Tag Archive for: bicycle commuting

CyclingSavvy group at Woodford Corner, Portland, ME

Springing Forward with Spring Courses

As the weather warms, thoughts turn to bicycling. CyclingSavvy spring courses are happening. Classroom sessions are being held online — which has proved to be, all in all, an advantage: people don’t have to travel, and can join from anywhere. Instructors and students can hang around longer at the end of a session.

On-bike sessions with Covid precautions are ramping up too. Here’s what we have as of now.

Savvy Cycling Now April Series

Instructors John Allen and Pamela Murray are hosting a Savvy Cycling Now online series on two Wednesday evenings, April 21 and 28. This will cover the same material as the “Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling” classroom session of our regular 3-part course, and qualifies students to proceed to the Train Your Bike in-person session anywhere, anytime and with any instructor. Students in this round will qualify for the Boston course described below, if space is available; we’ll arrange more sessions as needed. On-bike sessions will be discounted if you take Savvy Cycling Now to qualify for them.

Here’s a video clip from an August 11 2020 session of Savvy Cycling Now:

“Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling” contains a lot of information and ideas. They are easy to digest in a series of one-hour sessions, spread over four weeks. This format has proven itself.

St. Louis, April 21-25

Instructors Karen Karabell and Matthew Brown are running a full three-part course April 21-25. The classroom session is online and the on-bike sessions will be adapted with Covid precautions.

Boston area, May 14-15

Instructors John Allen, Bruce Lierman and John Brooking are running a full three-part course May 14-15. As with the St. Louis course, the classroom session will be online. The in-person sessions will be in Waltham, 10 miles west of the Boston downtown area. Both on-bike sessions will be on the same day, May 15.

Check Out Ride Awesome!

Ride Awesome!CyclingSavvy’s premium online course — is … awesome. There’s truly nothing like it. During the pandemic, lifetime access to Ride Awesome! is half price. This is the best fifty bucks you’ll ever spend.

This too qualifies students to proceed to discounted on-bike sessions anywhere, anytime and with any instructor. With enough requests, we should be able to have on-bike sessions within driving distance for most U.S. participants. Let us know if you want to complete the course. Contact us

Happy cyclingSavvy group

Webinar Starts Today

In a few short hours

CyclingSavvy’s free one-hour Zoom webinar, Introduction to CyclingSavvy, starts today:

6 PM Pacific time
7 PM Mountain time
8 PM Central time
9 PM Eastern time

Because of demand, the American Bicycling Education Association has purchased lots more Zoom room.

California CyclingSavvy Instructor Gary Cziko will present. The Webinar will include live chat with three other instructors, and a Q&A session. If you can’t make it, ABEA will be posting a recording. We’ll announce where YouTube has placed it, once we know.

Bike club/organization members

Your club’s requested donation of $100 will give all club members free access to the Zoom Webinar for Bike Clubs and Group Rides, being held at the same time next Wednesday, December 16, 2020.

Club leaders, register here. Choose the Benefactor level. Include your organization’s name in the “Company” box. Note that your club is a Webinar Sponsor in the “Comments” box.

Donations will pay for work being developed exclusively for club and group cyclingHere’s a preview of the new online Group Ride Leader course currently in development:

Here are the sponsoring organizations as of December 8, 2020. Yours can still be on this list!

  • Bicycle Club of Irvine (CA)
  • Big Orange Cycling (CA)
  • Cincinnati Cycle Club (OH)
  • Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists (AZ)
  • GS Andiamo (CA)
  • Major Taylor Cycling Club Los Angeles (CA)
  • Riverside Bicycle Club (CA)
  • San Diego Bicycle Club (CA)
  • Velo Club La Grange (CA)
  • WeeklyRides.com (NC)

The Madrid Model

Note from Editor John Allen: This post started with a request from Madrid Ciclista in Madrid, Spain, to publish a translation of an article on this blog into Spanish. We were happy to comply. A look at their website revealed that Madrid has been thinking outside the box about bicycling. Miguel Cardo of Madrid Ciclista wrote the post below describing the “Modelo Madrid” in 99.44% perfect English.

Fire up Google Maps.

Switch to satellite view and have a look at any large avenue in my city, Madrid:

Madrid boulevard with ciclocarriles 30 marking

 

 

Madrid boulevard with ciclocarriles 30 marking

Lanes marked with that symbol have a speed limit of 30 km/h (about 19 mph). The default of 50 km/h (about 31 mph) is allowed in the other lanes. The marking with the oversized sharrow means:

  • Bicyclists can use the lane;
  • They have to ride in the middle of the lane.

