One Foot in Each Camp

A debate regarding the validity of separated bicycling facilities has raged on non-stop for many years. On one side there is John Forester and the bicyclists and planners who support a strictly vehicular approach to bicycling based upon using our current road system, and on the other side we have John Pucher and the bicyclists and planners who support a system based upon separated bicycling facilities such as those seen in The Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.

The vehicular side argues that we currently have a fully functional road network and bicycles are already classified as vehicles, so all we need to do is maintain our rights as road users and educate bicyclists on the techniques of riding a bicycle as a vehicle. One of the main arguments for this approach is that these goals are attainable and realistic.

The separated facilities side argues that until we do more to separate bicyclists from motor vehicles we’ll never see the numbers of bicyclists in the U.S. that we see in some European countries. Numerous studies support this notion, with the fear of cars often being cited as the number one reason people don’t ride their bikes. One of the main arguments against separated facilities is that it’s unlikely we’ll ever have the political will and funding to create such a system.

My thinking falls somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. On the one hand, when I ride on roads, I employ many (though not all) of the principles of vehicular cycling as laid out in Forester’s Effective Cycling. Many of his techniques truly are “effective”, and with proper training and experience, they’ll serve riders well in a wide variety of situations. That said, I like to think of myself as a “pragmatic vehicular cyclist” who rides as a vehicle when it’s appropriate, but then switches to a bike-pedestrian mode when difficult conditions occasionally call for it.

On the other hand, I fully agree that the fear of auto traffic is one of the main obstacles we have to overcome before we’ll see a dramatic increase in bicycle use in the U.S. The studies support this idea, and anecdotal evidence supports it as well. Many casual bicyclists are scared to death of cars; that’s why we see so much sidewalk riding. The statistics tell us that bicycling is an inherently safe activity, and I believe this to be the case, but still, sharing the road with fast moving motor vehicles is frightening to many people on a gut level, regardless of what the studies tell us. I, for one, find riding on a quiet separated path far preferable to riding on a busy roadway just feet from cars traveling at a high rate of speed; I think most people would agree (particularly non-enthusiasts).

Bicycling may be a relatively safe activity, but the perception that bicycling is dangerous is extremely pervasive in the U.S. and it’s unlikely we’ll change that perception through logical arguments or statistics. We must find a way to build more separated facilities to make bicycling less intimidating to beginners and non-enthusiasts. We also need more training in vehicular cycling techniques to build rider skill and confidence for dealing with the realities on the ground as we build those new facilities. This combined approach will give us the best chance of growing bicycling for transportation in the U.S.

40 Responses to “One Foot in Each Camp”

  • Larey says:

    I’m solidly in the “Separate Facilities” camp. The more cars, the faster their speed, the closer their proximity, the less I enjoy riding. That being said, I understand that we are not likely to get European type bikeways anytime soon.

    But there are opportunities for separate facilities and it doesn’t take a massive Manhattan Project scale effort to provide them. For instance, there are many places where a short, bikes-only path can be used to connect two low traffic neighborhoods to provide a bike transportation corridor.

    And existing road-shoulder bike lanes can easily be upgraded by adding physical barriers to separate cars and bikes. Anything that stops cars from invading the bike space is extremely helpful, from simple rumble strips, to raised curbs, to concrete barriers… I like to think of it as “Influencing driver behavior at the point of impact”.

    Urban planners are scratching their heads wondering how to find the room (and money) to add more car lanes, and other planners are looking at reasons why people flock to more “livable” neighborhoods, and others are looking at the huge popularity of car free shopping areas like Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. So someday they might all be standing in line at Starbucks chatting about their problems and a couple of happy looking people will ride by on their bikes and little lights will come on over their heads… Or not, but it’s a fun fantasy anyway.

  • Zweiradler says:

    There are two kinds of separated facilities. The ones in the Netherlands are certainly good for cyclists. The ones in Germany, however, mainly consist of bike lanes painted on the road (so you don’t get enough safety clearance) and bike paths between road and sidewalk (so conflicts with pedestrians and life-endangering situations with turning cars at nearly every crossing are bound to occur). The German “facilities” are not recommendable.

