If you were a golfer, you would leap at the chance to play on a course designed by Jack Nicklaus, and take lessons from this pro. Cyclists have long learned their lessons from John Forester, by way of the Effective Cycling book, the associated course administered by the League of American Bicyclists, and the video. He is less widely known for his early and continuing efforts to develop the field of cycling transportation engineering, the topic of the book reviewed here.
John has preached the pure gospel of vehicular cycling for over 20 years. "Cyclists fare best when they act, and are treated as, drivers of vehicles." This manner of cycling is best achieved on the existing streets and roads, rather than on special facilities or bikeways. Improving facilities usually means improving the roads; by ensuring smooth, clean surfaces, wide outside lanes, no in-line grates, sensitized
traffic signals, and useful parking. Bike lanes are deemed contrary to proper cycling because they induce improper traffic behavior which can cause accidents. Separate paths can occasionally be useful in justifiable situations.
This book was written for professionals who work on cycling matters, and for the cyclists who want to properly advise and influence them. The vehicular cycling principle, on which John bases his engineering recommendations, is derived from scientifically valid evidence. But traditional engineering is only a part of this book. Most analyzes the history, law, politics, psychology, accident studies, and explanations of traffic engineering as it pertains to cycling. John explains this is necessary because the infamous cyclist
inferiority complex has dominated most of the planning. The inferiority complex and the resulting policies are construed in two parts; as society's way to keep cyclists out of the way of motorists for their convenience, and as the non-vehicular cyclists' way to keep themselves out of perceived danger from
motor vehicles. Both are satisfied when lanes and paths are constructed for bicycles. John endeavors to shift the focus of efforts and spending away from the building of these facilities toward the real issue, incompetent cyclists, who are the greatest cycling problem and hazard, and who need proper cycling training.
Bicycle Transportation is not bedtime reading. Brew a strong pot of tea before you sit down to study it. You will need it to appreciate John's frank writing style and thorough explanations. If you are not familiar with Effective Cycling, you may want to read parts of that book first. I know one cyclist who read the 1983 edition of Bicycle Transportation first, and it was quite a shock to his psyche. Reading this book will persuade you that John has been a most dedicated cycling activist for the past quarter century, striving to accomplish what is best for cyclists of all types and abilities. He never shirked from defending our rights to ride the streets and roads of the transportation system. Simultaneously he developed a comprehensive course intended to teach cyclists how to ride properly on these streets and roads.
For those who read rec.bicycles.soc on the Internet regularly, there is at least a 90% overlap of topics in this discussion group and this book, excluding the off-road issues. Having read this book would make a good prerequisite to posting. It is the ultimate cycling FAQ.
This is the short review of the book. A separate, longer review follows:
Please feel free to print and distribute copies of this
review, print all or parts in your club or advocacy
newsletter, subscription group, or other not-for-profit
publication. (Better yet, read it and write your own review.)
Just let me know where it went, or send me a copy. If you are
a for-profit publication, please contact me. I need some
Copyright, 1994 by Gordon D. Renkes.
Many thanks to Nancy Piltch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
for proofing and making suggestions on the draft of this review.
This long version summarizes the contents of the chapters.
John hits the pavement spinning by defining the two incompatible hypotheses regarding cycling transportation, the vehicular cycling principle and the cyclist-inferiority superstition. The scientifically valid evidence supports the vehicular principle, but governments and the general public accept the superstition. Hence, this book includes psychology and politics as well as engineering. The vehicular principle is "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." The cyclist-inferiority superstition says that "the roads are too dangerous for cyclists, ... therefore, ... safer facilities must be made for cyclists, so that they can ride safely to wherever they might wish to go."
Human cognitive systems, which allow us to survive and function, are learned
by experience and from others. Emotions strongly affect the learning and make
what has been learned hard to change. The phobia, a misdirected fear, is
difficult to overcome. "The standard treatment for phobias, the only one
that has worked reliably, is quite simple. It is repeated exposure to the feared
condition with successful
results, that is without the danger materializing, starting from least frightening conditions and progressing to most frightening as the treatment proceeds. Long before we cyclists knew that this was the classic treatment for phobias we had worked out that this was the only way that American adults learned to ride properly in traffic." The bikeway controversy is interpreted as the clash of the two contradictory cognitive systems. John proposes that the vehicular cycling and cyclist inferiority systems be tested by external realities such as traffic engineering, accident statistics, and city planning.
