Transportation by bicycle is safest, most useful, and is even enjoyable in traffic, when the cyclist operates with the safety and confidence produced by operating as the driver of a vehicle.
These statements are well-substantiated by scientific knowledge of several types, from traffic engineering, from accident studies, from studies of different groups of cyclists. The traffic laws are based on this vehicular style of operation. The whole subject of vehicular operation of traffic has been studied, reviewed, tested by actual use, and corrected for errors, all over the highway system for a century. We all recognize that the driver who makes a movement in a different way, say by turning left from the curb lane instead of from the center lane, has made a mistake that could cause a collision. However, the whole highway traffic enterprise has been developed to provide such a degree of safety that we don't have any concern about driving to the store, or to work, or to the beach.
Nobody has ever shown that some different method of operation is safer or better. In fact, it is obvious that making a movement in a different way from everybody else creates conflicts that could cause a collision.
However, very few Americans recognize that they should ride their bicycles in the vehicular manner. Most Americans have been taught from childhood to ride in a simplified manner that does not require judgement about traffic, because exercising judgement about traffic was thought to be too difficult for children to learn. The prime instruction of this system was to always stay close to the edge of the road, out of the way of the cars, whether or not there were any cars coming. This instruction developed fear of cars rather than a sense of cooperating with traffic. This instruction developed a belief that bicycles don't belong on the road, that they were trespassers on roads that belong to cars, rather than the knowledge that cyclists are drivers of vehicles, just as much as motorists are. The name for this method of bicycle riding is the cyclist-inferiority method, so named because it casts the bicycle as inferior to the motor vehicle and the cyclist as inferior to the motorist.
While this cyclist-inferiority method of bicycle riding was easy to learn, it was dangerous for the cyclist. It was dangerous precisely because it eliminated the use of judgement, and without judgement no traffic driving can be safe. About thirty percent of car-bike collisions are caused by the cyclist doing what bike-safety education encourages him to do, making a movement without first observing the traffic situation and exercising judgement.
While this cyclist-inferiority method was dangerous for the individual cyclist, it was also very dangerous for society as a whole. Its easy assumption that the most important principle for cyclists is to stay out of the way of cars did five more things.
Almost the only people who recognized the deficiencies of the cyclist-inferiority method were those with extensive cycling experience, those who knew most about cycling, developed either from their own experience or from their knowledge of cycling as done in other nations where vehicular cycling has always been the national policy. Although these adult cyclists had the most accurate knowledge of bicycle transportation, they were a small minority who were unable to correct the national attitude regarding what should be done for bicycle riders, be they adult or child.
The Bicycle Transportation Organization ought to be an organization of lawful, competent cyclists who intend to change the American system of bicycle transportation from one that is based on the cyclist-inferiority method to one that is based on the vehicular-cycling principle:
Making the vehicular-cycling principle the basis for national cycling policy will provide the best environment for cycling transportation, because Effective Cycling Is Safer, Better, and More Fun. Obeying the traffic laws for drivers of vehicles is the only safe way to cycle; all the other ways that have been devised create more dangerous car-bike conflicts that the cyclist either has to brave or, more likely, has to wait until they go away. Cycling according to the vehicular-cycling principle is best on good roads, but is prohibited or discouraged (at least) by the special bicycle facilities (bike paths and bike lanes) that are falsely supposed to make cycling safe for beginners.
Lawful, competent cyclists must fight to protect their rights to a safe, fast, and convenient cycling transportation system, while simultaneously fighting against the governmental policy of cyclist inferiority that is implemented with bikeways and based on the absurd prediction that 95% of cyclists must always be incompetent.
Therefore, lawful, competent cyclists must organize along four fronts to develop the methods for implementing the vehicular-cycling policy and fighting the cyclist-inferiority superstition.
