for bicycle transportation. The bicycle and pedestrian programs are well received by the public. Although details of implementation in any one area do raise some criticism, most of the public wants these programs and supports legislators who enact them.

For purposes of bicycle transportation, facilities are limited to the defined types: "lane, path, or shoulder use by bicyclists." Nothing for improving the roadways for cyclists.

The bicycle transportation program has been developed with the appearance of being a normal engineering system, with purpose or policy, scientific research to support that purpose and policy, and design standards to enable designers to implement that research in a practical manner. One question at issue is whether or not that system is actually a normal engineering system, or a fraudulent imitation.

2.4 Strategy for Preserving Cyclists' Right to Operate as Drivers of Vehicles

Based on the above, it appears clearly that the strategy of the intellectual challengers is better designed to attack the problems of American bicycle transportation than is the strategy of the marketers, because the challengers' strategy considers more of the obstacles that need to be overcome. That strategy consists of at least the following parts"

  1. Teaching of Vehicular Cycling with several purposes. A) To develop a cadre of committed vehicular cyclists. B) To demonstrate that vehicular cycling is practical for all. C) To demonstrate that vehicular cycling can be taught to almost anyone aged from eight to eighty in reasonable time.
  2. Scientific criticism of the cyclist-inferiority, bikeway-building system, publishing the obvious fact that this has no scientific support
  3. Teaching of Bicycle Transportation Engineering, to provide traffic engineers and bicycle planners with the skills, knowledge, and motivation necessary to implement a vehicular-cycling policy.
  4. Revision of the highway design standards for bicycle transportation according to the vehicular-cycling principle.

3 The Practice of Engineering

Engineers design things that are intended to carry out some useful purpose. Given the purpose of the product, the engineer uses the collective wisdom of generations of engineers and scientists, published in the engineering handbooks and standards, to design a product to fulfill the purpose. That is how engineering is done. The designer understands the product requirements, and then applies the accepted design standards to produce an item that will perform its intended function at reasonable cost. The function of engineering design standards or specifications is to ensure that following them will result in safe and functional products at reasonable cost.

Only very rarely do the requirements for the product exceed that which is known. Occasionally, going beyond the known introduces previously unrecognized failure modes, which have to be investigated and prevented by more sophisticated design procedures. This process is described for the general reader by Henry Petroski in his book To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design. (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1985). When extending beyond the known, occasional failures are the price that we must pay for engineering progress. However, careful predictions of the unknowns and testing to determine the required characteristics minimize the risk of failure when going beyond what is known.

4 Traffic Engineering for Bicycle Transportation

4.1 Request for the Product

Our legislators have decreed three requirements for every substantial urban area:

  1. The area shall have a transportation plan that includes a bicycle transportation element
  2. Transportation funds shall be expended in accordance with the elements of the plan
  3. Each element shall be designed and built according to the accepted engineering standards.

These requirements are highly desirable. Let us follow the progress of the bicycle transportation element.

Public meetings are held at which the interested members of the public present their desires concerning bicycle transportation. Most presenters say that because bicycling in traffic is too dangerous, we have to have safe bikeways before we will consider using bicycle transportation. They also typically add rationalizations about reducing motor-traffic congestion, air pollution, the consumption of oil and the like. The politicians see that these are well organized groups whose desires politicians should serve to get their support. The politicians, both legislative and executive, issue instructions for such a plan to be prepared. Frequently, this task is assigned to a combination of governmental staff and local bicycle activists, those who were asking for the bikeway plan.

4.2 Planning of the Product

There is a fine line between planning and design. Generally, planning would encompass the determination of bicycle transportation routes, usually expressed as corridors. The idea is to first enumerate the trips that people would make by bicycle if the plan were complete, listing origins to destinations with quantity. Once the specific trips are predicted, they are routed into transportation corridors. Then the traffic engineer, in the next step, would design the specific bikeways required along each corridor. However, part of design most frequently gets lumped with planning. Because certain locations would allow construction of bicycle paths, they have bicycle paths planned for them, whether or not there is any specific transportational need along that route. In other locations, bike lanes are planned simply because the chosen locations make such installation easier than other locations.

4.3 Design of the Product

The traffic engineer who is assigned to design the bicycle element has rather explicit materials to guide his design. For example, a Handbook issued by the Federal Highway Administration (Selecting Roadway Treatments for the Accommodation of Bicycles) tells him that because 95% of bicyclists ride like children or beginners he has to design for such people. Bike lanes are the appropriate design treatment when people who are not competent to drive a motor vehicle wish to bicycle upon the roadway. Therefore, this document presents tables listing many different combinations of motor traffic volume and speed that require the installation of bike lanes. The requirements ensure that any road that is likely to lead to any location worth visiting will have a bike lane.