  • Erin says:

    I tend to have foot in each camp, as well. I don’t mind riding along side of cars. But, when a path is convenient I tend to find myself using it. I would love to have a useful system of paths available to me. One concern related to the “it might not get funded” issue of the separated facilities is that to get them funded they usually end up NOT being bicycle paths. While there are a number of bicycle lanes in my part of Vermont all of the paths, as far as I know, are of the multi-use recreational variety. I often feel safer negotiating automobile traffic than I do passing an i-pod wearing dog walker with a 10-foot leash, or the pair of moms each with a double wide stroller walking side-by-side, especially at anything approaching a practical commuting speed, while on a path.

  • Thoughtful Post « Bike Friendly Oak Cliff says:

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  • bicycletim says:

    It is quite right to state vehicular cycling techniques are effective. They are generally accepted by the majority of motorists with little angst too, it’s easier for all of us to share the road when cyclists are conspicuous, legal and predictable.

    But vehicular cycling is more a reaction to an attitude rather than a physical method of negotiating urban roads. An attitude that assumes motorists have an inherent right of way or greater rights over cyclists, they are bigger after all. This leads quickly to frustration or anger if a motorist is slowed or effected in anyway by a bike rider..

    There is a lot of heat out there too, as someone once suggested that if you substituted the word “jew” or “homosexual” in all the articles about cyclists, nearly every tabloid journalist would be jailed under vilification laws.

    If the “us and them” attitude did not exist, neither would the term vehicular cyclist. Everyone irrespective of the vehicle they are using, would interact in a cooperative and equal way.

    This may seem like nirvana, and maybe is, but look at the countries with a strong cycling culture – Denmark, Holland as examples with very developed infrastructure and Japan with much less infrastructure.

    Picture the elegantly dressed Danish women, high heeled shoes matching her bike heading out for the evening or the Japanese workman riding one handed along the footpath chatting on his mobile AND holding an umbrella to keep the rain off.

    It is this normality about bike riders that we have to generate, a normality that puts it within reach of those around us.

    The predominant car culture that we have to change to create more cycle friendly road environments is inextricably linked to our consumer culture. A high percentage of drivers are moving around in the biggest mobile status symbol possible (aside from private jets) so when no wonder the odd motorist gets miffed when their majestic progress is slowed to a crawl by bike that cost $10 in a yard sale.

    I tend to try to use the terms driver, motorist, bike rider cyclists rather than bicycle, car etc, It personalises the road environment as it is after all people who are interacting not the machines we control. Much bad road user behaviour that is quite common and somewhat accepted on the road would be totally unacceptable just metres away on the footpath, where outside our metal and plastic shields or off our saddle, we have to conform to the norms of society more stringently.

    The more all road users think of interacting with those around them as they would do on the footpath the more redundant special terms such as ‘vehicular cycling’ become.

  • Steve says:

    I guess I am wholly in the Forester camp. When I started riding regularly, there were no dedicated bike facilities. I read Forester and learned how to coexist with traffic. Now, we have bike lanes (painted stripe at the edge of the road). I have not been convinced enough of their usefulness in order to change my route to use them. Part of my commute does coincide with the bike lanes, but I have had strange experiences with them.

    I had a driver (exiting a parking lot) pull fully into the bike lane, and then put up his hand in a stop fashion to order me to stop while he pulled out into traffic! (This while I was going at full speed. I barely had time to stop.) This convinces me that drivers don’t consider it a part of the roadway, and something they can treat like a sidewalk.

    We also have a dedicated multiuse path. Call it a bike path, but I would rather stay on the road. Pedestrians will amble on both sides of the road (despite signs warning them to stay away on one side and let bicyclists pass). Once, a couple was walking with about 6 or 8 dogs, taking up the entire path. I politely let them know I was there, only to receive outrage from the husband that they be required to move over.

    This path is not much use for transportation, either, as it does not come anywhere near my commute.

