Avid cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame

At the recent Toronto Bike Awards, Dr. Monica Campbell won the TCAT Active Transportation Champion of the Year. Monica worked in Toronto Public Health to put a "health lens" on transportation planning.

Monica is a leader in cycling issues but she is not an "avid cyclist". She only started cycling after BIXI Toronto launched. She has the perspective of someone who is interested in cycling but uncomfortable in heavy, fast traffic. In this way, Monica reflects an ongoing evolution of leadership in cycling infrastructure.

Who are "avid cyclists"? Here's a clue:

Some surviving avid cyclists (source), the three on left are members of the obscure but semi-powerful National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee (John Schubert, John Allen and John Ciccarelli, members of NCUTCDBTC, and New York bicycling advocate and planner Steve Faust), critiquing New York's cycling infrastructure. I don't think NYC asked the committee for permission before building those protected bike lanes. So if these guys are no longer driving the agenda, I guess that makes them backseat drivers.

Such avid cyclists—many of whom can often be seen wearing cycling-specific gear and can be heard saying phrases like "Take The Lane" and "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles"—are increasingly being surpassed by a different breed in policy circles.

The NCUTCDBTC, for their part, have approved a handful of bike symbols to be used on roads (like bike boxes that cities were building anyway) but for the most part have disapproved of the strong push for protected bike lanes and more "European" cycling infrastructure.

By the nature of their minimal-intervention philosophy that appeals to only a tiny minority of the population, the avid cycling leaders are putting themselves out of a job. Instead, it's people like this who are changing the game:

Mia Birk as Portland Bicycle Program Manager led a transformation of Portland into one of the bike-friendly cities in the United States. She's now a principal at Alta Planning & Design, a leading bicycle planning firm that also happens to operate many of the bikesharing programs that have mushroomed across North America.

And also...

Janette Sadik Khan is the current head of NYDOT who revolutionized bicycle and pedestrian planning in New York and helped to spur on a nationwide push for better bicycle infrastructure (Photo: Momentum Magazine). She also was one of the key leaders in creating a new nationwide NACTO bike planning guide for transportation planners. They had decided if they couldn't change the highway planning agencies from the inside, they'd just set up their own. There were no transportation planning guides or committees in the US that permitted protected bike lanes, so the NACTO guide is now a competing guide in North America and one which the more ambitious cities will first turn to for advice.

Sadik-Khan, seen here with former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, launching the NACTO guide.

Evolution in local leaders

Increasingly these policy makers are not the gear heads, "avid" cyclists and the road warriors - the survivors when everyone else stopped cycling. I'll happily put myself in the category of a reforming avid cyclist.

Instead the leaders are increasingly women and men who are intensely interested in making cycling (and walking) safer for their families. In Dr. Campbell's case, she had only taken up cycling when BIXI Toronto was launched. And after being hit while using BIXI, has worked to make cycling safer. The result is that Toronto Public Health is now starting to "invade" the domain of the male-dominated Transportation Services by getting them to consider safety. Duh. To the average person as well as to Public Health it doesn't make sense why this isn't already a prime concern for the engineers.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are actually a handful of female cycling planners who have also done great work in upsetting the applecart.)

I think there is a clear correlation of the increase in cycling, increase in safer cycling infrastructure and that the policy makers and leaders are increasingly women. And the avid cyclists/road warriors are making themselves extinct.

Corrections: Sadik-Khan is the soon to be the former head of NYCDOT. In the top photo only the left three are committee members. I made the source of the top photo more explicit and added the names of the people in the photo, instead of just linking "avid cyclists" to the source. And yes, not all avid cyclists have new bike gear, just the majority. I've removed this line "I don't imagine she's got the gear: no special shoes, padded shorts, stretchy fabric." because I think it's just a distraction from my message.


You seem to be suggesting (that's how it reads to me, anyway) that the 'avid' gearhheads and the 'normal' (-looking) people intererested in making cycling safer are two separate, distinct groups of people.

