John Forester is a "cycling transportation engineer" and the father of "vehicular cycling", the concept that cyclists are safest when they behave as a vehicle. Vehicular proponents tend to be vehemently against most bicycle infrastructure - bike lanes and paths - as opposed to the "facilitators" who are in favour of special infrastructure for cyclists.
Most people likely don't identify with either view since they don't see them as being mutually exclusive: cyclists need to learn some skill as well as be given infrastructure to make them feel more comfortable and safer on the road. Forester, however, takes an extremely negative view to any special favours for cyclists. It's interesting that Forester calls himself a cycling transportation engineer yet seems to never propose any actual unique cycling infrastructure. (It strikes us as similar to laissez-faire government - governing by not governing).
Darren of Toronto Cranks and I will be exploring Forester and his views over a few blog posts. We'll look at some of his central views such as:
- "cyclists fare best when they behave like regular traffic"
- the belief that education alone is needed
- no special treatment should be given to cyclists
James (not verified)
Forester out of lineThu, 04/08/2010 - 23:54
Forester has done countless damage to the cycling cause. He has become irrelevant in the 21st century, and very few people still back his extreme views on cycling. His arguments against all cycling infrastructure lack any depth and its common for him to utter complete nonsense.
Even the strongest proponent of vehicular cycling that I have ever met is more reasonable than Forester himself (Mighk Wilson of Orlando Florida).
I posted an article on Forester in February  and I also interviewed the vehicular cycling proponent Mighk Wilson. I would love to hear more discussions here in Toronto about Forester's position.
My biggest problem with 100% vehicular cycling is that it doesn't provide a safe way for cyclists to bypass the traffic congestion in our car-clogged cities. A bike lane lets a cyclist bypass the congestion in the same way a carpool lane lets a high(er) occupancy vehicle bypass single occupany vehicles.. much like a bus lane lets a bus bypass traffic congestion.
The other issue I have with vehicular cycling is that people feel safer when they don't have cars whizzing by them in close range. Better infrastructure helps bring more cyclists out.
To hear Forester talk about cycling in the Netherlands is all you need to hear to know that he has almost completely lost his mind...
James (not verified)
LinkThu, 04/08/2010 - 23:55
Oh, and here is the link to the article I posted about Mr. Forester in case you are interested: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2010/02/bike-lanes-motorist-invention.html
danc (not verified)
How about getting the basics first ...Fri, 04/09/2010 - 00:13
"Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles".
"There is much more to the vehicular-cycling principle than only obeying the traffic laws for drivers. The vehicular-style cyclist not only acts outwardly like a driver, he knows inwardly that he is one. Instead of feeling like a trespasser on roads owned by cars he feels like just another driver with a slightly different vehicle, one who is participating and cooperation in the organized mutual effort to get to desired destinations with the least trouble". (Forester, Bicycle Transportation Engineering, 1994, p. 3).
Vehicular cycling experts—such as John Forester, —advocate for the operation of pedal powered vehicles (including bicycles) in traffic according to the principles of vehicle operation (i.e., driving). Some VC advocates feel that, in addition to the safety and efficiency benefits, cyclists should operate vehicularly to increase societal acceptance and to directly challenge the government's sanctioning of priority for motorists.
Opponents often object to vehicular cycling as overlooking the needs and interests of the majority who feel that, since motorists effectively already have areas of priority (travel lanes and freeways), cyclists deserve their own priority areas (such as cycle lanes and tracks).
RANTWICK (not verified)
+1 for MighkFri, 04/09/2010 - 01:03
Hey, I've read a ton of stuff about vehicular cycling and have become a pretty vehicular cyclist myself over the past few years. Mighk Wilson is a way better example and advocate for VC stuff, as is Keri Caffrey of Commute Orlando.
Neither of them fall into the stupidity of absolutes, but they both make extraordinarily strong and thoughtful cases for riding in the street and questioning the "safety" provided by a lot of the bike infrastructure that is so popular these days.
I have zero interest in arguing with anyone about the merits of one way or another. These people make alot of sense to me. That said, advocate for whatever you want... I know how I'll ride regardless.