    In my opinion,

    1. educating cyclists to obey the rules of the road and ride safely
    2. educating motorists to watch out for and give space to cyclists

    is a better use of our time.

    Having said that, I do have friends who won’t commute because of an unreasonable fear of cars. I don’t know what to do about that. Separated facilities may help, (though I don’t think it will happen) but bike lanes won’t.


  • Brent says:

    Vehicular cycling is just not an option for children or beginners or timid riders — in other words, almost every cyclist there is. The small subset of riders we actually see on California’s streets now are generally the enthusiasts and the poor, and not the commuters and shoppers and school-bound children who form the mass of riders in friendlier cities. I have a (badly worked out) theory that many of Californian cycling image problems stem from the kinds of people who are willing to ride in traffic: they are risk takers, they thrive to some extent on the danger, and they sometimes exhibit the kind of behavior that motorists complain of.

    As I understand the Dutch experience, it was parents demanding safe routes to school that led to the infrastructure they have now. Bike paths safe enough for children are safe enough for everyone. That goal ought to be our goal. When we see children riding to school again, we’ll see people riding to the movies and the grocery store, to work and to restaurants, and to the park, picnic baskets in tow.

    …sometimes I wonder if ultimately such changes will be forced on us, perhaps by a massive energy crisis…

  • Nicolas says:

    I tend to follow Alan in his balanced point of view. But if we consider town centers and residential suburbs as places where people live, trade, then we should consider that the street (which is in this sense something different from the road) is to be shared. As a consequence speed has to be limited in these places in order to allow its usage to all categories of people.
    On heavy traffic axes, maybe this can be different.

  • Peter Smith says:

    hate to state the obvious, but i’m tired of this ‘perception’ b*******. it’s a nonsensical argument used to make people — particularly women — feel bad about not wanting to ride next to gargantuan and fast-moving bricks of glass and steel.

    there _is_ a perception that cycling in America _sucks_, and that perception is _true_. if you must use this useless, misguided ‘perception’ argument, then at least use it to tell the truth, not deflect blame away from the true causes of the problem onto the most vulnerable road users — i.e. don’t blame the victims.

    further, the perception of cycling as being more dangerous than other modes of transport is also true — in reality — in actuality — for reals — probably, depending on whose figures you buy. so let’s get off the ‘perception’ argument — it’s meaningless at best, and despicable at worst.

    i care about riding in a safe, comfortable, dignified environment where in addition to _being_ safe, i also _feel_ safe. dignity requires i feel safe, am not harassed, terrorized, injured, yelled at, threatened, subjected to obnoxious noise and poisonous gases, etc. riding with cars and trucks _will never allow for dignified cycling_.

    this has _zero_ to do with ‘perception’. this has _everything_ to do with _reality_.

    and your talk about ‘extremes’ is nonsense. nobody except that Forrester character is an absolutist.


  • Erik Sandblom says:

    I’m with Alan too.

    Another thing is sweat and speed. Sometimes you want to go fast, 25-30 km/h, to get somewhere quickly. In that case, mixed-use paths can be a hindrance.

    But sometimes you want to go slow, 15 km/h, to avoid getting sweaty, or because you’re tired and have a headwind. And in that case, sharing the road with cars can be stressful because you don’t want to hold up the car traffic too much.

    The whole speed thing seems difficult for many people. They think rollerbladers and cyclists go about the same speed. Newsflash, they do not! It’s perfectly normal for a cyclist to go 25 km/h which is easily twice as fast as a rollerblader, but non-cyclists can react as if that is an outlandish speed. It’s my experience that dog walkers have a very keen understanding of this, because they walk in the same places every day and learn from the passing cyclists. 25 km/h is about seven metres per second. I find dog walkers are very generous to me about reacting in a timely manner and giving me a lot of space.

  • Jeff says:

    It’s all about attitude. Try to get that changed. Good luck!

  • Larey says:

    I don’t consider on-street bike lanes to be “Separate Facilities”. Painted lines are merely a suggestion of where a driver should steer, not a physical deterrent.