The first front is education, because Cyclists Fare Best When They Act as Drivers of Vehicles. We have to increase the number of lawful, competent cyclists who both know how to ride properly and understand why lawful, competent cycling is the very best method that has been invented. That training benefits not only the individual cyclist who rides safer and better, but also those who see him and listen to him explain why this is best and how government is preventing such cycling. See Effective Cycling Training: Effective Cycling Training
Because you can't have Effective Cycling Training without instructors, the second front is training Effective Cycling Instructors. These instructors are both qualified to teach lawful, competent cycling, age graded for cyclists from ages eight to adult, but they also understand the difficulties of teaching, and learning, proper cycling in a society whose opinions of cycling are the cyclist-inferiority superstition. See Instructor Training: Instructor Training
Proper advocacy, planning and engineering for bicycle transportation cannot be understood without knowing the facts about the subject. Most people know very little about bicycle transportation. Those who believe that they are well-informed about bicycle transportation are, most probably, merely woefully misinformed. While the following is the longest part of this article, it is just an outline that presents about the minimum that one must know to understand the subject.
When consistent high-speed motoring became possible, with the first freeways and the like, and when cyclists had no political power (1940s), the motoring establishment enacted traffic laws that prohibited cyclists from using more than the right-hand margin of roads, from using roads when a path was available, and from using the new high-speed roads. The motoring establishment used the argument that these restrictions were necessary for the safety of cyclists. In actual fact, they were arguing that motorists should not have to slow down for the safety of cyclists, but there were no spokesmen for cyclists empowered to point out that truth.
The only bicycle safety education that most people ever received was that given to school children. This was created by the traffic-safety experts, who were motorists but not cyclists, and who considered only the cycling that was done by children. This "bike safety" teaching taught two things. The first, taught openly, was the cyclist-inferiority belief that the most important safety action was staying out of the way of same-direction motor traffic. This was taught to be believed, under threat of death for disobeying it. The second, taught implicitly, was that cyclists were incapable of judging the speed and distance of motor traffic. This was taught by never instructing the cyclist to look and judge the speed and distance of traffic, under the experts' theory that such skills are beyond the capacity of cyclists.
The instructions produced by these errors consisted in curb-hugging to protect oneself from same-direction motor traffic, coupled with swerving across that traffic without looking for it. Both frightening and dangerous, but with a simplistic structure that persuaded the victim that it covered the complete subject.
Quite obviously, after three generations of such instruction, practically all Americans believed the cyclist-inferiority superstition that bike-safety programs taught. The only Americans that refused to believe such instruction and that superstition were the few adult cyclists and those of their children whom they taught properly. These well-informed cyclists were far too few to affect public policy about bicycle safety.
The combination of restrictive traffic laws and cyclist-inferiority instruction satisfied the motoring establishment as long as bicycle transportation decreased, which it did from the end of WW II through the 1950s. However, when bicycle traffic increased in the 1960s, motorists worried that "their roads" would be plugged up by bicycles. The motor-minded California legislature attempted (1970-2) to bring in the Dutch-style sidepath system to get cyclists off the roads. The motoring establishment thought that they would have great public support, because they believed, as if it were one of the laws of nature that everybody knew was true, that the prime safety requirement for cyclists was staying out of the way of same-direction motor traffic. However, at this time there were cycling spokesmen able to make scientific challenges to their designs, to demonstrate how dangerous these designs are and how much safer vehicular cycling is. This was the start of the American bikeway debate. Cyclists managed to convince the government that it would be held liable for accidents caused by the most obviously dangerous designs, which were then withdrawn. However, the designs which were not so obviously dangerous were retained as the basis of the governmental bicycle transportation policy.
After the disadvantages of bikeways for cyclists were well documented, and the anti-bikeway battle looked as if it would be won, the anti-motoring, pro-bicycle organizations started supporting bikeways. They did so because, with insignificant cycling experience of their own, they believed the motorists' argument that bikeways made cycling safe, especially for beginners. They saw bikeways as the most important means of getting people out of cars.
Furthermore, they managed to present themselves as the real cyclists, the plain ordinary people who would ride instead of drive, if only it were safe to do so. To make that credible, they presented well-informed, lawful, cooperative vehicular cyclists with low accident rates as aggressive, risk-taking elitists who fought their way through traffic and thought only of preserving their right to do so, without regard for the public good.