4 Season Cyclist (not verified)
John Forester, Vehicular CyclingFri, 04/09/2010 - 01:19
If not vehicular cycling then what? Ride inches from the curb? Ride on the sidewalk? Wait for bike lanes to go everywhere?
John Forester has done enormous good when it comes to promoting and developing best practices for transportation cycling. The fact remains that bicycle infrastructure is unlikely to ever expand enough to get us everywhere we need to go without mixing with (other) traffic. Many or most transportation cyclists need to be able to travel with motorized traffic, often including on arterial roads.
To look at a successful Canadian program developed from, though not identical to, John Forester's work you need look no further than CAN-BIKE. Much of CAN-BIKE's technique for staying safe while mixing with traffic, including claiming and protecting maneuvering space as needed for your own safety, staying visible to and communicating with other road users, and staying out of trouble by being predictable is either taken from or based on Forester's work.
Cyclists who learn and consistently practice vehicular cycling are much safer than those who take the subordinate cyclist approach, or who just fly by the seat of their pants, and in fact experienced vehicular cyclists are safer overall than if driving in an automobile. This is one big reason why Canadian police bicycle patrols, including that of the Toronto Police Service, use CAN-BIKE as the basis of their own training.
This is not to say that bicycle infrastructure has no value. One great value of really well designed bicycle infrastructure is encouraging people new to transportation cycling to give it a try. Another could be to provide safer travel past choke points and major obstacles like controlled access highways. However "separate but equal" doesn't have a good history of leading to equality in any field. Every piece of cycling infrastructure introduces it's own safety issues. And until it goes everywhere it can never be more than a partial solution.
I don't agree with all John Forester's positions. I don't believe a shoulder check that includes making eye contact with a motorist is sufficient substitute for a proper hand signal for example, though Forester has suggested this. Perhaps the motorist will interpret it as "OK he sees me, so I can proceed" and stomp on the gas. Much better to follow it up with a signal, then check again to make sure he "gets it", then make your move smartly.
Here's an example of an encounter with an ignorant motorist - really typical behaviour from a certain subset of bullying motorists - that seems more dangerous than it is, and why I believe taking the lane (in the case of a narrow lane) is safer than hugging the curb, despite this behaviour.
Share the Road, Share the Planet!
James (not verified)
Vehicular cyclingFri, 04/09/2010 - 09:27
I don't think anybody is saying vehicular cycling skills aren't useful. They are definitely useful, and they probably always will be (especially here in North America).
The issue I have with Forester's position is that he is completely against all forms of bicycle infrastructure, which is short-sighted and naive.
Forester knows vehicular cycling better than most people in the world, but when it comes to infrastructure I think he's just stubborn and unwilling to change his position after so many years of sticking to his guns.
Anonymous (not verified)
Vehicular cyclingFri, 04/09/2010 - 10:23
I took the CAN Bike course some 15 years ago. I've been commuting by bicycle for 3/4 of the year for the last 15 years. I would consider myself a vehicular cyclists and agree with one of the above posters that I feel very safe riding as a vehicular cyclist. HOWEVER, I am a vehicular cyclist out of necessity, not choice. Given the option, I will take a bike lane or cycle path over vehicular cycling every time. Indeed, I do not hesitate to detour, as long as its not too great a distance, in order to travel on a bike lane or cycle path. Also, if there was comprehensive cycling infrastructure in Toronto, I would probably become a year round cyclist. So as good as vehicular cycling training is, cycling infrastructure is better IMHO/experience.
dngm (not verified)
Hats off to youFri, 04/09/2010 - 14:00
I suspect that if Mr Forester truly believed that vehicular cycling was all that was required to cycle safely then he wouldn't be wearing that helmet.
Martin Reis (not verified)
Great WayFri, 04/09/2010 - 16:56
Great way to get yourself killed.
Keeper of the LaneSat, 04/10/2010 - 00:38
Vehicular cycling is great, but I am concerned that Forrester overlooks the value of growth. Raising the number of cyclists on the road will make us ultimately more safe, and I believe that cycling infrastructure plays an essential role in achieving that.