And yet you place yourself, as a reforming avid cyclist, somewhere between the two, which already blurs the boundaries a bit and suggests they might not be all that firm.

I'm now going to blur the boundaries a bit further. In the summer, I pootle round town in normal clothes and without a helmet or any other strange personal protective equipment or visibility aids. A person on a bike, just like everybody else. But when most people hang their bikes up for the winter, I morph into an 'avid cyclist'. Having some 'gear' (even cheap stuff like thermal socks!) and being willing to use overspecc'ed roads made for cars is the only way for me to keep cycling (that isn't universally true for urban cycling, but the city I live in has a huge, empty rural hinterland that I sometimes need to cut through just to get from one suburb to another.)

On Saturday, the organizer of an event I attended made a special announcement that I had arrived by bike and would be cycling home. So I was type-cast as a cyclist and not a person on a bike from the get-go. As I was rooting out my hat and gloves and getting ready to hit the road, all the people who were going to be driving home asked me how I was going to cope on my bike. As an 'avid' cyclist, I was able to list solutions I was using to surmount the specific barriers to cycling they mentioned:

Isn’t it very dark out here? (Yes, look at my front light lighting up the road nicely.)

Isn’t it cold and snowy? (Yes, I'm layered up, and my peaked cap will keep the worst of the snow off my glasses.)

Isn’t there a good chance the roads will be icy? (Yes, I’ve got wide studded tyres.)

Isn’t your route a bit hilly? (Yes, I’ll use my gears and take my time going up – no point overheating on climbs and getting chilled on descents – and then I'll use the B22 trunk road to get down off the plateau. That’s only got a 5% gradient, and it’s an easy descent at night: it’s wide and it has a good surface, reflective edge markings and tonnes of reflectors on the bends. And a snowplough will have been through and put down salt.)

Interestingly, NOBODY mentioned “traffic” as a potential problem, and I was actually very glad that I could take advantage of the sort of overspecc’ed, forgiving, idiot-proof environment that is provided for motor traffic in my part of the world. Wide roads, good sightlines, wide bends, gentle gradients achieved with industrial quanitities of dynamite, loads of reflectors, good road markings, large and clear direction signs and warning signs, snow clearing and salt ...I don't share with cars because it's fun, but because the cars seem to get all the forgiving safety features that I find reassuring on a dark night.

It seems people have picked up more on the "gear" part than the overall impression I'm trying to create of the difference between "avid cyclists" and the rest of us (I've gotten feedback by email and twitter as well). With that in mind I've removed this line: "I don't imagine she's got the gear: no special shoes, padded shorts, stretchy fabric" when talking about Dr. Monica Campbell. It's not the most important feature even though it is often quite a good indicator of knowing who is a survivor or avid cyclist.

You're right, Sarah, that there aren't two clearly defined groups. But I think it becomes clearer when we look at how our culture is constantly reinforcing the idea that there is a special species of people called cyclists and that these people love to mix it up in traffic. And our culture reinforces that cycling requires special gear and special clothes and that it is for recreation only.

And the people who self-identify as avid cyclists help reinforce this illusion. The vehicular cyclists (a sub-category) are even stranger to the greater culture because they claim that cyclists should only be mixing it up in traffic, no matter the road. Just imagine your mother or your child riding like this. For someone who has taught cycling training courses, I think this is absolutely crazy.

Those people who want to use a bike to get between home and work/school/shop are largely invisible. That is slowly starting to change.

As more people start using bikesharing and we start seeing more protected bike lanes, more and more people who previously would never have taken extra effort to bike, have started trying it out. And enjoying it.

And I tried to emphasize that the new leaders are more ambitious. They want to reshape our streets away from car fetishism and towards people. And this requires separation on many streets I think we can conclude from the available evidence. And I'm convinced we'll see much better improvements by focusing on these big changes rather than focusing on micro adjustments to signage or paint.