The paradoxical result is that the American anti-cyclist bikeways policy is supported by both ends of the transportation spectrum. It is supported by militant motorists, who see it as a way to clear the roads of cyclists for the convenience of motorists. It is supported by anti-motorist bicycle advocates, as a way to reduce motoring. The only people who oppose it are cyclists, its supposed beneficiaries.
Over the thirty years that bikeways have been advocated in the USA by powerful organizations, one would think that their advocates would have produced evidence that bikeways benefit cyclists. Considering the prevalent claims that bikeways make cycling safe for beginners, the relevant evidence ought to demonstrate reductions in accident rate and/or reductions in the level of skill that is required for safe operation. It has not turned out that way.
We need to consider two types of bikeway: bicycle sidepath and bike lane, because these are the two types that can form an urban bikeway transportation system. (Other types exist, but the locations where they can be used exist so rarely that they cannot form a bikeway transportation system.)
Bicycle sidepaths (think of them as superior sidewalks) have proved so dangerous that even the US government instructs that they be used in only the few locations where their dangers are insignificant. The problem is not just pedestrians; urban sidepaths cause difficult and dangerous car-bike conflicts at every driveway and intersection. Bikeway advocates like to point to cities in Holland, Denmark, and Germany, as places where sidepath systems are prevalent and are used by many cyclists at, supposedly, low accident rates. Those nations require cyclists to use the bikeways, so there's no free choice, and they often prohibit left turns by cyclists. Those nations have installed elaborate traffic signals that hold back cyclists while cars are allowed to move, to separate the dangerous conflicting movements created by sidepath design. In short, these European sidepath designs restrict and delay cyclists because of the dangers that such designs create.
Nobody has demonstrated that sidepath systems reduce the level of skill required. At those intersections where the fully developed traffic signals exist, obeying the signals may require less than normal skill, but in those intersections where there are no signals, or only conventional signals, the traffic movements are so complicated that a far greater than normal level of traffic skill and understanding is required.
European bicycle riders put up with these systems for a mix of reasons, largely revolving around the fact that motoring in those cities is so slow and difficult. In short, bicycle use in these systems is considered to be slightly faster walking (rolling pedestrians) rather than a vehicular means of faster travel.
A bicycle lane is a lane for bicycle traffic designated by a stripe painted on the roadway. It is the stripe that creates the bike lane, not the width of the roadway. A wide outside lane is good; The width allows motorists to overtake cyclists without delay. The question is whether painting a stripe on it makes it better. Without the stripe, motorists and cyclists operate in the vehicular manner. With the stripe, they don't. Which causes fewer accidents? Which requires less skill? None of the bikeway advocating organizations has made such a study. They haven't even tried to do it. They have made claims of accident reduction, often unrealistically great, but in each case so many other factors were involved, such as roadway widening, parking removal, a general bike-safety program, and others, that it is impossible to say whether any of the supposed improvement came from painting the stripe.
As for the level of skill required, no bikeway advocate has identified any normal traffic skill that is not required for cycling on streets with a painted bike-lane stripe. Nor has anyone else. It is obvious that with a stripe, both cyclist and motorist must know not only how to obey the stripe but when to disobey the presumption of the stripe, which is an additional skill not required on normal streets.
Furthermore, no bikeway system is ubiquitous. Cyclists still have to have the skill of operating safely on the normal streets that they will have to use to complete their trips.
The above analysis applies to bike lanes on easy streets at easy locations. At other locations, bike lanes can be quite dangerous. Portland, Oregon, has painted its bike lanes in particular dangerous locations a bright blue, to inform both cyclists and motorists that these are places where great care is necessary. If Portland did not have bike lanes at those locations, the normal operation of the rules of the road would have sufficed for safe operation.
Bikeways of the practical urban type protect only against same-direction motor traffic. Advocates claim that this is highly desirable. However, these accidents constitute only about 2% of urban, daylight, car-bike collisions, and only about 0.3% of accidents to cyclists. Therefore, bikeways cannot make cycling safe, for a reduction of less than 0.5% in accidents is insignificant.