Behaving like a vehicle makes perfect sense to me, and I encourage less confident riders to demonstrate their place on the road, but I think good infrastructure facilitates safe cycling for everyone, especially new riders. To suggest that we ought not to have cycling infrastructure is fine in theory, but where the rubber hits the road, a little paint can take us that much farther.
Kevin (not verified)
What to do, faut de mieuxSun, 04/11/2010 - 12:29
VC is what I do when there is not proper cycle infrastructure. But it is better to have proper Dutch-style infrastructure.
Robert (not verified)
Yikes!Sun, 04/11/2010 - 18:11
There are a couple of good ways to extend Forester's argument so that we can see how it is illogical and why it will eventually lead to absurdity.
First, the best way to deal with pedestrians is to get rid of sidewalks and require that all pedestrians walk on the street between fast moving cars. The way we will ensure safety is to teach pedestrians when to jump out of the way of cars and how to duck between parked cars so as not to get hit. Don't worry about children, or older people, or people with disabilities, just put everyone on the same "road" and let them figure it out.
Second, get rid of all automobile infrastructure like traffic lights and stop signs and just teach motorists to look around and ensure that the way is clear before moving ahead, and to anticipate when enough cars have gone in one direction, stop and allow cars to go in the cross direction.
The point is that it is precisely the infrastructure (along with training, licensing, education and some common sense) that makes it safe to operate vehicles and have different modes of transportation co-exist in the same place.
The reality is that the only way to ensure the highest degree of cyclist safety is to build cycling infrastructure; and the best way to do this is based on the notion of separating cyclists from other forms of traffic (both cars and pedestrians). All one has to do is go to a city that has good cycling infrastructure and see the difference.
A safe cycling city is one where people of all ages and abilities can ride; this includes a 6 year old child and a 75 year person; the athletic type with all the spiffy gear, helmet, etc., and the casual rider who commutes to their office job or school or to the grocery store.
The City of Toronto should actually take all of its funding for cycling education and promotion and put it toward building physically separated bike lanes on major roads and installing bike specific traffic lights.
"Special treatment" for cyclists is a misunderstanding of what cycling infrastructure is all about. For 100 years North American has been designed to accommodate the car and it affects how and where we live and work and how we shop and get to entertainment. It has dominated where we build, how we use land, how we develop our cities; it has resulted in pollution, severe oil crises, is tied to wars and geo-political conflicts all over the world. I think enough time, energy, and money has been spent on cars. Developing cycling infrastructure (as we have developed pedestrian infrastructure) is a matter of acknowledging different uses of public space; and facilitating, inviting, and encouraging safer, cheaper, healthier, and more efficient modes of moving people. At a certain level it's actually about equality and democracy in public space.
Instead of focusing our time and attention on Forester, I Bike T.O. should look into some progressive views. Check out Jan Gehl for example.
Cyclists differ too!Mon, 04/12/2010 - 17:27
"A safe cycling city is one where people of all ages and abilities can ride; this includes a 6 year old child and a 75 year person; the athletic type with all the spiffy gear, helmet, etc., and the casual rider who commutes to their office job or school or to the grocery store."
Unfortunately, as I see it:
1) Bicycles are pretty slow;
2) I want to get to where I'm going in a reasonable time;
3) I ride as fast as possible;
4) Many, if not most, cyclists are slower than me
Creating a bicycle infrastructure that caters to 6-year-olds as well as 75-year-olds means that either faster riders will be slowed down to the speed of the slowest riders, or the infrastructure has to be spacious enough to allow the slow to go slowly and the quick to go quickly.
The first is unacceptable to me: I can easily cruise at 29 km/h, and I know how to use the gears on my bicycle to accelerate quickly from a stop. I avoid off-road paths on weekends (and their nominal 20 km/h "speed limit") because they make for frustratingly slow riding. The second is probably unfeasible unless the land and money that goes into automobile superhighways is put into bicycle superhighways instead.