Unlike older, grassroots leaders new "leaders" are typically political appointees whose professional success and career advancement, are ultimately tied to what is politically expedient to those (mayors, city managers, etc.) who appointed them. And presently, lavish technological fixes that create separate infrastructure for essentially a social issue is where the money and political expediency are ... Just one question then: When was the debate between "We Are Traffic" and "Separate Bike Lanes" settled?

My new year's resolution is to see ALL cyclists as good cyclists (even the "bad" ones!) Just as I try to avoid being caught up in fruitless victim-blaming discussions (hi-viz, helmets, headphones) that detract from the pressing need to reshape our cities and our thinking, I also want to be more careful in future to avoid being caught up in discussions about the "right" and and "wrong" kinds of cycling, bikes, gear, clothes and so on. From now on, I am going to actively try and see even the cyclists (and cycle campaigners!) who I personally think are "doing it wrong" as much more likely to be part of the solution than part of the problem.

Different kinds of cycling make sense in different contexts - transport/leisure, day/night, summer/winter. Even on one and the same street and for one and the same cyclist, two completely different sets of infrastructure solutions might be ideal: on steep hills in suburban areas, I often like to see vehicular cycling on the downhill side, where all cyclists can keep up with traffic effortlessly if the speed limit is appropriate, and wide cycle lanes on the uphill side. If there's space, I wouldn't mind seeing good separate cycling facilities on both sides. But if space is tight, I would think much more about providing generously for the uphill cyclists - more likely to be wobbling, more likely all to be going at different speeds and to want to overtake each other, more likely to all be going much more slowly than the cars, some probably on bikes with batteries and others not. So I would try and give those uphill cyclists maximum protection by mixing the downhill cyclists with traffic in a narrower space (and warning motor traffic to look out for cyclists at that point.)

I suppose that makes me at least a (semi-?) vehicular cyclist. I can definitely envisage mixing eight year olds and grandads with traffic (under very particular circumstances: the traffic has to take its duty of care towards vulnerable road users very seriously, and that calls for a particular legislative environment and for good enforcement.) I don't want people on bikes to speed up and adapt their cycling to traffic. I want the traffic to adapt to people on bikes and slow down. So I share your basic appetite for change even though we might prioritize different changes.

I think the 1% - that is the cyclist that rides regardless of adverse weather, infrastructure, or daylight - has helped establish and maintain the relevance of cycling, while leading the charge to improve conditions for biking. I'd argue that they're still there, and as others join the mix, I hope cycling advocacy is simply going through a process of distillation instead of serving to make it's foundational elements obscure.

Considering the potential to get up to 30% of a population in the saddle, it is reasonable to expect that as public policy starts to tilt in the interests of cycling, infrastructure and policy will trend toward being more inclusive and safe. This is all good of course, but we will need to continue expanding the frontiers of cycling, and I don't see anemic lip biters pushing those boundaries.

I understand the need to not be timid in traffic, but the less cyclists are in mo0torized traffic the better. The vehicular cycling philosophy works fine-until it doesn't. One simple question can decide the fate of vehicular cycling; how many cyclists are killed in accidents that don't involve motor vehicles?

Is it worth reminding people that in the Netherlands they are more than happy to mix bikes and cars where two important criteria are met.

a) Speeds are low - ie under 30kph or 20mph.
b) Traffic is NOT busy - under 2000 PCU* per day.

This is achieved on residential roads or in urban centres through measures like "filtered permeability" (blocking "through routes" to cars so they're access only), tightening turns, lowering limits, etc.

Then these roads are far less intimidating for cyclists.

Of course some routes need to be faster and busier, so that is where you ALWAYS need physically separated space for cycling (whatever the "Avid Cyclists" think).

And there is always space if you make it a priority to have space. I wonder if Sarah is happy for ten-year-old kids to ride side-by-side with double-decker-buses and lorries where they can "keep-up" on the downhill, or does she think cycling is just for a minority which conveniently includes her?

Personally I tolerate mixing with the drivers and have done for years, but now I find myself trying to get my kids from A to B (either on my bike or on their own) and I find I understand the mindset of the less confident or more vulnerable cyclist far better.