Summarizes the ups and downs of cycling use and status, mostly in the USA and the UK. US and European histories and city structure are different, which confounds the direct transfer of European practice to the US, (detailed in Ch. 14).
A brief history beginning with the Uniform Vehicle Code of 1944, which began such restrictions as the mandatory sidepath law. Topics include child bike safety programs, the bike boom, early skirmishes involving attempts to limit cyclists access to roads, CPSC regulations, accident studies by Cross and Kaplan, bicycle program specialists, the 24 studies by the FHWA (posted here during the past year), ISTEA, the 1994 FHWA bikeway manual, and the 1993 CPSC bicycle safety study. Some of these topics are elaborated in later chapters.
The statistics chapter. 20 tables; 4 figures. The conclusions based on these
accident studies are the
linchpins for the arguments in support of vehicular cycling, and against bikeways, as policy. The Cross and Fisher study, (very thorough investigations of 919 car-bike collisions), is summarized. This is the source of the low values for the much feared car-overtaking-bike collisions (3.6% of the "cyclist unseen" subtype), and the high values, ca. 95% total, for collisions at intersections and involving turning. Based on these, John hypothesizes that the "greatest cycling problem and hazard is cyclist incompetence." Road surface defects and motorist error come in second and third. Accident reduction programs should include cyclist training, intersection improvements, and lights on bikes at night.
Features of riding which we know and relish are explained to the non-rider:
distance, speed, hills, traffic,
weather, and carrying stuff.
Prosaic legalities. But those in cycling engineering and cycling advocacy
ought to know it. Topics include
registrations, fuel taxes, licensing, the two classes of drivers and pedestrians, sub-classes of drivers, right of way, the distinction between highway and roadway, and how accidents involving cyclists are slighted.
Discusses normal roads, without bike lanes or sidepaths. Usually highway
capacity and average speed is
not reduced by the presence of cyclists. In fact, some studies show it increases capacity. Intersections have the largest effect on traffic flow. Narrow 2-lane roads are discussed in detail, since these are the common circumstances where cyclists can reduce capacity and speed, although not as much as the motorists do to themselves.
Discusses abnormal roads, those with bike lanes and nearby sidepaths. It
details all the problems, added
dangers, and confusion regarding the rules of the road which these special bicycle facilities produce. Maneuvers which are affected include; car overtaking bike, bike overtaking car, cars and bikes meeting at intersections, merging maneuvers, motorists turning right and left, cyclist turning left, and freeway interchanges. Even recent AASHTO Guides have derogatory language about bike lanes. 10 figures illustrate these situations.
Discusses the situations where cars do not have an effect. Cyclist speeds are faster on streets than on lanes or paths. Cyclist speeds are strongly affected by wind and terrain, unlike motor vehicles. Comparison of traffic flow on bike paths and freeways are not valid.
The predictions are usually wrong. For example, if "safe places to ride" would really foster more riding, then we should already see that in the low-traffic-volume small cities and towns, rather than in congested cities.
John fleshes out his assertion that "...there is no substitute for cycling competence....Any system based on incompetent cyclists will be inefficient and less useful, and hence less used." After explaining proficiency and the past history of poor bike safety courses, the FHWA facilities design for the 95% of cyclists which are "inexperienced" is contrasted with proper training in vehicular cycling.
Six common erroneous arguments for bikeways are listed, such as
"Bikeways make cycling safe", and 6 more accurate statements, such as
"Bikeways do not lower the level of skill that is required for
transportational cycling." It outlines the history of the Davis and Palo
Alto, California, bikeway systems, and the "Planning and Design Criteria
for Bikeways in California". After a mandatory sidepath law was
enacted, John did his duty as Henry David Thoreau urged by riding his bicycle on the streets in Palo Alto, (effective civil disobedience?), was arrested, and convicted in traffic court. (And here we are, learning proper cycling from such a scofflaw!) The 1994 FHWA bikelane standards are critiqued
in detail. He concludes by observing that he "...knows of no bicycle coordinator who does not advocate bikeways and only a very few who operate effective cycling programs."
The Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, are used as examples of those
countries which build bikeways. Shorter distances in Europe allow slower
cycling, as on paths, to still be useful. Longer distances in the US cities
require faster cycling, which is best ridden on the main roads. Recent accident
studies in Germany show that cyclists on bikeways suffer more accidents, which
forced the government
to start rethinking its bikeway policy.
This chapter describes various types, such as clubs, activists, and lobbyists, with several stories of good and bad experiences.
Environmental activists sometimes want bad facilities for autos, and
"good facilities" for bicycles, i.e.,
bikeways. Economic arguments are also examined.
The need for headlights and good rear reflectors is obvious, i.e., to see and
be seen. Front and side
reflectors are useless. John recounts the history of the CPSC and the all-reflector system during the past quarter century, up through the recent $7M Derby judgement.
John does not like the usual "safe routes" style of bike maps. The best would be usual motoring style maps, with added information such as % grade values, prohibited roads, freeways on which cycling is permitted, location of railroad tracks.
Along with the engineering and traffic knowledge, cycling engineers must also have knowledge of psychology and physiology. Solid grounding in engineering is needed first; the less quantitative subjects can be learned later. Bikeway facilities planning has been the norm, but "Bikeways are one means of solving some cycling problems...". Good facilities programs include; "...widening outside through lanes, making signals responsive, smoothing road surfaces, fixing grates and railroad crossings, installing good signs for cycling routes, and removing "cyclists prohibited" signs."
This chapter is full of many details. For example; survey deficiencies of street surfaces, parking, intermodal access, government practices, theft problems. Encourage and help train cyclists to properly use the existing road system. Locate and build useful bikepaths.
John gives some practical advice to the cycling engineer how to work in the present system, e.g., how to do the best using appropriated money which has stipulations attached. Cyclist training work should be mixed in with the facilities work. Guidance is given how to educate the police, schools, and legislators. Two courses for cycling transportation engineering are described: one designed by John, and one by the FHWA.
Traces the development of cities and the relation to transportation modes
(walking, horses, rail, motor
vehicles). They grew larger as transportation allowed faster travel. Cycling must operate in what exists; city structures cannot be changed just to suit cyclists.
There is much confusion and inconsistency in the law enforcement community, which ranges from ignoring real violations by cyclists to harassing the lawful riders. The answer is simple; treat cyclists as drivers, who should obey the same law as auto drivers. Also discussed are bike cops, drivers license points, and youth offenders.
Widths for outside lanes are recommended. Intersections are where most
accidents and delays occur, so their design requires great care, and should draw
on past experience. Hence, the proven channelization by vehicle destination is
recommended, rather than by vehicle type (e.g., no separate left turn lanes for
cyclists). Features of traffic signals are explained, including yellow phase and
clearance time, and actuator loops. Other topics include bike lane/path
intersection features, pavement condition,
railroad crossings, sight distances, parking, bridges & tunnels.
Often touted as beneficial to cyclists, this chapter explains how it delays cyclists as it does autos, and can set up dangerous situations for cyclists (e.g., curbs which stick out, and pinched intersections).
Pertains to special bicycle facilities, i.e., bike lanes, paths, boulevards,
freeways, parking. How to design
bike lanes with the least danger to cyclists is explained for those coerced to build them. "...(T)here are only three valid functions for bicycle paths:" (sic), recreational routes, short cuts, and "protective routes to reduce the number of turning and crossing conflicts between cyclists and motorists." Correct path design and construction standards are detailed. A section about university campuses recommends that cyclists ride on the streets and walk on the sidewalks.
The chapter title sums it up. (This is probably one concept that John, Roger, Mike, Todd, Andy, FHWA, CPSC, Al Gore and Rush Limbaugh could all agree upon!)