ResponseSun, 04/11/2010 - 21:48
Respectfully, I have speak my mind here. And for the record, I teach CAN-BIKE, and ride year round, and am a proponent of vehicular cycling. And I live in the suburbs.
I've lived and rode in Mainland China. And that's much the way roads are in less urbanized parts of China. Accident rates are nowhere near what they are here, because people behave appropriately according to traffic, and give right of way when it needs to be given. And the majority of traffic in China is cyclists and pedestrians.
Training, licensing, and education are all the same thing. In China, children are taught how to ride bikes in elementary school. Education delivers results, results look like good grades, certificates, or if you will, licences. I challenge any driver reading this forum to answer: when did you last take a driving test and what was your mark? That, my friends, is the measure of a good driver, and there is no good reason why cyclists, as vehicle operators, should be held to a lesser standard for the privelege of using a public road.
Separated bike lanes have to come to intersections at some point, and intersections are where the majority of cycling-related collisons occur, because of inappropriate behavior, not infrastructure. Separated bike lanes are like suicide barriers: they just move the problem along to another location until people notice it's the behavior of people that is the root cause of the problem.
Young children simply do not have the physical strength and coordination to ride on roads. that is why their bikes are allowed on sidewalks, until they are developed enough to join vehicular traffic. Similarly, elderly people may not have the physical stamina and attention to be able to function well in vehicular traffic. Having witnessed an elderly friend take his driving test on his 80th birthday, I can tell you that MTO advises seniors to really pay attention to how they feel, and this is key for all vehicle operators, most notably cyclists.
How you feel has much more to do with how you behave as a driver than physical ability; even a very fit athletic instructor-type like me has "off days" where riding in traffic is a significant challenge. My opinion is that angry, unhappy, exhausted, or stressed cyclists probably make a lot more mistakes than happy, joyful, well rested, calm cyclists. I know that in my own experience. When I'm so tired or unhappy that I just don't care for myself, I run stop signs and don't bother to signal turns. Very poor behaviour.
Infrastructure-focused spending is pretty much what has happened on a provincial level with our tax dollars being spent on physically separated infrastructure for cars, like 400 series highways. Driver education is now privatised, and driving schools operate without subsidies or any connection to our public education system. No wonder driver behaviour is at an all time low. Safe driving promotion has fallen off the provincial map, to be replaced by enforcement, and moreover, we buy into technology provided by car manufacturers that make it painfully simple to get behind the wheel of a car and go.
Hope these comments compel cyclists to think a little more deeply about what we're talking about, and what each of us can do as individuals to make cycling better.
deep into the debateSun, 04/11/2010 - 23:56
Looks like we should have put a bit more meat onto that intro, given the quick response from the vocal.
Calling for cycling education is a worthy goal (I teach CAN-BIKE myself), but so often education has been used as a block of cycling improvements to the streets. Too easily it can become: "why make the streets safer when we can just force cyclists to get licenses?"
The debate has mostly moved forward for most people: it's no longer about whether there should be bike lanes, it's about what are the best ways to implement them - separated or integrated. The push has gone towards Complete Streets - slowing down car traffic and making pedestrians and cyclists more visible to motorists.
We decided to write about Forester and vehicular cycling because his style is so different from the integrated approach of education and infrastructure that you find in Denmark or The Netherlands.
Robert (not verified)
Once more into the debate!Mon, 04/12/2010 - 22:22
Thank you for your contribution to this debate. I agree with you on a number of points that you raise. Teaching children how to ride bicycles in school is a good idea. I'm glad to hear it's done in China. It is also done in Denmark, where I lived for some time. In Denmark, children are not allowed to ride bicycles by themselves on bike lanes until they are 6 years old. Younger children must be on bikes ridden by an adult. But once they are 6 they can ride and one sees young children riding on their own bike (almost always with a parent riding along side). In Denmark you also see much older people riding bikes; it is amazing to see because a safe cycling infrastructure (which has helped improve driver and cyclist awareness on the road) provides mobility access to older people who may otherwise be unable to effectively get around the city.