*What's a PCU? A car is 1, a motorbike is 0.5, etc

I think Herb has raised an important issue in an unfortunate way.

"Old experienced white guys playing fast and loose with your safety versus hip, female neophytes who are safety-conscious" may read well, but it is certainly reductive. Pointing to female cycling planners and claiming they have some special insight or “safer” approach is no more sensible than pointing to the existing male cycling planners in other parts of the world that are progressive about cycling and saying that it has something to do with the fact they are men. It’s a factor, but the far more relevant one is experience. This may have been Herb’s main point, but it was needlessly obscured by discussion of gender and clothing.

It is also a mistake to portray this as a safety issue. The vehicular cycling movement arose in the US, driven by advocates such as John Forester, and it was a response to a cycling environment bereft of what is now standard cycling infrastructure (lanes, separated or otherwise). Vehicular cycling is all about safety, so the dichotomy you have presented is false. It is of course safer to ride in a separated lane, but that doesn’t mean that vehicular cycling is somehow divorced from safety concerns.

This is another example of a policy position that divides us and makes it harder to achieve positive change. Separated bike lanes are good for the novice, and thus good for cycling, as we want more novices considering cycling as an option. But it is not appropriate for every part of the city, and it is best in denser downtown areas. I don’t envisage separated bike lanes running up Keele any time soon.

By focusing on novice/expert distinctions we forget about for example long-trip bike commuters that need a wider range of infrastructure than separated lanes as separated lanes cannot cover their whole trip. We forget about multi-seasonal riders that need to ride on clear roads so prefer main arteries where there are no separated lanes. We forget about off-peak riders who can ride on main arteries more safely as traffic density is lower, etc, etc.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that novices will not ride in large numbers without more separated lanes, and I encourage their construction. We will always need SOME separated infrastructure. And there may be parts of the city where this kind of infrastructure should dominate.

But framing the issue in terms of novices and experts and letting that dominate the discussion is just as reductive and counterproductive as the exclusive focus on minimal infrastructure and experienced riders.

The immediate reaction here from posters that rejected this dichotomy should be sufficient to indicate that this is a limited approach. I’m a vehicular cyclist (sometimes), a trail, lane and path user (sometimes), a commuter and casual rider, a motorist and a father. I want my kids to have safe options, and I want them to know how to ride with cars one day too. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

To keep this post short I have posted a longer and more involved discussion of this issue on my blog:




I'm one of the people in the photo, in the back, wearing blue jeans. Would you give my opinions more respect if I got a sex change operation, a face lift and a dark-haired wig?

It was about 35 degrees on a December day, and so we were dressed to spend an entire day outdoors, riding (at an average of 6 mph) in New York's cycle tracks. Yeah, we don't look as cute as the people in your other photos, but we were there to get work done, not to make a fashion statement.

Also worth noting: the four of us in the photo hold very divergent opinions about bicycle facility design. Your desire to peg us with a stereotype doesn't make the stereotype true. My own opinions are shared by many attractive younger women.

But really, all this innuendo about what demographic has what beliefs is a poor substitute for what you should be focusing on. To wit:
-- Safe movements produce safe cycling.
-- Bicyclists should be visible and predictable. That makes them safe.
-- Facilities and signage should reinforce, not undermine, safe movements.
-- Many popular facility designs do undermine safe movements. (Example: the right-hook crushing fatal collision. Seven such fatalities so far this year in Copenhagen.)
-- The use of the word "protected," although common, is fraudulent. "Protected" bike lanes and cycle tracks only serve to hide the collision participants from each other until the moment of impact.
-- Believe it or not, we do understand your animus towards John Forester. He made safe cycling into a difficult achievement, with plenty of anger and vitriol. But times change, and safe cycling has been transformed in a very positive way. Visit cyclingsavvy.org for a glimpse.

That's putting words in my mouth, Ian, so maybe I should be clearer.

There is definitely something to the gender divide. For decades it's been dominated by men (including the bike committee I mentioned above) that is only now slowly being overcome. It's not about being "hip" or young.