    And I am certainly not willing to claim my lane rights as a vehicle when I’m going 14mph and hundreds of other, much larger vehicles are approaching my backside at 50mph. I expect the actual percentage of roadways where such tactics are even remotely possible is extremely low.

    The only way that cyclists (including me) will feel safe sharing the road with today’s motorized vehicles is if bicycles greatly outnumber cars and cars are forced to travel at bicycle speeds.

    That being said, I almost never drive (weather permitting), and I consider myself very lucky that the places I want and need to go are accessible by bike. But, if given a choice, I would much rather not have to “share the road” with cars, I want my own roads.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I am a proponent of separate facilities and cycle on the road only when I have no other safe choice. In my view, it makes no logical sense to expect that vehicles designed for an average speed of 60mph and vehicles designed for an average speed of 10mph can safely share the same roads. By that logic, pedestrians with an average speed of 2mph can share the same roads as well, eliminating the need for sidewalks. Any moving entity can hypothetically share the same road, but that is neither safe nor efficient for traffic patterns.

    Proponents of vehicular driving often remind us that historically, bike lanes were an invention designed to benefit cars, not cyclists, and that this is why we see such poor and dangerous designs of bike lanes, where cyclists are placed in the gutter, in the door zone, in the direct path of city buses coming to a stop, etc., often making the use of these more dangerous than taking the car lane. I agree with this part of the argument; some of the current bike lane designs in the US are almost criminal. But the conclusion I draw from this, is not that vehicular driving is the solution, but that proper bike lanes are the solution. And I define “proper bike lanes” as lanes designed with the cyclist in mind and removed from contact with motorist traffic, following the Dutch model.

    Until this happens, cycling is unlikely to become a mainstream mode of transportation in the US. For every encouraging “cycle chic” piece of press out there, there is another piece of press describing the horrendous death of a cyclist.

  • Mark says:

    I have no quibble with VC as a method for operating a bicycle. We (cyclists) have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users.
    Where I do have a problem with VC is when I encounter its evangelists, who, when compared to other bicycling advocates, almost always tend to be extremists.
    Go ahead and operate your bicycle in a way you deem safe and comfortable. Use your wide outside lanes to go where you will. But please, please DO NOT stand in the way of the construction of separated facilities such as bicycle lanes and shared use trails.
    Sometimes I wonder if the VC advocates are really on the payroll of AASHTO.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Lovely Bicycle, “In my view, it makes no logical sense to expect that vehicles designed for an average speed of 60mph and vehicles designed for an average speed of 10mph can safely share the same roads.

    Sometimes they can. In some streets in the Dutch town of Drachten, they removed all the signs and sidewalks. This is called shared space and the result was that people slowed down, and the accident rate fell.

  • Larry Guevara says:

    I’ve spent this week in Santa Barbara by the wharf, and it’s wonderful to see the multitude of people enjoying the summer on roads, bikeways, bike (multi-use) paths, and sidewalks. There are heavy summer crowds, roller-bladers, dogs, children, weird rental contraptions with four to six riders with pedals, segways, large packs of roadies on the street, joggers, and not too many problems with getting along that I could see. Where there was heavy congestion, people seemed to adjust and let others pass, although there were some fast riders on the sidewalk who would zoom around on the grass. You had your choice of bike paths, sidewalks, or the street, and I think the segment who got the worst of it in terms of inconvenience are the pedestrians.

    I also saw more electric bikes than ever. These riders seemed to be local, either commuting or shopping.

  • Doug R. says:

    Great topic! I however, have an “extra” bone to pick about the current road sharing situation.
    I used to live in an area where I had to ride in the bike lane down Marconi ave. in Sacramento California, and I was constantly being “pushed” into the gutter by the morning, commuters in their cars, (flat tires suck). However, my main gripe is something unmentioned in the above statements in that the “SMOG”! would kill me trying to get to work! I felt like I was sucking on tail pipes!

    I would like separate roads and far enough apart to get a breath of air now and then!

    Wheezing old rat!