When the engineer considers how to design these bike lanes, he has the appropriate engineering standards, AASHTO's Guide for Bicycle Facilities in most states, or the equivalent document if his own state if has produced such. This gives him the appropriate widths and stripes, where to place solid stripes and where to place dashed stripes. The AASHTO Guide also provides the appropriate information for the design of bicycle paths, almost as comprehensive as the information given in the standard highway design manuals for normal roadways. The Guide does suggest that bicycle paths directly alongside urban streets create problems between cyclists and motor traffic, but for everything else it presents its specifications with quiet authority.

4.4 Supporting Research

Every engineering system has to be based on the results of research into its basic principles. Government has done its part by funding and directing research studies into the bicycle transportation engineering system, from California's funding of Ken Cross's first statistical study of car-bike collisions in Santa Barbara County, 1974, and the Federal Highway Administration's Bikeways: State of the Art, 1974, right into the present day. The Bicycling Committee of the Transportation Research Board publishes lists of questions justifying research effort to be done by others, and presents papers on the results of these and other researches. Politicians order the executive branch to initiate programs of research to show the results of the legislated programs and to justify further legislative action. Following those orders, the appropriate staff members of the responsible organizations work out programs of research to discover the desired information. For the Federal Government these organizations are the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (with the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the design of bicycles).

In terms of the rather small importance of bicycle transportation to the nation, the research sums and efforts have been significant, certainly enough to support the engineering standards for bicycles and for bicycle facilities.

5 Bicycle-Planning Failures

Given that the process of bicycle transportation engineering, as commonly done in accordance with governmental policy, appears to follow the standard procedures for engineering work, why do its products fail to perform their intended functions? There are two intended functions.

  1. To make city bicycling safe for persons who lack the competence to operate a vehicle.
  2. By virtue of #1, to persuade people to transfer a significant number of trips from motoring to bicycling.

Despite the thirty years of effort that has gone into the governmental form of bicycle transportation engineering, there is no credible evidence that either of these functions has been attained. The official goals are a doubling of the number of bicycle transportation trips and a ten percent reduction in the number of bicycling accidents. This is equivalent to reducing the accident rate by fifty-five percent.

Before investigating those failures, consider the contradictory nature of the two purposes. We design our cycling facilities for use by people who do not have the competence to operate vehicles, yet we desire and expect to persuade many motorists, who by definition have that competence, to willingly accept the limitations imposed by the non-vehicular manner of bicycle operation.

The governmental bicycle transportation engineering program has failed to achieve its purposes because it has not been operated as an engineering program.

5.1 Reliance on Popular Opinion

One of the driving forces behind the government's bicycle transportation engineering is popular opinion about technical details, as described above.

We don't consult public opinion about determining the length of highway weaving sections, or the spacing of freeway columns, or about the thickness of boiler shells, or the airworthiness of airplanes, all matters of public safety. But we obey public opinion about the safety effect of bikeways. Public opinion is more accurate about the thickness of boiler shells than it is about the safety effect of bikeways, because some members of the public know and understand the formulas for the thickness of boiler shells, while nobody on earth knows the safety effect of bikeways.

5.2 Legislative Fiat

Therefore, our politicians have allowed themselves to legislate about engineering safety matters for which there was no scientific foundation. California's Legislature ordered the first bikeway standard to be prepared by the University of California at Los Angeles: Bikeway Safety and Locational Criteria, 1972. When that standard failed because it was dangerous, the Legislature ordered another standard to be prepared by the California Bicycle Facilities Committee. The prime legislator involved was James Mills, President Pro Tem of the Senate. Discovering that the new Facilities Committee was in disarray because of the opposition of cyclists to bikeways, Mills sent his representative to the meeting to say that the only permitted solution to the committee's task was the production of a standard for bikeways. Later on, the Legislature, led by Senator Nicholas Petris, passed the California Bikeways Act that established a statewide bikeway system. Bikeways were the only permitted solution to whatever problems might exist regarding bicyclists.

The same has been done on the federal level, because the standards used are largely the same.

5.3 Standards Before Research

In the normal engineering system, research is performed to develop standards, and, frequently, further research is performed to determine the effectiveness of those standards. Not so with the government's bicycle transportation engineering program.

California's first standards of 1972 were copied from Dutch and German bikeway designs that many Americans praise as wonderful. However, some twenty years later, the director of Holland's university traffic-engineering school admitted (at the Montreal VeloCity conference) that they still had no scientific basis for the designs that they had been using for so long.