You point out that the majority of traffic on mainland China is cyclists and pedestrians. This makes a big difference to the safety of people on foot and bike while on a "road". With 100 cyclists on a road, any cars would have to drive slower and would necessarily have to be aware of cyclists and pedestrians. With 10 cyclists on a road where there are many more cars, the dynamic is quite different, and to the detriment of non car users.
physically separated bike lanes are not mere suicide barriers, they have the effect of preventing cars from parking in bike lanes, which is one of the leading problems with painted line bike lanes. You don't see many cars parked up on sidewalks because sidewalks are physically raised and separated from the rest of the road. The same principle applies to physically separated bike lanes.
Really, our goal is to encourage more people to ride bicycles and the evidence shows that people feel safer and come out and ride more for "utilitarian" purposes (commuting to school/work, running errands) when there are bike lanes and when those lanes are separated from parked cars and car traffic. We see this in every city that has implemented this infrastructure from Copenhagen to Bogota.
Our city and our streets are for everyone. The young, the old, the rich, the poor; pedestrians, cyclists, cars, etc. To be a good city we must encourage everyone to take part in public life and improve access to those who require it more. This is a basic principle of accommodation that we hold dear in our democratic society. The answer to your question is that yes, bike lanes should be built wide enough to have 2 lanes: one for riding and one for passing. This is the standard design for all European bike lanes; you can see it in Paris, Copenhagen, Olso, Stockholm, etc, etc. Two lane bike lanes are exactly what we need to allow the 6 year old to ride comfortably and you to pass and ride faster. I rode on the busiest bike lane in the Western world (Nørrebrogade, Copenhagen, which sees 10s of thousands of cyclists every day) for four months last year and would pass 90% of other cyclists on my way to school each day. No problem. Ring your bell and pass and be on your way. This is possible because of the separated bike lane network that exists in Copenhagen. These "wide" bike lanes are on busy streets that accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses, go over bridges, etc. It is possible in Toronto too.
Wide bike lanes are also necessary to accommodate trikes (i.e. cargo bikes, of which we are starting to see some danish designs in toronto now). They are much wider and act like "minivans" for cyclists. They are used to bikepool kids to school; or bike with dogs; or to transport larger items on a bike.
You are right that many accidents happen at intersections. However, it is also the case that one of the leading causes of accidents is because drivers open their doors without looking and hit a cyclist. According to the 2009 City of Toronto Cyclist Collision Summary, the annual 5 year average for the past five years shows that 133 collisions occurred because of opened car doors, which happens not at intersections but between intersections. The average for collisions at intersections was 148 when the car had the right of way and 111 when the cyclist had the right of way. So you are correct that accidents happen often at intersections, but they also happen often between intersections. Separated bike lanes that provide a distance between parked cars and bikes solves the problem of those 133 collisions. While better awareness and rules of right-of way can help prevent accidents at intersections, so too can better infrastructure; it's not an either or. Bike specific traffic lights (like pedestrian specific, or street car specific) indicate to all users at an intersection who has the right of way. These types of traffic lights are common, again, in every major cycling city in the Western world. Even in Montreal! (The first Canadian city to take cycling infrastructure seriously) In Copenhagen, they design their intersections with many other cycling improvements to reduce collisions and the proof over 50 years is that it has increased the number of cyclists and decreased collisions. Other infrastructure improvements at intersections include the famous blue paint, advance green lights for bikes, bike lanes extending further than car lanes at an intersection stop, and rules of rights-of-way: cars cannot turn right on red; bikes can't make a direct left turn; and cars yield right of way to bikes on their right side.
If we're going to allow Toronto to emerge as a cycling city, or even a city that takes seriously the acceptance of non car modes of transportation, we need to rethink how we design our streets and shift away from the "car as model user" system, to a pluralistic system. Education plays a large role in safety, but proper infrastructure is paramount. Teaching drivers to be more aware of other users is a great idea and I encourage it, but money needs to be spent on proper infrastructure or else cycling will continue to be a mode of transportation only for the brave few.