All this started in 2013.

The city government was still reeling from the excesses of a real-estate bubble. Debt had ballooned to 7.4 billion euros after a failed Olympic bid. [1] The city could not even dream of any significant infrastructure project. A giant fine from the European Commission was looming for the city’s failure to reduce its pollution levels. [2]

City officials had to come up with something. This time they just couldn’t buy their way out of trouble. So they tried something different: a plan to increase cycling modal share without any large infrastructure projects.

The first plan was modest.

City officials started with a timid plan of “ciclocarriles 30” along the avenues and boulevards surrounding the Old Town. “Ciclocarriles 30” means 30 km/h bike lanes. The plan also included a municipal bike-share scheme that would use electric bikes, because Madrid is notoriously hilly. [3]

Municipal bike-share bicycle riding over a CC30 marking - photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

Municipal bike-share bicycle about to pass over a CC30 marking. Photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

In the beginning, nobody thought much of the plan.

In a chaotic and aggressive environment, motorists would not welcome the new users on “their” roads. Madrid city police have a well-deserved reputation for not enforcing traffic laws. Most people thought of the plan as some low-cost desperate measure to postpone the EU fine for a while, at least until a different administration was in charge. I’m not even sure that the city officials who created the plan had much faith in it.

Onward to Modelo Madrid.

Modelo Madrid makes urban cycling a transportation mode equal to any otherFast forward five or six years. Madrid city police still turned a blind eye to speeding, but the unexpected happened.

Madrid’s undisciplined, chaotic, aggressive motorists can be seen moving slowly behind a cyclist, waiting for the right moment to overtake — changing lanes to pass in the lane to the left.

The true benefit of the 30 km/h (19 mph) speed limit is not that motorists comply with it, but that they drive at 15 km/h (9 mph) behind cyclists without even revving their engines. A new generation of cyclists — many of whom started riding on the new municipal white electric bikes — uses these roads with confidence.

Every road user is mandated to control his or her traffic lane.

A third measure sustaining this change was a city ordinance issued in 2010, which not only allowed but made mandatory riding on the center of the lane. [4]

In the video below, shot by the rider of a folding bicycle, nothing exciting happens, so don’t feel compelled to watch it all the way through.

The number of cyclists is still modest (2-3 percent in the central area, according to counts by Madrid Ciclista) but growing. [5]

Percentage of bicycles in central Madrid with respect to other vehicles, counts by Madrid Ciclista

Percentage of bicycles in central Madrid with respect to other vehicles, counts by Madrid Ciclista

The graph below, from the city’s lower, less accurate counts, shows the trend from year to year:

Yearly trends in bicycle use in central Madrid

Yearly trends in bicycle use in central Madrid

When compared with other European cities, the number of crashes per million trips is encouragingly low. [6].

City counts showing trend in bicycle use

We can now say that slow lanes were the origin of the so-called Modelo Madrid. The Madrid Model recognizes urban cycling as a transportation mode equal to any other, not requiring special infrastructure but granting the same rights to cyclists as to other vehicle operators. [7]

No cyclists ride on the sidewalk. Cyclists grant the same respect to pedestrians as they demand from motorists. Modelo Madrid puts in practice many of the principles pioneered by John Forester and refined in the United States by CyclingSavvy.

Modelo Madrid: the way of the future?

As with any other aspect of public policy, we can’t “ride” on our laurels — to paraphrase the English idiom — and expect equal treatment for cyclists in Madrid forever.

Economic stimulus money spent on “sustainable” projects is always a threat for urban cyclists, especially in these COVID-19 times. Going back to the segregated model is still possible. Some very loud cycling activists and associations are always demanding narrow bike lanes in the door zone or on sidewalks, following the North European model.

Here’s an example from Seville:

Sidewalk bikeway in Seville, Spain

Bikeway in Seville, Spain, 2018. Photo credit: Gary Cziko

On the other hand, more Spanish cities are introducing slow lanes, especially after the COVID-19 lockdown: Valladolid, Burgos, Leganés, Granada…

Cyclist in Ciclocarril 30

Photo by permission of @MadCycleCuqui

Additional thoughts from Editor John Allen:

Which way should US states go? Could there be slow lanes on multi-lane streets in the USA? Keep in mind that higher speeds are common now on e-bikes, which probably did not in exist when Seville bikeways were planned and constructed.