After the failure of the first attempt, California established the California Bicycle Facilities Committee (including two cyclists) to produce a new standard. The governmental members always argued the prime importance of protecting cyclists from same-direction motor traffic, a superstition that they firmly believed. Intelligent and experienced cyclists had reached the opposite conclusion on the basis of personal experience.

To bolster its argument, the government had ordered the first statistical study of car-bike collisions. This was Ken Cross's first study of car-bike collisions, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety. That study conclusively destroyed any credibility in the pro-bikeway argument, by showing that same-direction motor traffic was only a minute cause of car-bike collisions. So the Committee suppressed Ken's study and went ahead on a task that now was demonstrably false.

The only other research performed was done by cyclists (me), who analyzed the traffic movements produced by normal roadways and by bikeways of various designs. That research demonstrated, by using the standard principles of traffic engineering and human factors engineering, that all kinds of bikeways produced conflicting traffic movements that were more difficult for the drivers to perform safely, even impossible for them to do so, than the comparable movements on normal roadways.

The second California standards became the AASHTO Guide for Bicycle Facilities. Therefore, the research behind the national standard for bikeway design consisted of two items.

  1.  The first Cross study of car-bike collisions, which demonstrated that bikeways had insignificant potential for reducing car-bike collisions.
  2. The traffic-movement analyses by Forester that demonstrated that bikeways produced conflicting traffic movements that were more difficult and more dangerous than the equivalent movements on normal roadways.

Shall we say that these two items constitute an adequate basis for issuing bikeway design standards?

5.3.1 The Federal Experience

Running a bit behind California's effort was that of the Federal Highway Administration to develop standards for bikeways. This was contracted to a traffic-engineering company, the effort was based in California, and there was about a quarter-million dollars allocated for the research phase. This produced four publications. Bikeways: State of the Art 1974 was an interim report. Safety and Locational Criteria for Bicycle Facilities Vol 1 covered bicycle planning standards. Volume 2 covered bikeway design standards. Volume 3, Final Report, FHWA-RD-75-112, February 1976, reported on the research done to support the standards.

My review of the research reports demonstrated that their numerous scientific errors made them scientifically inadequate to support the bikeway project. For whatever reason, the proposed FHWA bikeway standards were never issued. Instead, as said above, the second California standards were adopted by the FHWA and published by AASHTO.

5.4 Defective Confirmatory Research

During the life of an engineering standard, it is normal to continue research to determine whether the standard produces the intended results. Research has been published since the development of the AASHTO Guide.

The first research published after the development of the national bikeway standards was Cross's national statistical study of car-bike collisions, A Study of Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Accidents: Identification of Problem Types and Countermeasure Approaches, NHTSA, September 1977. This presented a statistically robust study of car-bike collisions in areas representative of the nation. This confirmed on a national scale, with more detail, the results of Cross's initial California study. As before, it showed that bikeways cannot produce a significant reduction in car-bike collisions because there are insufficient collisions of the type that bikeways might prevent. Additionally, by showing the traffic movements and conditions that are associated with car-bike collisions, it showed that bikeways were not designed to reduce the frequent types of car-bike collisions. In conjunction with Forester's analysis of traffic movements, it showed that bikeways probably aggravated the causes of many car-bike collisions and increased the difficulties of dealing with them. This is the type of study that ought to be the basis for any type of safety program, but since bikeways had already been decreed by the combination of popular and legislative fiat, it has been ignored. Except, of course, by vehicular cyclists who oppose bikeways.

The next big research project was the National Bicycling and Walking Study, published by FHWA in 1994 in response to a Congressional requirement. This contained 24 studies of bicycling and walking. So far as bicycling is concerned, these would be classed as confirmatory studies, attempting to demonstrate how well the bikeway program was operating. Despite much publicity surrounding the publication, none of the studies demonstrated that the bikeway program was achieving its intended purposes.

At about the same time, the FHWA published Bicycle-Safety-Related Research Synthesis, FHWA-RD-94-062, written by Andy Clarke and Linda Tracy of the Bicycle Federation of America. The following is the first paragraph of my review of this document.

The Synthesis of Bicycle Safety-Related Research is the supposed scientific justification for the cycling policy and program of the nation. It purports to contain a summary of all the important research since 1981 into cycling transportation. That information, when added to the valid portions of the work done before 1981, ought to support our nation's cycling policy and program. According to Clarke and Tracy, it does. (Hereafter, I list the authors as C&T.) However, they have made it do so only by ignoring half or more of what was done and by misquoting and maligning much of the rest. The result probably persuades the politicians and highway administrators, and many bicycle advocates as well. However, to one who knows what actually was done and the amount of scientific support possessed by each report, the result demonstrates that our nation's cycling policy and program are so far from reasonable that, instead of being supported by scientific knowledge, they can be supported only by ignorance and/or mendacity. That demonstration is the important work of this document.