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  • Andy in Germany says:

    I think one problem is that many people (like me) have experienced bike lanes built to keep bikes out of the way of motorists. When you build a lane for that reason you’ll get silly things like lanes to nowhere, lanes ion the door zone, lanes that put cyclists in danger, because the designers designed a road and put a bike lane in. When I go to other places where the bike lanes were designed to help cyclists, it’s like chalk and cheese: suddenly it’s not stresfull anymore. I’m really looking forward to experiencing cycling in the NL in September for that reason.

    Vehicular cycling is a great tool which I use a lot for the gaps between bike lanes. Please don’t try and tell me that riding with a small boy on the back of the bike, while being overtaken bay a 48tonne truck is safer than a bike lane. This is what happens on the way to the kindergarten in the village. There is an alternative route but it’s indirect, and I still have to cross the main road. This isn’t going to encourage people to cycle.

    In fact, if motorists want bikes off the road, and infrastructure for bike is a way to get cyclists of the road, then Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and Freiburg, and Münster, and Konstanz, and Tübingen, and Mannheim, and Heidelberg, have failed miserably as the cycleways and roads are choked with cyclists. The best way to keep cyclists of the road is to give them no facilities.

    If we look at the way road building works, we see the same pattern. If you build a road, it fills up, and so do the roads leading to that road, and the villages and towns on the route, because traffic (cars, bikes, whatever) expands and contracts depending on infrastructure. You build an Autobahn/motorway/freeway and you get more traffic because you make driving the easiest way to get from A to B. . (I note, by the way that we don’t say motorists are treated as ‘second class’ because they are ‘pushed onto motorways to keep them out of villages’) The reverse is also true: if you don’t build new roads, vehicle traffic remains constant after a point because there isn’t the space to fit more in. If you narrow a road and put a light rail/bike corridor in, you get more cyclists and transit riders, and less cars.

    (Yes, I used this in response to a comment here: sorry, but it saved writing it twice)

  • Alan says:

    I agree; a poorly designed bike lane is probably worse than no bike lane at all. And I agree with Larey; I don’t consider painted bike lanes “separated facilities”. In my mind, separated facilities include only off-street bike paths and bike lanes with physical barriers of some sort.

  • Nate Briggs says:

    Hey Alan:

    One theme that comes out of Jeff Mapes’ book PEDALING REVOLUTION is the desire for those considering the switch to a bicycle to have paths separated from motorized traffic.

    But it’s possible that comments like this are just the “power of excuses” being demonstrated again. The key barrier to cycling in the US is that it is an anti-cultural activity.

    When you look at the primary themes of our modern American way of life – summed up as “Bigger!Faster!Bigger!” – you can see what a poor fit bicycling is.

    But – instead of saying that they don’t do it because it is wrong for the culture – people respond with the classic excuses: “I need a bike path…” “I don’t have the right clothes…” “My tire is flat….” “It’s too hot/cold/windy/sunny/cloudy….”

    Saying that separated bicycle paths will change the culture is not as convincing as saying that – when the culture finally moves away from waste as a measure of prosperity and velocity for the sake of velocity – then people will start riding and motorists will just have to adapt.

    Nate (Salt Lake City)

  • Alan says:

    Hey Nate,

    “Saying that separated bicycle paths will change the culture is not as convincing as saying that – when the culture finally moves away from waste as a measure of prosperity and velocity for the sake of velocity – then people will start riding and motorists will just have to adapt.”

    I love that idea! The $64 question though, is what is going to push culture in that direction? Who’s to say we won’t continue along our same path (no pun intended) without some sort of intervention?


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  • A Planner says:

    I’m a professional city planner. I once emailed Forester back when I was sorting out the arguments, and he called me an idiot. Heh. If he said that in a public meeting, I’d have him physically removed, and his arguments would be set aside like a bag of dung. The same would go for his acolytes and devotees who would behave like that.

    That said, I agree with Alan. My daily commute takes me out on nary a bike lane. I ride safely amongst the steel beasts, with a helmet, lights, hand signals, and all the Forester techniques. However, although it is very clear that an irrational fear of cars keeps too many people out of the street, I’m not going to send my ten-year old and/or my non-expert wife out into a collector or arterial street with no facilities.

