Two organizations with prime responsibility concerning the safety of the public, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Center for Disease Control, called a conference to consider ways to reduce the crash rate for bicyclists (cyclists). The conference was organized into working panels for:
There are several main facts about bicycle transportation that need to be understood in order to understand this discussion. There are two methods of cycling that reflect opposite and contradictory views of traffic.
The first view is named vehicular cycling. The vehicular cyclist operates according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, just as do all other vehicle drivers. Vehicular cycling is that specified by the traffic laws (with minor exceptions that should not be present). Because vehicular cyclists operate in the same way as other drivers, conflicts are minimized, and therefore also collisions are minimized.
Vehicular cycling is required by the traffic laws. The traffic laws require vehicular operation because enacting different movements for cyclists and motorists causes collisions. This is so obvious that such efforts get regularly invalidated. The exception is when cyclists are outright prohibited from doing something that motorists are allowed to do, which is the extent of the differences allowed.
The cycling populations whose members are most likely to operate in the vehicular manner have accident rates only 20%-25% as large as those of the general cycling public.
Vehicular cycling is as easy to learn as driving a car; after all, the traffic skills are the same. This does not mean that only persons over sixteen can learn vehicular cycling. We restrict the privilege of motoring to licensed persons because of the excessive speed and public danger so easily produced with a motor vehicle. Because bicycles present very little public danger, we allow unlicensed persons of all ages to use them, with the result that children of age eight, with proper training, demonstrate the ability to drive a bicycle in the vehicular manner.
These facts are the basis for the vehicular- cycling principle: "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."
Although vehicular cycling is required by the traffic laws and is therefore enforced by the judiciary, it has not been the method advocated by society, motorists, or the other branches of government. These advocate the cyclist-inferiority method of cycling, because it is based on several false assumptions:
These false assumptions form the basis of the cyclist-inferiority superstition: "Cyclists who ride in traffic will either delay the cars, which is Sin, or, if the cars refuse to slow down, will be crushed, which is Death, and the Wages of Sin is Death."
Cyclist-inferiority cycling was probably started by the motoring organizations who wrote the bike-safety pamphlets around 1940. In one sense, the authors wished to invent a way for children to cycle without using the traffic judgement that they were presumed not to possess. In another sense, the authors thought that with the increasing speed of motor traffic, it was more important than ever for cyclists to stay out of the way of cars. These concepts were taught as vital safety information; disobey these and you die. Of course, these ideas pleased the motorists and there were so few adult cyclists that nobody in power questioned them. They became part of what everybody thought they knew and believed to be vital for cyclist safety.
However, nobody tested the supposedly easy way to ride in traffic to see if it was either useful or safe. It was dangerous. It concentrated on the danger of same-direction motor traffic while ignoring the far greater dangers of crossing and turning traffic. As a result, it caused bicyclists to ride in the curb-hugging manner from fear of same-direction motor traffic, and to swerve across traffic whenever such a movement was necessary, because bicyclists were presumed to be unable to judge traffic speed and distance. Because none of it made sense, it was always taught by creating fear of death if the bicyclist didn't obey it.
The result is that the public believes that the only way to be at all safe, and that's not very safe, is to ride in the cyclist-inferiority manner. The only persons who know better are well-informed bicyclists.
Bikeways are bicycle facilities that are designed to either force the bicyclist to ride in the cyclist-inferiority manner (bicycle sidepaths), or to encourage him to ride in that manner (bicycle lanes).
The motoring establishment started the bikeway program to clear the roads of bicycles. It got away with this because of the public belief that cyclist-inferiority riding was the only safe way. Then the anti-motoring advocates (transportation reformers, environmentalists, etc.) jumped on the bikeway bandwagon because they felt that the public would not give up motoring and take to bicycling unless bikeways were provided.
The result is that there is a very strong bikeway constituency made up of the unlikely alliance of motoring and anti-motoring advocates, who see eye to eye in the bikeway matter. The only objectors are well-informed bicyclists.
The organizers chose leaders for each of the five working groups. Each leader was a person with a special interest, however small, in the field of the working group, although without any special expertise in safety or accident reduction. Each leader was asked to write a White Paper which would serve to guide the discussion of the group. Naturally, each White Paper served to advance the particular interest of the group leader who wrote it.