These two publications were followed by the publications resulting from the National Bicycle Safety Conference of 2000, convened by the National HIghway Safety Administration and the National Center for Disease Control. The organizers refused, despite being warned several times, to recognize the contradiction between recommending more enforcement of the traffic laws and recommending more bikeways that contradict those laws. Such research as was done in preparation was largely defective. The organizers selected Andy Clarke, the leader of the bike-planners' association, as the organizer of the facilities section of the conference. Although Clarke admitted, under my questioning, that the bikeway program of the last thirty years had not reduced the car-bike collision rate, he rammed through a final recommendation for 10,000 more miles of bike lanes. He and John Fegan, bicycling program director of the FHWA, also rammed through a recommendation that all states teach bikeway design through a textbook that was, apparently, being written by the two of them, a book that nobody else had seen and for which there was no research basis.

5.5 From Engineering to Propaganda

The subject of the principal research being done on bicycle transportation has changed from safety, which research has failed to demonstrate, to feelings of comfort, or of safety, or of fear, whichever way you consider the matter. This change was foreshadowed in the FHWA Manual, Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles, of 1992, written by Wilkinson, Clarke, Epperson, and Knoblauch. This document classifies cyclists as Advanced, Beginners, or Child, and asserts that it is "oriented to meeting the needs of" and "meeting the needs of" all types. However, when it actually comes down to the real needs of cyclists, two of which are a safe operating environment and safe operating methods, the authors use weasel words instead. These cyclists "are best served by"; these cyclists "prefer"; "these cyclists and their parents prefer."

In short, the federal government has given up on trying to demonstrate that bikeways reduce car-bike collisions. Instead, it now concentrates on the second intended function of its bicycle transportation engineering program. I restate that from the earlier discussion.

By virtue of #1 [building bikeways to make cycling safe], to persuade people to transfer a significant number of trips from motoring to bicycling.

In other words, since bikeways do not actually make cyclists safe, government has set out to discover what conditions elicit the feeling of safety, and the extent to which this feeling of safety will persuade people to transfer useful trips from motoring to bicycling. That raises questions both practical and ethical.

One practical question is that of determining the actual amount of fear elicited by traffic conditions, considering that the most significant factor is the opinion of the cyclist regarding motor traffic, which is affected by the cyclist's experience and training. The research performed considers only the fear of same-direction motor traffic, which is only a minor factor in cyclist safety. Cyclists competent in traffic have no fear at all under conditions in which those not competent in traffic are frightened. After all, if cyclists are to operate in a bicycle transportation system, they should be expected to become competent in the traffic in which they operate.

Another practical question is the extent to which fear of same-direction traffic, all that is being measured, is the most significant factor in choosing between motoring and cycling for a given trip. We have many surveys of people stating the preference that if they had what they believed to be safe bicycle facilities, they would ride much more. However, when actual preferences are revealed by performance, the transportational effects have been negligible.

Pointed though the above questions are, the ethical question is far more pointed. In thirty years of effort, the government has not been able to demonstrate that bikeways make cycling safer. Indeed, the best evaluation of the available evidence indicates that the reverse is probably true, that bikeways increase the rate of car-bike collisions per mile traveled. Despite knowing this, the government is using the public's misplaced faith in the safety of bikeways to persuade people to take up an activity which is regarded as dangerous. Furthermore, these people, being classified by the government as beginners and children, are utterly unprepared to undertake such a dangerous activity. The national bicycle transportation program has fallen from its pretense of being a normal engineering program to one of outright dangerous propaganda.

5.6 Professorial Propaganda

It is not only the general public that demands bikeways; from the early days of bikeways various academics have advocated bikeways. Professors Sommer and Lott, of UC Davis, were active in getting the Davis bikeways started and supported. Professor Michael Everett, University of Eastern Tennessee Economics Department, was the first, to my knowledge, to assert that cycling in traffic required exceptional courage and aggressiveness. The currently most prominent academic bikeway advocate is Professor John Pucher, of Rutgers University Urban Planning Department. In recent years he has published three articles, the first one in Transportation Research, two later in Transportation Quarterly. Pucher maintains that the Dutch bikeways cause Dutch transportational bicycling, that they have no disadvantages, and that America would have a similar proportion of bicycle transportation if we adopted that system. He also maintains that cycling on roads used by normal traffic requires almost superhuman speed, courage, and skill. In short, all the usual superstitions. Pucher appears to have no useful knowledge of how bicycle traffic works, either on the roadway or on bikeways, because he never discusses anything specific and important, such as traffic signal phasing. When he does introduce specifics, he ends up making claims that are so misworded that they say, for example, that the paint of the bike-lane stripe improves the vision of elderly cyclists so that they can more clearly see the cars that they must avoid.