Consider that automated crash avoidance is becoming common on motor vehicles, and improving. A transition to autonomous vehicles will follow, in time.

Suppose that a hoped-for decrease in motor traffic occurs with autonomous vehicles. Consider also the dangers of edge riding, and the reduction in efficiency and safety when turning vehicles must cross the path of through-traveling ones, rather than merging before turning.

All of these factors suggest that an integrated model like the Modelo Madrid could become more compelling as time passes.

Does US practice support the Modelo Madrid?

There is no specific mention in the model US traffic law [8] of different lanes with different posted speed limits. Yet these are in wide use, established indirectly.

In several states, large trucks are held to a lower speed limit than other vehicles [9], and are prohibited from using the leftmost lanes on multi-lane highways [10]. Edge-of-the road “friction” with parked vehicles, walk-outs, drive-outs and parking decreases the safe speed in the rightmost lane on city streets.

The general rule is to pass on the left, in the “fast lane”. But faster vehicles may pass bicyclists on the right in a right-turn lane, and sometimes a bus lane.

In all of these cases, the basic speed limit applies: to drive no faster than is reasonable and prudent. That speed is established by the design of the street and by the users who are present. Here’s an example of a bike lane to the left of a bus lane on University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin. [11]

Bike lane to left of bus lane, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001

Bike lane to left of bus lane, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001. Photo credit: John S. Allen

Footnotes

(Web links in the body of an article are more usual, but we prefer not to sidetrack readers into articles which need explanation, some in Spanish. So, these footnotes – Editor.)

[1] Newspaper article about the debt

[2] Newspaper article about the fine

[3] Online news article describing the original plan, with map

[4] City ordinancetranslation of relevant sections into English

[5] Madrid Ciclista’s article “en Madrid no hay bicis” (“There are no bicycles in Madrid”) describes and promotes bicycle counts by citizens, and asserts that the city government has been undercounting.

[6] Crash rates in different European cities, and bicycle trends in Madrid. Article is in English: http://madridciclista.org/city-of-bikes/

[7] Madrid Ciclista article describing the Modelo Madrid.

[8] https://iamtraffic.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/UVC2000.pdf — see pages 147-148. Each US state enacts traffic law separately, and so there are differences.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limits_in_the_United_States

[10] https://static.tti.tamu.edu/tti.tamu.edu/documents/policy/congestion-mitigation/truck-lane-restrictions.pdf

[11] The University Avenue installation serves a large student population. The buses, on their fixed route, stay in the bus lane. More details here.

Passing a City Bus Safely on a Bicycle

A savvy cyclist shot this video.

Little did he know that a yet-to-be savvy cyclist would play a starring role in it.

Here’s what the savvy cyclist did in the video.

  1. He sees the bus stopped ahead. Well in advance of reaching it, he looks over his shoulder to check whether there is a vehicle behind him.
  2. There is, so he makes a left-turn signal with his left arm, indicating the desire to merge left to pass the bus.
  3. He verifies that the driver behind him is yielding to let him move left before he does so.
  4. He passes the bus with safe clearance, ready to brake and fall back in case the bus starts to merge out from the curb.
  5. Once in the bus driver’s forward field of view, he signals to the bus driver the desire to merge back to the right.
  6. He positions himself so that he can see a pedestrian crossing the street right in front of the bus. He allows ample time to slow down or maneuver if  a pedestrian pops into view.
  7. After passing the bus, he adopts an appropriate lane position, preventing being overtaken by two lines of traffic at once and jammed against the curb.
Protected by SUV
The next driver behind the savvy cyclist has let him into line.

The yet-to-be savvy cyclist:

  1. Keeps far right as long as possible before reaching the bus, and does not check for overtaking traffic.
  2. Does not signal to indicate the desire to change lane position.
  3. Swerves out shortly before reaching the bus, again without checking to see if there is any traffic behind.
  4. Rides close to the side of the bus! This puts the yet-to-be savvy cyclist in danger of being swept underneath if the bus merges out.
  5. Would not see a pedestrian crossing the street from in front of the bus until the last split second — and therefore would be likely to collide with that pedestrian.
  6. Merges to the right without signaling to the bus driver.
  7. Merges all the way over to the curb, inviting drivers of motor vehicles to “share” an un-sharable lane.
Swerve out
The other cyclist merges out just before passing the bus. What if a car, rather than another cyclist, had been following her?