Describes how traffic laws in California and the USA usually put unnecessary restrictions on cyclists. Future improvement can occur only if the bicycle as a special class of vehicle is removed, plus some other wording changes in the laws.
"The vehicular-cycling principle is now getting into professional
thoughts, and it will spread because it
correctly depicts objective reality. When it becomes the norm, many things will change, including the training of traffic engineers and of cyclists." Children everywhere will receive instruction, as teens do now for drivers licenses. Cycling specialists will concentrate on cycling, rather than on facilities as they do now.
Observations and advice for cycling organizations, manufacturers, and employers.
This presents a summary of the main ideas in the whole book, just as
composition teachers taught us to write. One really can read this chapter before
the rest of the book to preview the tenets.
Appendix 1. The Forester Cycling Proficiency Test.
Appendix 2. Critique of the 1975 FHWA Bikeway Report.
Appendix 3. Purposes, Policies, Programs, and Tasks of the California Association of Bicycling
Appendix 4. Racing Laws in the Uniform Vehicle Code.
Appendix 5. The Safety Report of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Definitions. 33 traffic engineering terms explained.
Very useful for cycling advocates who wish to communicate with their traffic departments.
Bibliography. 34 books, reports, government documents.
Index. 9.5 pages. Very thorough and useful.
(The Search key must be worn out.)
Please feel free to print and distribute copies, print
all or parts in your club or advocacy newsletter,
subscription group, or other not-for-profit publication.
(Better yet, read it and write your own review.) Just let
me know where it went, or send me a copy. If you are a for-
profit publication, please contact me. I need some cycling
Copyright, 1994 by Gordon D. Renkes.
This is a book for those who want change: change in their own attitudes to bicycling, and, more importantly, change in the attitude of transportation authorities. Forester is not happy with present attitudes, and his exasperation shows in his salty and hard-hitting book. He wants bicyclists to come out of the closet. No longer should they slink along the rightmost gutter of the roads and walk their machines across intersections. They should assume (almost) all the rights and the responsibilities of motor-vehicle operators. "Traffic laws apply to people, not to vehicles -- an elementary fact that traffic police officers come to ignore in their professional preoccupation with 'cars'."
Forester's book is not merely a polemic. Its thesis is backed up with persuasive data. The social history ("demography") of bicycling is reviewed to show how attitudes in this country differ sharply with those in others. Accident data are surveyed to show how far accidents occur to incexperienced and irresponsible bicyclists and how little to adults who use their machines regularly, even in heavily congested and apparently dangerous traffic conditions. Forester will get a cheer from all of us who consider ourselves responsible motorists and bicyclists when he condemns the irresponsible bike-riders, showing that the wront-way rider, for instance, is the immediate cause of a large proportion of accidents.
He is quantitative, also, and even mathematical in treating the effect of bicycles on the flow of traffic (he is strongly against bikeways for safety, traffic-flow, and economic reasons) and on bicycling economics in general. He is qualitative, in general, in his recommendations regarding transportation engineering, roads, government policy, and law enforcement, to name only a few of the chapter headings. I found myself in hearty agreement with virtually all his proposals. I wish that they could be required reading for road users of all types and for local and national government planners.
You may regard me as a biased reviewer. John Forester, the son of Hornblower's C. S. Forester, is, as I am, a native Briton who came to this country because he loved it. We also love the health and well-being that bicycling brings. We write books on bicycling that are published by the same house. We both miss the way in which bicycles were accepted and designed for in Europe and, perhaps particularly in Britain, the discipline that was both self-imposed and imposed by the police (I remember being turned back by an officer for walking my bike up a one-way street on the sidewalk!), and we would like to see some of the virtues in that system espoused here. On the other hand, there are aspects to bicycling in Britain that we would not want to see here: for instance, the blue-collar image of bicycling in Britain in contrast to the classless use of bicycles by presidents and paupers here.
I confess to bias. I like this book. I like this country. The proposals in this book could make this country a little better.
copyright, David Gordon Wilson.