Pucher's sole argument is that the Dutch have an extensive sidepath system and the Dutch use considerable bicycle transportation. He believes that the sidepath system causes the high bicycling modal split, without advancing any substantive arguments as to why it would do so. My criticism stated that correlation did not demonstrate causation, and that cycling on American roads under American traffic laws provided better service for cyclists. Pucher became quite angry and exploded with the comment that my claims could not be justified because no foundation for them existed. By that comment, he admitted ignorance of the standard literature of the subject on which he was pontificating. Such literature had been available for more than a decade from publishers such as The MIT Press. Had he shown familiarity with my writings, but disagreed with them, he would have been better off. My answering article in Transportation Quarterly, endnoted with a long list of references that Pucher should have known, was the first presentation of vehicular cycling in one of the standard transportation journals.

5.7 Absence of Required Research

The government has never undertaken research intended to demonstrate its assumption that bikeways are an adequate substitute for traffic skills. Indeed, the government has never made that claim explicit, but that claim is implicit in the government's claim that bikeways make cycling safe for beginners and children, who by definition lack such skills. Indeed, the government has avoided all consideration of the traffic skills that are required for either bikeway cycling or roadway cycling.

The only useful research that the government has done is the statistical study of car-bike collisions. However, the government has ignored that research, because it both explicitly demonstrates the futility of the bikeway program and implicitly describes its dangers. Of the other research that is required, the government has done absolutely nothing. Cyclists have done it all, including the analysis of the car-bike collision statistics.

All practical bikeway systems require that the cyclist know how to operate in traffic according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Because practical bikeway systems cannot be ubiquitous, considerable distances of any mix of trips will be done on normal roads, regardless of the extent of the bikeway system.
  2. Every practical bikeway system has connections with motor traffic. Cycling through those connections requires understanding of the rules of the road and how traffic operates.

Furthermore, bikeways, where they inevitably interact with motor traffic, make many common traffic movements more difficult than when the same movements are made on a normal roadway; indeed some movements cannot be made safely by normal humans. Therefore, cycling on bikeway systems requires a higher degree of skill than does cycling on roadways, exactly contrary to the government's claim.

Operating in accordance with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles provides the best blend of safety and convenience that we have been able to develop. Cyclists who operate as drivers of vehicles, called vehicular cyclists to distinguish them from those who do not so operate, have a much lower accident rate than (probably only about 25% of) the general bicycling public. Learning to operate according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles is not difficult; after all, we expect that most young adults can learn this skill. Any child who can play a creditable game of soccer has demonstrated the mental and visual coordination required to learn to operate as the driver of a vehicle on city streets. Bicycles do not present the judgement problems of vehicles capable of over 100 miles per hour and delivering over one million foot-pounds of energy in a crash. In reasonable time, children of age eight can learn much of proper operation, about as much as they need for the level of traffic encountered for the trips that their parents would permit them to make. By age twelve, children can learn in reasonable time all the skills required to ride a bicycle in accordance with the rules of the road, in any reasonable traffic condition. It is obvious that adults can learn that which even children can learn.

The appropriate research on all of these matters has been done by cyclists, without the support of the government. Indeed, Clarke and Tracy wrote that vehicular cyclists provide the strongest opposition to the government's program, and that the feeling is mutual. That is because the two programs are opposite and mutually exclusive. The government's program is that of bikeways and untrained cyclists, for which it has never been able to produce scientific justification. The vehicular cyclists program is one of lawful, competent cyclists operating on normal roads (albeit with some improvements where required). The evidence that exists clearly favors the vehicular cycling program.

6 Conclusion

The whole panoply of the government's bicycle transportation program appears to operate as a normal engineering system, such as those for highways or for pressure vessels or for aircraft safety. However, it has never been operated in the way that normal engineering systems operate. It has instituted standard designs and specifications before it had any valid research data to support them. When such research has been done, it has shown that the evidence contradicts the government's bicycle transportation program. As a result, the government has descended to basing its bicycle transportation program on unethical superstition that ignores what is known about cyclist safety programs.

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