The five White Papers were circulated to the prospective attendees. The prospective attendees were asked which of the five groups they would like to join. The attendees arrived at the conference with no further information.
The organizers required each subject leader to prepare a position paper for circulation among the participants. I do not know the requirements for these position papers, but the products were not well-balanced, informative surveys of the subject field. That for Helmet Wearing, the subject that blew up at the close of the meeting, while fairly complete on the medical and public health aspects, ignored all the cycling aspects of helmet wearing. That for Motorist Instruction was composed by a rabid anti-motorist and was full of misinformation and poorly conceived recommendations. That for Cyclist Instruction ignored the most important work and reasoning in the field and concentrated on the writer's barely started State of Texas project. That for Law Enforcement most nearly fit the presumed requirements, stating general principles and providing generally applicable examples. That for Planning and Facilities was written by the foremost advocate of the governmental program for bicycle transportation, who presented a totally biased and untruthful picture of the field.
Each working group was required to decide upon a small number of goals, each with a small number of strategies to implement it. One would think that each goal was expected to reduce the bicyclist casualty rate by some amount, even if unknown. However, that was not the result. The strategies were not linked to any known accident data, although several groups of strategies laid out systems for discovering accident data which, it was presumed, would lead to action that would reduce the casualty rate.
As a result of the organizing decision, the members of the panels became segregated according to interest. As an example that became obvious, the helmet advocates joined the helmet panel and produced recommendations that were unacceptable to a significant and vocal portion of the rest of the participants.
The panel on Planning and Facilities was composed largely of advocates of the governmental bicycle program that is almost entirely bikeway promotion. I point out that such people were most unlikely to sign up for other panels. They oppose Cyclist Instruction (they are committed to the assumption that 95% of cyclists will always be unteachable, and they see successful instruction as their greatest enemy), they have only marginal interests in Motorist Instruction and Law Enforcement (because facility design will do most of what is required), and, if anything, their concern about helmet wearing is insignificant.
I chose the Planning and Facilities panel because I am the foremost critic of the governmental program; I know where the skeletons are hidden. In that respect, I was the only critic of that program who was on the Planning and Facilities panel. I oppose that program because it is dangerous for both the physical safety and the multifaceted status of cyclists in society.
The last small portion of the conference was devoted to a meeting of all attendees, with the intention of working out differences. However, the recommendations of the helmet group were so completely unacceptable to the rest of the attendees that that argument took up all the remaining time without being resolved. There was no other opportunity to work out contradictions.
In preparation for the conference, the participants were instructed to study the position papers produced by the panel leaders. I, for one, prepared a formal written response to the official position paper for the Planning and Facilities panel. Much of it is included herein under the heading Defects in the Facilities White Paper. However, once the conference started, the leaders had no official role and we were forbidden to discuss the position papers that they had written. In other words, the panel leaders were allowed to have the first, last, and only words about what would be discussed. The only variation could be in the list of concepts brought up, but not really discussed, during the panel's operation.
The tasks and methods of the panels were specified by the organizers. These were:
I sent a lengthy paper to each of the conference organizers urging them to take account of the difference between vehicular cycling and cyclist-inferiority cycling before publishing their results. However, no such action was taken.
The goals and strategies were worked over, circulated in draft form to attendees for comment, and then published. These goals and strategies were published without any explanation or justification. In fact, they are the private thoughts of a bunch of persons selected for their interest but not the accuracy or breadth of their knowledge of bicycle transportation engineering, or of safety programs, and the disclaimer at the front of the published paper says as much.
The white paper by Charles Komanoff is discussed in its own report.
This is a general and superficial survey of cyclist training programs, culminating in advocacy of the author's state of Texas program. No consideration of methods, costs, or results. There is no statement of what is required to ride safely, and therefore there cannot be an evaluation of whether or not the graduates of any program meet those requirements. There is no recognition that this was done for the Effective Cycling Program twenty years before.
I consider that the Texas program devotes too little time and effort to both the program implementation and to the actual instruction, to graduate traffic-safe cyclists.