Dr. Lusk pointed this out too:

Lusk’s research also suggests the lack of gender balance in the engineering profession may have contributed to the resistance to protected bike infrastructure. Researchers found that in 1991 and 1999, AASHTO’s Bikeway Planning Criteria and Guidelines were written by a committee made up of 91 and 97 percent men, respectively.

And it's not about being "neophytes". The new leaders are smart, educated and good with their research and planning. It's no longer about being skilled cyclists (which seems to be a major component of the vehicular approach to planning).

I've done the whole vehicular cycling bit. I've been a CAN-BIKE instructor for years but I've always been quite sceptical of the whole ideology behind it. Even though there are many good elements, it still has behind it a whole individualistic, man-versus-the-elements fetish. And this ideology has done little other than determine its own extinction. Few people want to join this exclusive club. And those who aren't good enough are simply encouraged to stop cycling.

It's like sexism, just because there are men who are enlightened doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.


Putting words in your mouth implies that I’m doing violence to your intended meaning, but you made this about “hip” and “young” when you said things like,

“Some surviving avid cyclists” and “the survivors when everyone else stopped cycling”, repeatedly in the post.

There is a picture of three cycling advocates with grey beards for heaven’s sake. You could easily have found a photo of a younger vehicular cycling advocate for example, you chose this. And you chose two of what appear to be promotional photos for the women mentioned in the post.

Context means a lot.

I have also suggested that you are portraying this as a neophytes versus experienced cyclists issue.

Since you don’t want to admit this, here are your words:

“She only started cycling after BIXI Toronto launched.”

“In Dr. Campbell's case, she had only taken up cycling when BIXI Toronto was launched”

This point, repeated twice in the post, and a lack of any sort of discussion about the backgrounds of the other advocates mentioned in the post would suggest that you are framing this issue in precisely the way I claimed.

In your response post you also said this,

“The new leaders are smart, educated and good with their research and planning. It's no longer about being skilled cyclists”

So I maintain you are presenting this as an issue of neophytes versus experienced cyclists, as I said above, unless you have some convoluted argument as to why "skilled" in this context is somehow unrelated to experience.

As for the gender issue, of course it matters, and I said exactly that in my post,

“It’s a factor, but the far more relevant one is experience.”

You want to set me up here as dismissive of gender issues in all cases as I question their relevance in one case.

I also brought up a relevant objection, if gender is the determinant factor (as you want to claim it is with respect to safety issues) then you need to account for the fact that other places that develop safer infrastructure are not dominated by women as you claim cycling advocacy here is dominated by men.

This comment,

“It's like sexism, just because there are men who are enlightened doesn't mean that it doesn't exist” just shows that you don’t really understand the problem.

The presence of “enlightened” men in European cycling planning doesn’t change the fact there can be “unenlightened” men here involved in the process. But that wasn’t the point of my claim. I was suggesting that the presence of “enlightened” men involved in cycle planning shows that it is not a gender based issue. Enlightenment does not have to come from gender, it can come from many different places. Of course being male can contribute to some of this, aggressive, competitive behavior is certainly part of male culture, but without more than a simple correlation (more men involved in planning) you are engaged in wishful thinking, not argument.

Your quote from Dr. Lusk is of course suggestive, and I’m not closed to the possibility that gender is a factor. But you gloss over the fact that Dr. Lusk’s study did not rule out any other possible explanations for these differences. Were the more than 90% of men that were on these committees all the same race, class, occupation, age, social background, religion, etc.? What Dr. Lusk has found is a correlation, not a cause, unless you think that gender is the ONLY factor involved.

Just for interest's sake, why not check out one of the new advocates of "vehicular cycling" from the cyclingsavvy link given above:


There a female cycling advocate (Keri Caffrey) discusses "right hooks" and her philosophy, "My mission in the cycling world is to empower individual cyclists to ride with confidence and realize unhindered access to the transportation grid."

Hmm, a wolf amongst the sheep? A vehicular cycling advocate and a woman? Impossible!