I, the savvy cyclist

I’ll admit it, I was the savvy cyclist. What were my expectations?

  • I believed I could communicate with the driver of the vehicle behind me using a hand signal and head turn.
  • I knew the driver behind me had to digest my request to merge into line, so I started my communication early.
  • I did not assume the motorist would cooperate and let me merge, so I checked — trust but verify. This is easy to do with a quick glance into a rear-view mirror.
  • I understood that passing a bus close to its side places me in deadly danger if the bus merges out, and also invites unsafe overtaking.
  • I knew the bus driver would have an easier time knowing my intentions if he or she could see me as I prepared to merge right.
  • I understood that I could safely allow only one line of traffic to overtake after passing the bus. I had to position myself to avoid unsafe passing by two lines of traffic at once.
  • I had a mental inventory of things to watch for: the bus pulls out abruptly, an overtaking motorist moves too soon, a pedestrian abruptly emerges in front of me. But I was ready, so none of these things would cause me a problem, or even require quick action on my part.

This sounds like a lot, but it’s not. It becomes second nature when practicing “driver behavior.

Too close to bus
I am passing the bus safely. The other cyclist couldn’t see a person crossing the street in front of the bus, and couldn’t avoid the bus if it merged out.

The cyclist in the video was practicing “edge” behavior

Her behavior indicated that she wanted to take up as little space as possible. She was an “edge rider,” naive about potential hazards in front of her, and fatalistic about those behind her. This made her moves unpredictable and turned potential hazards into real ones.

What behavior is truly easier for motorists?

I have long contended that having to slow and follow a bicyclist disturbs motorists much less than the following confusing situations:

The cyclist is inviting me to pass, but the available width looks iffy. The angel on one shoulder says that I should wait till there is more room. The devil on the other says: ‘It’ll be close, but I’ll make it.’

Or perhaps:

The cyclist can’t continue riding behind the bus. She is either going to stop behind it, or swerve out. The angel on one shoulder says: ‘Slow down so she can swerve out in front of me.’ The devil on the other shoulder says: ‘Damn bicyclists.’

How about if you’re the bus driver:

I lie awake at night worrying that I’ll crush a cyclist under my bus.

This has happened in my city.

How much better it is for the mental health of everybody concerned for a cyclist to act as a participant in traffic, rather than a nobody!

Correct lane position
The shared-lane marking properly indicates my line of travel. The bus changes lanes to pass me safely. The other cyclist’s wheel is visible in the corner of the picture.

Lower stress and more safety passing a bus

As for cyclists, it is infinitely more satisfying to interact as a full participant in  traffic, rather than be a wallflower!

For savvy cyclists, stress levels go way down, safety goes way up — and there’s even more: A rewarding sense of interaction with other people. Almost every motorist will cooperate with you, if you only help them know how to do that.

One more thought

The driver of the vehicle behind me, intentionally or not, was standing guard for me. I was protected from following vehicles. (The word “protected” has been used and misused in other ways related to bicycling, but that is a discussion for another post.)

On any typical ride, a cyclist interacts directly with tens or  hundreds of strangers, sometimes thousands. Cycling and motoring are the daily activities in which a person interacts directly with more strangers than in any others.

It’s a dance, and as we say in CyclingSavvy, the dance is yours to lead. I find it soundly rewarding to do that assertively yet cooperatively.

I shot this video in May 2017 on Boston’s Longwood Avenue — here, in case you would care to know. This neighborhood has a high concentration of medical, and research facilities. I may well have been photographing a doctor or scientist. Brilliance in another field doesn’t help you understand safe behavior near a bus. That’s why we need to teach all people, no matter how smart, how to ride safely.

Update

I wish that I could offer a bright and sunny conclusion to this article: Longwood-area cyclists signed up for a CyclingSavvy course, discovered how easy it is to communicate with other road users and control safe space around themselves.

Not so. Since I shot the video, the shared-lane markings on Longwood Avenue have been replaced with bike lanes.

bike lane on longwood avenue boston
2019: Google street view of Longwood Avenue

These bike lanes direct cyclists to ride like the one in my video, and give motorists to understand that this is bicyclists’ proper place and conduct — as shown in the image above downloaded from a 2019 Google Street View.

Enough for now. The reasons bicyclists get set up for failure like this are a topic for another post.