Much about the number of brain injuries and the supposed efficacy of helmet wearing in reducing them. Strong advocacy of mandatory helmet laws, with no appreciation of their difficulties or controversies.
This paper is based on the concept that car-bike collisions are caused by one or both parties disobeying the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles. The general case for enforcement is pretty well made, but the author fails to distinguish between laws whose violation is hazardous, which should be enforced, and those which are trivial or represent mere anti-cyclist restrictions, whose enforcement often represents harassment, or even danger to cyclists (mandatory path laws, for example).
The operation of the Planning & Facilities Section, in which I participated, is discussed in its own report.
The seven items listed under this strategy are what one would expect for a plan to implement some public information campaign. However, nowhere is there a definition of failing to share the road. In the absence of such a definition, there is nothing to be implemented.
Since the specific phrase used is "share the road," I must presume that this refers to motorists who refuse to yield to cyclists when the traffic laws require them to do so (considering both orthogonal and overtaking situations). This is just plain sloppy thinking, and it is impossible to predict what will result, or what its value will be.
As stated, this presumes that there are situations in which drivers of vehicles conflict with each other but are not already covered in the vehicle code. If there are such situations, then they should be fixed for all drivers of vehicles, not just for bicyclists. No such situations have been identified. Probably there are none.
The first item is to investigate the casualties and costs caused by ("related to") existing traffic laws. So they don't know if there are any, but they have a program to work on them just the same. Sloppy assumptions. The remaining four items are merely implementation of whatever it is that turns up.
If these four items are properly preopared, such instructionand testing is probably useful. However, there is no indication of what these items might be.
This is a public information campaign to spread "bicycle safety" messages. There is no indication of the information that should be transmitted, the content of the messages. Useless, sloppy thinking, all wrapped up in seven action items.
This is just recursive: Do what we recommend, repeated, in four action steps. This is no better than the rest of the strategies. Repetition of foolishness is absurd, calling for repetition of anything, before its effectiveness is known, is foolish.
Collect, develop, and disseminate "bicycle safety education resources." Four action steps to produce more of what we already have, without direction toward what we should have.
Four action steps to promote more of what we already have, without direction toward what we should have.
Four action steps to persuade officials to promote the material described above.
Six action steps to develop and publish a general public-information campaign to persuade bicyclists to wear helmets.
Five action steps to develop and publish an information campaign targeted as school and communities.
Here is where the conference blew up, so that there was insufficient time for further work. The mandatory-helmet-law advocates disagreed with all others.
Six action steps to discover where bicycle crash data is insufficient or inaccurate "with respect to completeness and recording of the causal chain that led to the crash", to devise improvements where defects are discovered, and to implement the improvements. From my experience in reading police reports of bicycle accidents, I think that this is a reasonable subject for investigation. I estimate that the best place for effort is in better training of police accident reconstructionists in the pecularities of bicycle accidents.
Without a definition of just what are the "bicycle-safety traffic laws," you can't tell what is intended and what will be produced. Stronger enforcement often means hassling bicyclists over restrictive laws that should not exist. Sloppy thinking all over again in these five action steps.
Five action steps to "improve bicycle safety enforcement, such as targeting intersections with high incidents of bicycle-motor vehicle conflicts and high risk bicycle-endangering behaviors." This is standard law enforcement procedure; find your trouble spots and behaviors, and enforce against them.
The first action item is to "investigate how courts are currently adjudicating bicycle-related incidents." There have been complaints that motorists causing accidents have been let off lightly with respect to criminal charges, on the apparent assumption that bicycling is inherently so dangerous that the motorist is not at fault for actions in which he would have been held at fault if he had collided with another motorist. See Forester, 1976-93, Chapter 47, The Minute Penalties for Killing Cyclists, or Forester, 1994, pgs 84-6.
Forester has reviewed Paul Hill's Bicycle Law and Practice, a survey of all appellate cases involving bicycles, and remarked that in all the cases in which Hill comments, Forester has disagreed with Hill's conclusions, and that most of the other cases demonstrate that none of the parties involved, or the judges, knew much about bicycle transportation engineering.
The fact of these criticisms demonstrates the existence of problems that deserve investigation.
The action items are directed at "bicycle-safe facilities," a complete rewording of my intent in posting this suggested strategy, ignoring normal roadways and their proper use according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.