I think the real issue here is multi-modal cycling infrastructure, and the need to acknowledge that there will always be cycling outside of this infrastructure, and thus that some combination of separated infrastructure and vehicular cycling is necessary to make this all work. A discussion of gender is of course relevant, but not the focus of this sort of problem.




I'm sure in my haste I haven't taken into account all the nuances of your argument. So little time so much internet. So please bear with me.

I chose the photos primarily because they are all cycling policy leaders and represent for me two ideologies. There is a trend of decreasing power for those who are primarily "vehicular cycling" advocates (with some diversity). And at the same time there's an increasing power for a group that ascribes more to the European type of planning. For instance, the power of the NCUTCDBTC seems to be waning as big cities look more towards NACTO.

The latter camp has more women (though also many men such as those in the last photo).

Since this isn't an academic paper I can't prove that there's a causal link between that trend and an increase in women as key cycling policy makers, but since it's just a lowly blog I don't need to prove anything. I can just point out some interesting trends and stoke some fires.

I don't think I've said anywhere that gender is the only determinant. I've mentioned ideology for instance. And I would agree with you that experience is also a factor (such as whether they've been exposed to northern European cycling infrastructure).

I also don't think we need to show that European planning has many women in order to backup my point. The trend here can be driven by more women (and enlightened men as you point out) independent of Europe, even if they're influenced by what is done there. Though from the videos I've seen talking with Dutch planners there does seem to be more of a balance of women and men.

I'm aware of Keri and of Cycling Savvy. No one seems to be against education, but Cycling Savvy is against most physical interventions in the environment. In a way says ideology to me.

Again, I don't see how this disproves any general trend. If anything, it brings to my mind another possible correlation. I've noticed that vehicular cyclists seem to be concentrated in suburbs and in North American cities that have particularly low cycling rates, next to no cycling infrastructure and car-dominated sprawl. Again, it doesn't mean places like New York or Toronto doesn't have vehicular advocates (I've met them here) but that places like southern Florida seem to be fertile breeding grounds. Fertile in the sense that of the very tiny fragment of remaining cyclists tend to be vehicular types and are the "survivors" (old or not).

I said:

The new leaders are smart, educated and good with their research and planning. It's no longer about being skilled cyclists

You said:

So I maintain you are presenting this as an issue of neophytes versus experienced cyclists, as I said above, unless you have some convoluted argument as to why "skilled" in this context is somehow unrelated to experience.

Sadik-Khan has probably done a much better job than Lance Armstrong ever could of making cycling safer in New York.

When we hire people to be good planners of cycling infrastructure, we should not look at their skillfulness using a bike. Instead they need to be good at planning first and foremost. So they're experienced planners or researchers even if they're not the best cyclists out there. This is my response to vehicular cyclists who I've heard claiming the opposite (not saying you are though).

This kind of blog post is why I rarely come here any more.

Herb, if you propose to read a whole class of people out of the movement to improve access to cycling, I think you do have a pretty high burden of proof. And yes, I think that unless you can meet that burden, you shouldn't do it. And in this case, I don't think you have come close.

Getting infrastructure for cyclists means overcoming a huge amount of political inertia, and it can't just happen in the middle of the city. You can't have one transportation system for one part of the city and another for other parts. That just leads to congestion. You can't tell someone who lives in East York and works at Richmond and University that they have the right to drive, just not downtown. If cycling only works for inner city residents and those who live close to a cycling corridor then cycle commuting only works only for a paltry two or three percent. If we don't have anything to offer suburban commuters, whatever their gender or age, then we won't get the majority of residents, or voters, to cycle and support cycling. We won't get infrastructure built and more important, we won't get it protected.

We need everyone's participation: men women, children, suburbanites, inner city dwellers, homeowners, renters, commuters, people who work from home, commuting cyclists, transit riders who bike to the store, people who have given up their cars and people who, for vocational or family reasons, can't. It only makes sense to read people out of the movement if they disrupt it by insisting that they have the only one true way to cycle, or if they try to divide us.