    Neither is it much fun for experienced cyclists. Riding with traffic makes me anxious enough, and I can easily see how those who would like to commute refuse to do so. It’s often hellish out there. Drivers who will slip in and out of a lane easily can’t even imaging taking the lane on a bicycle.

    Cars and the congestion that makes people crazy are not going away anytime soon. Just like a Amsterdam-like system is a fantasy in most developed American cities, so is a wish that the lamb can lie down with the lion. That’s just human nature. The powerful will lord it over the less powerful every time.

    I’m not a racer. If I can ride a separated path that is convenient, I’ll take it every time, even if it’s full of dog walkers and prams. I just slow down a little and enjoy not worrying about cars. Facilities are essential for common bicyclists to feel safe, and to select riding as a serious transportation option.

    In my work, I argue for education, enforcement, AND a full range of appropriate facilities. We must be open to and be able to integrate into our existing transportation system the entire spectrum, including riding expertly and safely in low-speed traffic, all the way to separated facilities and woonerfs.

  • Tom says:

    It is easy to share the “road” with cars on city streets. What is hard, is sharing the intersections. That is where most of the accidents occur. A segregated path that runs parallel to the road (bike-only side walk) creates a greater risk to cyclists at intersections primarily because the cars in the parallel road are not as aware of the bikes when either is turning.

    I know the Dutch have many of these types of paths, and they seem to be safe. I think its because drivers are much more aware of cyclists so they yeild to the bike path and look for cyclists when turning.

    I may be missing something but I don’t know how solve the interesection problem when bikes are restricted to one side of the road.

  • Kenney says:

    I agree with “A Planner” when he says that Amsterdam-style bike facilities are a fantasy in most developed American cities. It’s not about the lack of political will or funding. It’s that in order to replicate what Amsterdam has, you’d have to completely dig up and rebuild and redesign the American city in question.

    European cities like Amsterdam are not more bike/transit/pedestrian friendly than most of our cities because the Europeans are smarter. The short answer is, these cities are hundreds of years old, and so were designed to facilitate pedestrian commutes, the slowest of all modes! That’s why you have more liveable, sustainable communities there, with parks and plazas, mixed-use buildings (as opposed to our lumbering, isolated and vast condo and apartment complexes, big-box stores, etc.) and so forth. The Europeans inherited it.

    On the other hand, many of our cities here in the US came of age near or well after the invention of the personal automobile, so development followed a more sprawling and less sustainable route (especially as those damn car companies bought up all of America’s streetcar trains and lines).

    I apologize for the wordy back story, but I just wanted to drill home the point that while we have much to learn from our European friends, we can’t always pepper our transportation/community planning ideas with euro-lust.

    We have to work with and improve what we’ve got, and on that point, I have an idea. I support separate bike facilities in many instances, but relying on them as a silver bullet to our biking issues is essentially a way of saying “cars win.” The problem we should address is maximizing the efficiency of the space we already have (roads), not to build and pave over more space. There are several suggestions on this matter by other commenters, so I’ll talk about something that wasn’t mentioned: street parking!

    I used an exclamation point to convey my disgust at the amount of street parking available in our cities. I’m all for peak-period pricing and tolling, but in many instances I’d rather see less available parking space to begin with than simply making parking more expensive. If we can shift parking from the streets to under or above ground parking garages (and make those garages expensive, especially if the area is well-served by public transit), you’d see a dramatic increase in the real and perceived comfort and safety of a bicycle commute. In some cases, so much space would be freed up by getting rid of street parking that a simple painted bike lane would be more than enough to meet cyclists’ needs.

  • Nick says:

    I would like to raise a third option that has yet to be mentioned but which I think is the best long-term strategy. I expect it would probably gain the support of a few posters here though it requires more political will than either of the other options.