This assumes, what has never yet been demonstrated, that bike-lane stripes reduce the accident rate.
The five action items under this strategy all concern getting the FHWA's bikeway propaganda, to be published in a textbook, into the university engineering curricula. I was the only one to vote against these, although only John Fegan, FHWA bicycle program manager, who probably paid for the book, and Andy Clarke, operator of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, who probably wrote it, admitted to ever having seen the book.
The first thing to note about the published conference results is that there is no mention at all that there is any controversy about what should be done. It is as if the concept of vehicular cycling (which is, after all, enshrined in the traffic laws and in standard traffic-engineering principles) had never existed. No reader, without inside knowledge, would guess that anyone had ever suggested that it was a good idea to operate a bicycle according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, let alone the fact that the populations of cyclists who are most likely to do so have by far the lowest accident rate known.
In other words, despite the fact that the organizers had been properly informed of the existence of the controversy between vehicular cycling and cyclist-inferiority bikeway cycling, they utterly refused to acknowledge even the existence of a controversy, let alone following the scientific process for deciding it.
The published result of the Conference is the National Strategies for Advancing Bicycle Safety, published 24 April 2001 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the Federal Highway Administration. This document merely lists the strategies, without providing any explanation or justification. Certainly, in that way the conference organizers have avoided any specific criticism of their reasoning, but they have also prevented any any rational reason for believing in those recommendations.
Given that the organizers failed to even notice the great controversy in the field, that they committed the nation to continuing along a policy that their own experts admit has failed for thirty years, and that they have failed to advance even the slightest reason for believing their recommendations:
Given the above conditions, the National Strategies for Advancing Bicycle Safety is absolutely worthless for doing what it says is its intent.
Furthermore, the National Strategies for Advancing Bicycle Safety is distinctly harmful, is distinctly dangerous, in that the most specific of its recommendations are aimed at preventing the the most effective safety program known, getting bicyclists to operate as drivers of vehicles.
Forester, John; Bicycle Transportation; Cambridge, Mass; The MIT Press, 1983, 2nd ed. 1994. First issued as Cycling Transportation Engineering Handbook, 1977. This is the standard description of the discipline of bicycle transportation engineering. It is a handbook for government personnel with cycling responsibilities and those who wish to influence such persons. It contains such items as studies of accidents, cyclist skill, highway and bikeway design, government bicycle programs, history of bikeway standards, etc.
Forester, John; Effective Cycling; Cambridge Mass; The MIT Press, 5th ed 1993, 1st ed 1976. This is a handbook for cyclists. In addition to many other cycling subjects, it describes and teaches the skill of cycling in traffic in accordance with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.
California, State of: Bikeway Planning Criteria and Guidelines; April 1972. This is the first bikeway standard in the USA. It largely copied Dutch practice, and, while printed, was never issued because its designs were shown to be far too dangerous for cyclists.
California, State of: Planning and Design Criteria for Bikeways in California; 1976 to present. This is the present bikeway standard, initially produced by taking into account the safety objections of cyclists to bikeway discrimination, and the probable litigational consequences thereof. While never designed to reduce accidents to cyclists, it was produced by removing the most obviously dangerous designs that would have made liability probable. It served as the model for the first AASHTO Guide.
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. This was intended to be the federal bikeway standard. While printed, it was never issued because the research upon which it was based was demonstrated to be faulty. The Federal DOT then adopted the AASHTO Guide instead.
Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials; Guide for the Development of New Bicycle Facilities; Washington 1981 to present. After the failure of the first California bikeway standard and the first Federal bikeway standard because of the dangers of successful personal injury lawsuits that they presented, AASHTO decided to adopt the second California bikeway standard because it seemed to have removed the obvious liability problems. This was later adopted by FHWA.
Wilkinson, W. C., A. Clarke, B. Epperson, R. Knoblauch; The Effects of Bicycle Accommodations on Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Safety and Traffic Operations; Bicycle Federation of America for the FHWA; 1994. This document is the research justification for the next one in the list. This document argues that 95% of cyclists are incapable of obeying the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, and therefore we need bike lanes on all major roads, while minor roads may be neglected. The known scientific evidence contradicts both the assumptions and the conclusions. The main argument is that uninformed persons want this conclusion.