John G. Spragge
Mariner, cyclist, pilot

It's ironic that most of the people who read my blog are those most passionate about cycling. I haven't changed my mind about my main thesis but having this discussion is helpful in me articulating it more clearly, or even changing my mind on some things (heaven forbid!). Though I'm sure that the tempest in this teapot will continue to the ignorance of the wider society.

John said:

It only makes sense to read people out of the movement if they disrupt it by insisting that they have the only one true way to cycle, or if they try to divide us.

That's my main point. The "vehicularists" (a sub-group of avid cyclists that clings strongly to vehicularism) have been in control of key agencies and have been an anchor holding back the implementation of good cycling infrastructure. It's not a stretch at all to identify many of them as disruptive and arrogant (at least those most similar to John Forester).

Though I think there is still a strong argument to be made that there is a strong focus in North America on "avid cyclists" as if cycling can only be done by a particular sub-species of human (maybe those with little regard for their own survival?). Having been someone who loves cycling regardless of the conditions, I can identify as an avid cyclist. But I am also keenly aware that dressing up for the part and taking to the mean streets of Toronto actually turns off most people rather than makes them think that they can also do that.

So instead of focusing on the avid cyclists (or allowing avid cyclists to shape policy), we have much more success if we focus on the next group: those interested in cycling but too scared or uncomfortable. They're a much bigger group.

I ended up using the term "avid cyclists" based on this blog post "Down with avid cyclists":

As if it wasn’t enough that we scare people away from cycling with our exclusively car-oriented infrastructure and even a socially constructed fear of cycling, we also do it by marginalizing cycling as something done only by the kind of people who cycle.

The author Druker is talking mainly about the language we use, but I thought it a useful term to apply to a class of people who probably self-identify as "avid cyclists" and the sub-class of that group who are the "vehicularists".

Herb, I disagree with you on two heads, and agree with you on two others:

1) Having a different point of view does not make anyone disruptive.

As someone who has fought hard, and will continue to fight, for cycling infrastructure, I appreciate vehicular cyclists at their most annoying, when they make themselves very awkward for me by insisting that taking the lane makes more sense than using unsafe infrastructure. I believe that even relatively poor infrastructure has a role to play in getting more people out on the roads. And I see the lousy infrastructure we settle for all the time: a disconnected cycling network with bike lanes that peter out, gaps in the lanes in front of every storefront with an aroused BIA, bikeways that meander and come to an abrupt end wherever extending them would require actual investment, cycle paths that wind through trees leaving cyclists profoundly vulnerable to predators, cycle infrastructure that dumps us on the wrong side of high speed roads with no way to cross. If you can think of a way to implement cycling infrastructure badly, you can probably find an example of it in Toronto. If we don't hold the feet of the planners and the engineers and the politicians in the fire, they won't spend the money or the political capital to do it right. And if we don't have vehicular cyclists nagging us that no, building cycle lanes in the door zone doesn't really make us any safer, no, cycle paths in the side of the road with no safe way to cross major intersections don't make us safer, no that cycle path that dumps us onto the wrong side of a high speed road doesn't solve the problem, then who will?

2) It simply makes sense for cyclists to wear safety gear and improve our skills.

Period. I don't get the conviction that somehow people who ride bicycles don't need to wear head protection and shouldn't strive to cycle as well and as safely as possible. There are few things in this or any city more worth doing or more pleasant than getting on a bike. Taking sensible precautions, to make sure other road users can see you, to keep yourself safe from one of the most common and devastating injuries, concussion, does not take away from that feeling. And one of the distinct pleasures of cycling for me has always come from feeling and seeing my confidence and competence growing.