Because all the other claims for bikeways have been discredited, bikeway advocates have taken to rating streets for "bicycle suitability." This typically means having cyclists view videos of streets and traffic, and say how suitable the street is for cycling. In fact, all that this measures is the degree of fear felt by the individual cyclist, without any real connection to objective utilitarian characteristics.
In short, none of the claims that have been made for bikeways have been supported by scientific evidence. This is true for safety, for level of cycling skill, for convenience for the user, for transportational utility. This is true despite the fact that powerful organizations have advocated bikeways for thirty years, and have had numerous chances to investigate.
The scientific support for vehicular cycling comes from a variety of sources and methods of investigation, all of which provide conclusions that support the vehicular-cycling principle.
Scientific controversies are not decided by proof (which is unavailable in science), but by the weight of the evidence on each side. The only way in which proof may be used is by proving some hypothesis false. This does not mean that the other hypothesis is true, for there may be other hypotheses available. Crucial experiments may develop evidence that is highly favorable for one hypothesis, but, however good, cannot prove that it is correct. Demanding proof on either side is disobeying scientific procedure. However, bikeway advocates, even the US government, have said that there is insufficient evidence to prove the case for vehicular cycling. Of course there isn't, but that's just their way of trying to wiggle out of the fact that the evidence for vehicular cycling overwhelms that for cyclist-inferiority cycling.
True scientific controversies have some evidence supporting each hypothesis. In this case, we have the bikeway hypothesis that urban transportational bikeway systems enable beginning cyclists to ride safely and quickly. Opposite this, we have the vehicular-cycling principle that cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. The peculiar thing about this bicycle transportation controversy is that there is no scientific evidence in favor of the bikeway hypothesis, while all the evidence that exists is in favor of the vehicular-cycling hypothesis. This imbalance exists despite the fact that those in power have had thirty years to devise the tests that would support the bikeway hypothesis, and have failed to find even one.
In science, there always exists the possibility that an hypothesis may be overturned. However, in the case of the bicycle transportation controversy, given the previous experimental results, the probability that any evidence will ever be discovered to overturn the vehicular-cycling principle is vanishingly small.
The vehicular-cycling principle is practically impregnable. Yet the controversy exists.
How is it possible for the bikeway hypothesis, which never had any scientific support, to have the greatest public acceptance, while the vehicular-cycling hypothesis, which has the support of all of the scientific evidence that is available, have support only from the few well-informed cyclists? That is the bicycle transportation conundrum.
One answer is just plain ignorance. People have never heard that one should ride a bicycle according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.
Another answer is vested interest. The motorist who wants "his" roads clear of bicycles will continue to advocate what he knows to be false. But this does not explain the anti-motoring environmentalists who want the best for cyclists. Why do they insist on advocating the worst system for cyclists instead of the best system for cyclists?
The plain ignorance argument is insufficient. Were ignorance the only opposing factor, the controversy would have been over by 1977, when all this evidence became available. However, when people had the facts explained to them, they did not change their minds. Regardless of what facts people said they accepted as true, every time they thought about cycling in traffic they were frightened of same-direction motor traffic. About the only method that was discovered for changing minds from cyclist-inferiority to vehicular-cycling was successful experience of cycling in traffic. Nothing else has, as yet, been shown to work. This method of changing minds is the same method that is used for treating phobias. All in all, there is a very strong similarity between a strong case of the cyclist-inferiority belief and the equivalent phobia.
One can argue all day about whether the cyclist-inferiority phobia exists, but the fact is that persuading people to believe the entirely rational vehicular-cycling principle has turned out to be extremely difficult. Their minds just reject the vehicular-cycling principle until they have considerable successful experience that contradicts the cyclist-inferiority belief and opens their minds to rational thought about bicycle transportation.
Overcoming the cyclist-inferiority belief (whatever else it is called) is the greatest problem in bicycle transportation.