Requiem for a Heavyweight-••-John-Forester-1929-2020

(Also in Spanish — este artículo está también disponible en español en la web de Madrid Ciclista.)

Back in my misspent youth, I dropped 60 cents on the then-new February 1973 issue of Bike World Magazine. In it was the first-ever article by a guy named John Forester.

John Forester photo with note of appreciation.Forester was steaming mad.

The city of Palo Alto, California, had decided it wanted bikeways. The city got them by putting up signage, requiring bicyclists to ride on the sidewalks. Forester tried them and found them dangerous at very ordinary cycling speeds of 10-12 mph, and so he chronicled the hazards in a two-page article.

Forester cited two fatal bike/pedestrian collisions to underscore the danger of mixing bicycles and pedestrians. He wrote about turning conflicts, poor sight distances at driveway intersections, and the impossibility of making a safe and sensible left turn. Forester wrote that he hoped to get arrested, so he could challenge the city’s sidewalk requirement.

That article sparked an epiphany for me. Until then, I’d dreamed of sidepaths along all my favorite roads. Three feet wide, and just for me! Wheeeeee!

The epiphany was, “Be careful what you wish for.” Because even a city as sophisticated as Palo Alto got it completely wrong.

I learned: Sometimes, a well-intentioned intervention is far worse than leaving well enough alone. And that is just the beginning of what I learned from John Forester.

Forester died on April 19, half a year shy of his 91st birthday. The cause of death was a lingering flu, not suspected to be Covid-19. Forester left behind nearly 50 years of immense contributions to the cycling community, in ways that weren’t even imaginable before he articulated them.

My own Forester-related epiphany pales in comparison to those of many thousands of others. I was already a bike rider. Forester made me a better bike rider. Others were liberated to use their bikes to go anywhere, when they previously couldn’t.

Independent mobility for a legally blind person

No one has expressed this better than Eli Damon, a resident of western Massachusetts whose eyesight is not good enough for him to get a driver’s license:

Socializing was especially difficult for me for many reasons, but an important one was that my mobility limitations hindered my ability to act spontaneously or to interact with others on an equal basis. . . . Asking for a ride . . . left me in a constantly dependent and inferior social position. I was lonely and isolated. . . .

. . . My principal social outlet [in 2005] was my weekly choir practice, which . . . was fifteen miles away (ten miles was my limit at the time) on unfamiliar, difficult, scary roads, so biking seemed impossible. I was too far out of the way for other members of the choir to pick me up. There were no buses that could take me.

And Damon had lost his ride to the choir practice.

He found a cycling book that had been given to him.

Eli Damon's copy of Effective cycling 6th Edition

Eli Damon’s copy of Effective Cycling, 6th Edition

In desperation, I dug the book out and started reading it, hoping to find a clue to my mobility problem. The book was Effective Cycling, by John Forester.

As I read the book, I became very excited. It suggested that I should ride my bike according to the same rules drivers of motor vehicles use and that I should stay away from the edge of the road, sometimes riding in the center or even on the left side of a lane, thus occupying the entire lane. I knew that the designs of roads provided a simple and predictable environment for motorists to travel with ease and flexibility. If I could use the roads in the same manner on a bike, then I could go anywhere with the same ease and flexibility. This was a totally new concept to me, and I was somewhat skeptical of it, but I recognized its immense potential.

I quickly became comfortable riding assertively on small quiet roads. I advanced my testing to bigger, busier roads. And then even bigger, even busier roads. . . I was ready to take on the scariest road I knew of: Route 9 in Hadley, a major four-lane arterial.

. . .

Eli Damon Rides Route 9

Eli Damon rides Route 9 in Hadley, Massachusetts

It was as if I was no longer disabled. . . I was still [legally] blind, but ignorance, not blindness, had been my disability all along. I had been healed. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I could do all of the normal things that other people did. I could live a full, normal life. I could go to choir practice.

That’s what John Forester did for people.

(You can read Damon’s entire 2013 essay at https://iamtraffic.org/equality/overcoming-ignorance-and-fear.)

And yet, Forester made many enemies in bicycling, thanks to a famously abrasive temperament. Sadly, Forester’s detractors are mercilessly dancing on his grave.

For years, Forester’s detractors have shamelessly mischaracterized his opinions with demeaning distortions and outright falsehoods. Some have written hit pieces disguised as obituaries. One obit called Forester a “Dinosaur” in the headline.

John Forester’s contributions . . . far outweigh those of his detractors.