3) We need to welcome more cyclists

Every cyclist, vehicular, infrastructure, or in between, ought to welcome and invite people to the cycling world. Every additional person who gets on a bike whether to tootle to a local neighbourhood shop or just ride around the park makes us all safer. We need to welcome everyone. But again, that means everyone. The spandex road warrior doing a training century, too. The cyclist who rides a 20km commute every day. And it doesn't do to stop with the first welcome. Every increment counts. When someone who doesn't think of themselves as a "cyclist", avid or otherwise, gets into the saddle and rides around the park, celebrate. When someone who just rides in the neighbourhood in the day goes out to a store several blocks away, celebrate. When someone who just does errands starts riding to work, celebrate. When someone who used to panic at the thought of riding at night puts lights on their bike, celebrate.We don't just need to welcome everyone: need to welcome everyone's progress as a cyclist.

4) We need infrastructure standards.

No question about it. But again, we need to get engineers and politicians to build to those standards, even when it costs money, even when they have to hold the hand of a merchant panicked about losing business to a big box and not making rent or payroll. That means we need everyone. A standard telling engineers not to build bike lanes in the "door zone" works a whole lot better with a group of cyclists who won't settle for any paint at all on the roads-- who will make themselves unpopular by insisting that cyclists will enjoy more safety if we take the lane than if we ride in clearly unsafe substandard gutter lanes.

John G. Spragge
Mariner, cyclist, pilot


Thanks for the reply.

On the subject of gender in all of this, you wrote,

"Since this isn't an academic paper I can't prove that there's a causal link between that trend and an increase in women as key cycling policy makers, but since it's just a lowly blog I don't need to prove anything. I can just point out some interesting trends and stoke some fires."

Well, good enough then, I can't argue if you are going to set aside standards of evidence just to stoke some fires. I will remember this the next time you ask someone if they have more than anecdotal evidence for a claim though.

It works both ways, yes?

On the subject of experience, you wrote,

"When we hire people to be good planners of cycling infrastructure, we should not look at their skillfulness using a bike. "

I'm getting the problem here now. We actually agree on the definition of neophyte, but you thought I was using it in a much more inclusive sense.

I think you are being unduely narrow here. Having cycling experience need not be the primary criteria for hiring a cycling planner, but surely it would be welcome and helpful. Mia Birk, according to her web page, was an experienced cyclist before becoming a planner. And any planner that has no cycling experience would surely have to consult and take advice from those who do? I think the only thing you want to rule out is hiring someone with no planning experience but lots of cycling experience.

I think Locutas has hit on two important points, one of which I also made:

"If we don't have anything to offer suburban commuters, whatever their gender or age, then we won't get the majority of residents, or voters, to cycle and support cycling. We won't get infrastructure built and more important, we won't get it protected."

I agree. By focusing on short trip downtown users we are missing out on a potentially huge group of daily commuters that have seen their commute increase to an average of 40 minutes each way. Pretty much by definition the majority of Toronto is outside the downtown core, and expecting fully separated cycling infrastructure over this entire area is both unrealistic and unnecessary. Focusing on one kind of rider and one kind of ride is divisive and ultimately will not do enough to generate the critical mass needed to make city wide cycling a realizable goal.

I think Locutas is also right when he writes:

" I appreciate vehicular cyclists at their most annoying, when they make themselves very awkward for me by insisting that taking the lane makes more sense than using unsafe infrastructure"

The thing I dislike the most about this discussion is that any sort of questioning of cycling infrastructure safety is taken as heretical as we get so little of it and it is so hard fought. I appreciate the sentiment but I disagree with the result. Cyclist safety is paramount, and thus we need to have frank and honest discussions of safety issues.

I think that this issue is best addressed through inclusiveness. Vehicular cycling, or current variants thereof, is an end point. Put in another way, cycling infrastructure will always lag cycling scope. Until the whole city is spiderwebbed from Steeles to the waterfront, from the Humber to the Don, with protected bike lanes you will always have to ride with cars for some of your trip. This means that relying on protected infrastructure as the main cycling option will severely curtail expansion of cycling in the city.

I think that new cyclists should by all means rely on protected infrastructure where it is available, but for the greatest flexibility learning to ride in traffic a must. A vehicular cyclist can still use a protected lane, but a novice is restricted to that lane.