Forester has a review of this document.
Federal Highway Administration: Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles; FHWA Manual; 1992
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. The first such study in the world (after Cross's initial study in Santa Barbara County). Statistically robust in most respects, careful investigation of accidents. Fails to consider some details that only later were understood to be important.
Wachtel, Alan, Diana Lewiston & Gayle Likens; Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections; ITE Journal, Sept 1994. This demonstrates that even with the slow speed of cycling on sidewalks, the urban bicycle sidepath produces a very high car-bike collision rate.
Clarke, Andy & Linda Tracy; Bicycle-Safety-Related Research Synthesis: FHWA-RD-94-062; FHWA 1994. This is an attempt to provide a scientific justification for the government's bikeway program. It appears to do so only by ignoring half or more of what was done and by misquoting and maligning much of the rest, and by ignoring the most important aspects of traffic operations.
Forester has a review of this document
Forester, John; The Effect of Bikeway System Design Upon Cyclists' Traffic Errors; 1978, 1982. Now available at www.johnforester.com. Observations of how the bikeway system design influences the dangerous traffic errors that cyclists make, within 95% and 99% confidence intervals.
Kaplan, Jerrold A.; Characteristics of the Regular Adult Bicycle User; MS thesis, U of Maryland; FHWA; 1976; National Technical Information Service, Springfield VA. Account of the cycling experience, including type of cycling, mileage, accidents, of two groups of regular cyclists: LAW members, Washington Area Bicycle Commuters. Produces accident rates per mile traveled for varous conditions. Showed the importance of skill in preventing accidents, and the high accident rate on bike paths.
Moritz, William E. Adult Bicyclists in the United States: Characteristics and Riding Experience in 1996; Bicycling Committee, Transportation Research Board; Washington; 1998. A shorter survey of the Kaplan type, with much the same results.
Schupack, S. A. & G. J. Driessen; Bicycle Accidents and Usage Among Young Adults: Preliminary Study; Chicago; National Safety Council; 1976. Study of cycling and accident experience of college-associated adults (students, staff, faculty). Produces accident rate per mile traveled.
Watkins, S. M.; Cycling Accidents; Cyclists' Touring Club; Godalming UK; 1984. Study of cycling and accident experience of CTC members. Demonstrates the importance of experience in preventing accidents.
In these studies, comparisons of Kaplan's, Watkins's, and Schupack's data show the importance of experience, a substitute for evaluatingskill, in reducing the accident rate for experienced cyclists to about 20% to 25% of that of the general bicycle-riding public. See Forester: Bicycle Transportation.
Forester, John & Diana Lewiston; Intermediate-Level Cyclist Training Program: Objectives, Techniques, and Results. Bicycling Committee, Transportation Research Board; Washington; 1981. Now available at www.johnforester.com
Forester, John: Elementary-Level Cyclist Training Program: Objectives, Techniques and Results; 1981. Now available at www.johnforester.com. This and the preceeding study tell how the instruction was performed and demonstrated that the students performed on the bicycle driving test with class average scores of about 95%, when the population average scores of the surrounding adult cycling population was only flunking scores about 55%.
Forester, John; Effective Cycling Instructor's Manual; Palo Alto; Custom Cycle Fitments; 1977, 1980. This is a comprehensive book on how to teach cycling, including in the vehicular manner as well as for sport and matters of mechanical maintainance.
Pucher, John & Lewis Dijkstra; Making Walking and Cycling Safer: Lessons from Europe; Transportation Quarterly, Vol 54, No. 3, Summer 2000
Forester has a review of this document
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. This and the preceeding document are praises of the Dutch sidepath system without any understanding of the dangers that this creates and how badly the Dutch have had to compromise bicycle transportation because of the dangers that their system creates for cyclists.
Forester has a review of this document.
Forester, John; The National Bicycling and Walking Studies; Chainguard, March 1994
Forester, John; The Bikeway Controversy, Transportation Quarterly, Vol 55 No 2, Spring 2001, p 7-17
Hill, Paul; Bicycle Law and Practice; Alexandria VA, 1986