A man who gives legally blind people independent mobility deserves a better remembrance than that.

More like this:

“John’s contributions to bicycling — as transportation, recreation, sport, a vehicle for fitness, social interaction, and discovery — far outweigh those of his detractors, wrote Pete Van Nuys, executive director of the Orange County (California) Bicycle Coalition. “John stood for, and rode for, human dignity and equality. He advocated respect for law and common sense; he trusted civility over fearmongering; he promoted responsibility of the individual above government overreach.”

Yes, one had to look past Forester’s famously abrasive temperament to get the value he offered. But there was immense value.

Because what Forester did was far better than complaining about bad bicycle facilities. He gave us the vocabulary and the framing to understand good versus bad facilities, good versus bad riding, and the root causes of crashes. He gave us the revelation that we could control the behavior of other road users to make ourselves safer. We didn’t have to be passive victims. We could create our own success on the road. On almost any road. Today.

That vocabulary and framing didn’t exist before Forester. If I may exaggerate only slightly to make the point, how good a chemist could you be if you didn’t have the periodic table of the elements?

Before John Forester, we were all road sneaks.

Before Forester, almost every bicyclist rode in a style we call “road sneak,” hiding from other traffic, believing s/he didn’t belong, and even hoping to go unnoticed. Forester replaced all that with a concept well articulated by one of his best instructors, the late Steve Schmitt: “Visible plus predictable equals safe.”

Fred DeLong's illustration of how to avoid a car door

Fred DeLong’s illustration of how to avoid a car door. Well-intentioned, but this exact behavior causes many collisions, some of them fatal. Forester liberated us from this thinking.

Before Forester, other famous bicycling writers pretty much endorsed the “road sneak” vision of a cyclist’s place (or lack thereof).

Even the great Fred DeLong instructed people to ride in the door zone, with the absurd notion that you could swerve to avoid an opening car door and yet be safe. Writers Richard Ballantine and Eugene Sloane, whose books sold in the millions in the early 1970s, offered similarly hapless advice. Other authors of that era were also hapless. They were well-intentioned, but they didn’t know any better.

(In 2013, our colleague John S. Allen wrote a very good critique of the “dark ages” of bicycle safety advice before Forester. It’s at http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?page_id=5273.)

Five core principles guide our thinking

Forester’s framing began with articulating the core principles of traffic law, and telling bicyclists to follow the core principles. Today, they sound pretty mundane:

  • All vehicle operators keep to the right.
  • Yield to cross traffic according to pre-defined rules and traffic-control devices.
  • First-come, first-served (meaning that if someone wants to pass you, s/he must do so safely, and you still have the right to be on the road).
  • Destination positioning at intersections (Left-turn lanes and right-turn lanes are for everyone.)
  • Between intersections, you choose your position on the roadway based on your speed and on the usable width of the road.

Traffic collisions are caused by disobeying these core principles, and not by obeying them.

In 1982, Forester explained to me that these principles were not articulated in traffic engineering classes. He had ferreted them out by thinking and observing the unspoken common principles of all traffic, and seeing how they would be applicable to bicyclists.

Here’s what he said at the time (from a June 1982 article I wrote in Bicycling Magazine):

Highway people had training deficiencies because of the overwhelming success of motorization. They never had to teach any traffic engineers how to drive. They never had to teach the theory of traffic safety — the theory was implicit in everyone’s driving knowledge. Therefore, these people never questioned the principles of the ‘bike safety training’ they had received. They didn’t recognize that it conflicted with the theory behind vehicle safety.

The legislators put up money for very specific things — bikeways. So basically, society bribed the highway departments to do the wrong thing.

John Forester around 1980

Forester around 1980, wired up to score students in a road test. A switch in his glove starts the cassette recorder in his backpack. Credit: IPMBA

So, Forester preached the principles of traffic law to any bicyclist who would listen.

Forester was also a keen student of the characteristics and limitations of bicycles and motor vehicles, bicyclists and motor vehicle operators. His early experience in Palo Alto made him a vigilant watchdog for unreasonable sight distances, curb radii, reaction times and intersection turning conflicts. Forester coined the term “rolling pedestrian,” and noted that even a slow bicyclist is several times as fast as a pedestrian, with very different ability to manage sharp turns and short stops. Forester observed that most bicycle facilities were designed with obliviousness to how a bad sight distance or a sharp turn could make a bicyclist crash.

