John Forester is alive and well, and knows what the problem is.

John Forester is alive and well, and knows what the problem is.

John Forester never lived or worked in Vancouver, but his works have influenced — both positively and negatively — the outlooks and approaches of many advocates in the region over the forty years.

He has his own Wikipedia page, and the page on 'vehicular cycling' (it means what it suggests) also has its own page, and credits Forester in large part for the popularization of the term.

His seminal book on the topic, Effective Cycling, is a bible to some; many of my interviewees credited the book for shaping their views on transportation cycling, which in turn helped shape some of the policies and projects prioritized — even implemented — in British Columbia over the past few decades. Some advocates later disavowed his theories.

Others opposed 'Foresterian' theories of transportation cycling from the start; to them, his views are anathema to effective adoption and acceptance of cycling among the broader population, including (and perhaps especially) women and children

After his name came up more than a handful of times (I admit I had not heard of him or his views prior to 2017, and if his name was mentioned I might have confused it with the ancient order of Foresters, a fraternal organization now associated with insurance policies), I felt I should see if he was still alive, working, and if he had evolved his thinking over the years.

Here's a consolidation of our email exchange.

The dominant push in Vancouver these days seems to be for 'AAA' bikeways — physically separated along main arterials. Parallel on-road bikeways are also quite popular, but in many cases this has generated mixed-mode conflict, and thus the push for AAA and separation. Would you share your views on vehicular cycling and how it contrasts with this trend?

I can tell you why my opinions produce such controversy.

The public attitude is that of the cyclist-inferiority phobia (CIP). This has several parts:

  1. The overwhelming danger to cyclists is same-direction motor traffic; and

  2. Cyclists are not capable of obeying the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.

CIP was created in the USA as part of Motordom's policy for frightening cyclists off the roadways, purely for the convenience of motorists, starting about 1925.

By 1944, Motordom got cyclists restricted to the edge of the roadway, or off the roadway if there was a nearby path, via the US Uniform Vehicle Code.

Motordom's arguments went unchallenged until 1971, when Motordom, in the form of the Automobile Club of Southern California and the California Highway Patrol, tried to limit cyclists with more stronger laws. By that time nearly all cyclists suffered from the CIP, obeying in fear the Side of the Road law ("Far to the Right", or FTR), except for a few who had realized that obeying the rules of the road provided better safety and better convenience.

Motordom tried for stronger restrictions in 1971 because the boom in cycling of the 1960s frightened them that they might get their roads plugged up by bicycle traffic.

Vehicular cyclists challenged Motordom's activities. This created the first statistically robust study of car-bike collisions, whose key result is that only 5% of car-bike collisions were caused by same-direction motor traffic while 95% were caused by crossing and turning movements by one, or both, parties.

Other work showed that the rules of the road are based on a few easily understood principles. Even child cyclists quickly learn how to obey those principles, and thereby obey the rules.

Thus both of Motordom's arguments for its cyclist-inferiority system have been completely disproved.

However, people who suffered from the CIP refused to change to suit the facts. So we now have the public, and Motordom, and the government, and AAA cycling advocates obeying the CIP, because they think that this will create more new cyclists.

Opposing them are the vehicular cyclists, who state that cyclists fare best when they act, and are treated as, drivers of vehicles.

Superstitious populism versus informed and skillful knowledge. Hence, the controversy.

AAA cycling advocates believe that in the population as a whole there is a large segment of people who prefer bike transport to motor transport and are just waiting to have their fear of traffic removed to make the change.

The number of the would-be cyclists is unknown, and, obviously, would vary depend on the degree to which cycling would be better in each location. In areas where motoring is easily available, the number of would-be cyclists is low, and few motorists transfer few trips.

The province of Vehicular Cycling is to make cycling safer and more convenient for those who choose it. AAA cycling advocates work to entice motorists into cycling. When I say motorists, that's their aim, but it applies equally to the general population, because both populations suffer equally from the cyclist-inferiority phobia (CIP).

AAA cycling advocates tend to do whatever appeals to people who suffer from the CIP; its basic belief is that by far the greatest danger to cyclists is same-direction motor traffic, with the auxiliary belief that cyclists are not capable of obeying the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.

These two CIP beliefs have been disproved, but those with the CIP refuse to accept facts. Therefore, CIP directed actions are contrary to standard knowledge and information in the field of traffic engineering. The actions directed by CIP appeal to the false beliefs to make cyclists (and the target motorists) feel safe without actually making them safe. In fact, conditions are created which are more dangerous and less convenient than obeying the standard rules of the road.

All those in political power want cyclist-inferiority cycling because the phobia makes them feel that cyclist-inferiority cycling is safer, even though it has nothing to do with safety.

The most powerful practical implementation of cyclist inferiority cycling is the sidepath. In California, we persuaded the legislature not to make a sidepath law (as requested by Motordom), because such a law would be dangerous to cyclists who obeyed the rules of the road. That's why sidepaths aren't in the current official system for bicycle traffic.

But the appeal of sidepaths to those who suffer from the phobia is so intense that sidepaths have begun getting into the official system through unofficial backdoors, such as NACTO.

It is my opinion that the political pull for cyclist inferiority cycling — including sidepaths — is politically unstoppable.

The program for Vehicular Cycling has now become the effort, using science and technology, to preserve the right to obey the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, for those cyclists who understand the safety and efficiency of obeying those rules.

This, of course, is blatant opposition to Motordom's program of frightening cyclists off the roads, which has been my program ever since I watched Motordom trying to restrict cyclists' right to use the roads, in 1971.

Will the AAA approach succeed? I say that a large portion of its work will be accomplished, just because there is no-one to stop it (except for its cost). The extent to which this will generate a significant increase in cycling mode proportion is dubious; motoring is too easy and convenient.

What do you think of the Forester approach? Expression of supporting and opposing views are welcomed — feel free to leave a comment below.