The result of the history described above is that the bikeway advocates have had political control of bicycle transportation policy ever since 1974. Because the smarter ones recognize that they do not have scientific credibility (possibly only a sort of subliminal recognition), they have switched their scientific efforts to producing pseudo-scientific but politically persuasive measurements of the fear of same-direction motor traffic.
By destroying the scientific credibility of the bikeway program, vehicular-cycling advocates have prevented the implementation of the most dangerous bikeway designs, they have converted the most thoughtful of the highway and traffic engineers, and they have greatly angered those who base their bicycle transportation policy upon a strong belief in the cyclist-inferiority superstition, but they have not been able to slow the production of bikeways. Indeed, the government is now spending at a rate much higher than ever before on this program.
Any program of advocacy of the vehicular-cycling principle must be based on the history and its resulting present situation. The contrast between the vehicular-cycling principle and the cyclist-inferiority belief, two completely opposite ways of considering bicycle transportation, based on entirely different systems of belief, directed at considerably different ends, and with government and society exercising the power to advocate the unscientific side to discriminate against those best informed and to reduce the safety and efficiency of bicycle transportation, has made the bicycle transportation controversy particularly unpleasant.
Those in power use two tactics.
These tactics practically force the advocates of the vehicular cycling principle into a particular strategy.
One can describe the above two items as the socially correct way to advocate vehicular cycling. The first way is to convince the professionals through scientific and engineering knowledge. The second way is to convince the public through education and experience. However, we vehicular cyclists do not have the luxury of operating in only the socially correct modes. That is because the bikeways advocates, with governmental power behind them, have been winning for thirty years. While we ought to win the scientific and public opinion battles, before we can use our present scientific victory and win the public opinion victory we will have lost the war. We will have been beaten by the underhanded, socially incorrect methods of the bikeway promoters. Bikeways policy will be so entrenched in both society and our infrastructure that we will be unable to eradicate it. Therefore, we must adopt tactics as effective as those of the bikeway promoters. The bikeway promoters get away with their socially incorrect tactics because the public believes in their superstition. Our tactics, since they run counter to the popular superstition, will appear to be more socially incorrect than those of the bikeway promoters. That is the price that we must pay. It is up to our skill in argumentation to reduce that price as much as possible, to make our arguments as persuasive as possible, but making strong arguments, even questioning the motives and intelligence of the bikeway advocates, is the task that we must undertake if we are to preserve vehicular cycling on any reasonable scale.
Here are additional things that vehicular cyclists must do.
One object of these psychological analyses is to show the rest of the public an accurate description of the bikeway promoters, both through our words and also through their own words and actions. Without ridicule, the general public will not understand the unscientific nature of the points being discussed. Another object is to create doubt in the minds of bikeway promoters, to start getting them to recognize that their pet theory is full of holes, to get them to start questioning each other. An undignified way to conduct a debate? Certainly, but given the ways that the bikeway promoters have chosen to conduct the debate, undoubtedly necessary.
That does not mean that we skimp on proper intellectual debate. Lawful, competent cyclists must prepare themselves to fight the government on its own intellectual turf. We must be able to state, easily, quickly, and accurately, the evidence for the vehicular-cycling principle and, on the other side, the evidence against, and the lack of evidence for, the cyclist-inferiority superstition, and to point out that the government's program benefits only motorists, by whom it was invented and promoted. We need professional-level training and certification in Bicycle Transportation Engineering, so that those so inclined can argue against the government's anti-cycling program wherever necessary.
While I said professional-level training and certification, certainly at the start it will not serve to earn money for anyone, because government won't pay people to oppose its programs. Nearly all the present valid scientific work in Bicycle Transportation Engineering has been done by amateurs, and it will remain so until government changes its policy. Changing that policy is what we must accomplish, as amateurs but operating at, more likely well above, the professional level of competence. See Bicycle Transportation Engineering Training
In some circumstances it is desirable to participate in legal actions to defend vehicular cycling. One example is when government prosecutes a cyclist for riding in the vehicular manner. Another example is when the legislative body enacts laws that prohibit cycling in the vehicular manner. Different types of case require different types of actions and skills. See Legal Defense
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