(Even that observation got distorted by Forester’s opponents. Forester once wrote that a bicycle facility should be designed for a bicyclist going as fast as 30 mph, to accommodate all extremes of bicyclist behavior. His opponents turned that into, “Forester brags that he rides 30 mph.” And Forester’s advice to make traffic law work for you was twisted into “compete with the cars,” or “think you’re just like a car.” That level of distortion can best be described as mean-spirited.)

Without Forester’s innovative instruction, bicyclists of the 1970s, including those who considered themselves safety advocates, simply didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about how a bicyclist’s operating characteristics would interact with a given facility design, to produce a crash. They certainly had little notion that a bicyclist’s own behavior could make him safer.

Forester knew why bicyclists thought that way, and gave it an annoying, but accurate name: the “cyclist inferiority complex.” The cultural pull of the cyclist inferiority complex — the belief that we don’t have the full right to use the road — was, and is today, so strong that it subverts safe behavior.

We all thought we should stay out of the way of “real” traffic, hug the curb, and hope for the best.

Abrasive . . . but he wanted to sit next to me!

And with all the diplomacy of a professor dressing down an ill-prepared student, Forester told us all to think again.

So, let’s talk about his abrasiveness.

Many of us have been on the receiving end of it.

You could be in 98 percent agreement with Forester, and he’d come down on you like a ton of bricks. It sure happened to me plenty of times. I disagreed with Forester on technicalities of retro reflectivity and night time conspicuity; on developmental maturity and teaching children to ride in traffic; on an aspect of rider position during maximum-performance braking; on the political tactics of opposing or not opposing dangerous bicycle facilities; and a few other topics. I learned to ignore — and often not even read — his, uh, disagreements with me.

Still, he must have disagreed with me less often than he disagreed with many others. Because he always wanted to sit next to me in various national committee meetings.

And I watched him make an arse of himself in those meetings, grinding my teeth while it unfolded. If a well-intentioned mayor or traffic engineer used one wrong word, Forester would stand and attack. The vitriol made many of us wince, because we knew it undermined his persuasiveness.

I can’t defend the vitriol.

But in some instances I can explain it. Forester was using science and engineering to describe how bicyclist behavior and bicycle facilities could either help or hurt people. Forester took very seriously the immense responsibility of telling the public what was good for their own safety, and he expected others to gravitate to the facts he presented. When Forester’s opponents displayed obliviousness and/or defiance to the reasons why they were risking serious personal injury or death — not for themselves, but for others — Forester would attack.

It’s a shame so many people never saw past the vitriol, because there was much wisdom underneath it.

John Forester’s books, the curriculum, courses

So, let’s talk about that wisdom — and about how he promulgated it.

That first Bike World article gave birth in 1975 to the book Effective Cycling, which Forester self-published with his own printing press in his garage. It would go through many editions and get published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press; it is now in its 7th edition.

Forester also devised a 30-hour course, also named Effective Cycling. That course made novices into cyclists who were self-sufficient and proficient in every way. In keeping with the more self-reliant ethos of that era, Effective Cyclists were expected to be capable of doing their own repairs, sewing their own cycling clothing, and making various adapters and accessories for their bikes. And, of course, they could ride confidently and safely on big arterial streets just like my buddy Eli Damon.

Forester wrote a second curriculum, called Effective Cycling at the Intermediate Level. He successfully taught it to middle-school students in Palo Alto for a time. He created an instructor’s manual. He scripted and directed Iowa State University’s 1979 film, Bicycling Safely on the Road. and was behind the 1992 Seidler Productions film Effective Cycling.

Cover of Bicycle Transportation, by John ForesterForester also saw the need for professional training, so that engineers would not design bad bicycle facilities. This led him to write the book Bicycle Transportation Engineering, later renamed Bicycle Transportation after MIT Press picked it up.

The book Effective Cycling has a defiant, angry tone. Forester believed that you couldn’t be a safe cyclist without being aware of public policy’s endorsement of the cyclist inferiority complex, and the book gives a lengthy dressing down of that policy. Forester offered his rants, expected the reader to take his side, and then showed the reader how good cycling works. It’s not the most welcoming sales pitch I’ve ever seen. But it created an aha moment for many thousands of people.

Forester reached an agreement with the League of American Wheelmen (which subsequently changed its name to the League of American Bicyclists) to train instructors nationwide.

Forester travels the country for policy advocacy

The man went to conferences everywhere, to offer his advice on designs, and on the bad assumptions behind bad designs. No one w