    The Forester position, which I consider the only option at present with our infrastructure built the way it is, assumes that the status quo on our roads in North America is fine and cyclists should fit in like everyone else. The position relies on the assumptions that bicycles are vehicles like anything else and should be treated equally. I think this is nonsense. A bicycle and a truck are worlds apart. I consider cycles to be pedestrians on wheels rather than cars without motors—after all, we use our feet! Pedestrian zones in numerous European cities show that pedestrians and cyclists can get along very safely if the ‘sidewalk’ is wide enough.

    For me, the solution is not to build cycle-specific infrastructure because the street, in my humble opinion, belongs to the pedestrian first. Our current road system is the most oppresive system of control ever devised and cycle-only infrastructure only further alienates the pedestrian who is already under massive movement control. Our road system denies people the right to cross the street in front of their homes or for children to play outside safely. Despite all our advanced police methods, health care and judicial systems of protection, the average person multiple times daily faces potential death right outside his or her front door. This is completely unacceptable!

    I think the best position we can take that will do the most good for the most people in the long run is to remove the cars from most urban areas. Our emphasis should be on social spaces tailored to the pedestrian through which cyclists can travel safely (Imagine a multi-use pathway that is 30 feet wide). Couple this with massive public transport (including freight), bicycle sharing and low-speed (max 15 km/h) electric vehicles and all localised transportation needs are met.

    People may argue that this is unfeasible, especially in North America. Maybe that’s true, but I can’t shake the feeling that the political climate is changing and the car is quickly falling out of fashion. Cars won’t disappear entirely; they are needed especially for rural transport (for which I think they are best suited). For urban environments, however, they are wholy unsuitable and have destroyed the livability of our cities.

    Pure fantasy maybe, but I bet you all would like it.

  • A Planner says:

    Kenney, while you’ve got it right regarding the evolution of most European cities vs. American cities, parking in urban areas is a huge issue in many European towns and cities too, although you generally won’t see empty city blocks dedicated to parking like in many U.S. cities.

    You have to provide parking to some degree, and when the cost of land is high enough, you’ll start to see parking garages pop up. But your argument can quickly segue to the idea of carfree cities, which is another fantasy that I don’t expect to see in American cities anytime soon.

    Personally, I don’t have issues with parking as a bicycle commuter. My issues have to do with the lack of facilities, education, and enforcement. I learned long ago that bicycles, pedestrians, and cars can coexist under certain conditions, but that was in an ancient European college town.

    If we want to grow the population of everyday cyclists, we must provide facilities of some kind. Cars and trucks get theirs, and so do pedestrians. Why not cyclists?

  • lyle says:

    Vehicular cycling as already mentioned is elitist and is not the way forward if cycle commuting is to become more mainstream. Few sane parents would allow their children to bicycle to school in most US towns unless there were dedicated bike paths.

    Today I had to ride to the south edge of town to the hardware store to pick up some bolts to mount my new bike rack. All through town it was just fine (although there isn’t a single painted lane or bike path through downtown) and it wasn’t until I got near the overpass to cross the highway that a woman was driving half in and half out of the bike lane. I had to thump her car to get her attention.

    The only thing that would change her behaviour along with the behaviour of most other motorists would be a raised barrier.

    Forester’s “rules” made sense in the day, but they’re irrelevant now. It’s time to recognize bicycles as an integral part of the solution not view them as a problem.

  • Nicolas says:

    Probably many opinions mentioned here forget to tell what is their more global project. Actually it can be :
    – pure cycling concerns, and strictly separated and secured bike lanes.
    – less air pollution and its obvious precondition i.e. less motorized vehicles. So the cycles would take the place previously dedicated to cars.
    – space sharing, better life in towns (the Dutch model ?), reduced speed.
    Depending on this project the opinions would diverge.

  • Quinn Hue says:

    I believe both “forms” of cycling can coexist. Take for Example 8th and 9th Avenues in Manhattan. These are two one way streets (8th in a northbound direction and 9th being southbound) The addition of a separated bicycle path along the left hand side of both of these streets has made it much easier for people to bicycle uptown and downtown. The Left most lane consists of the bicycle path followed by shrubbery or barricades followed by parking followed by 3 lanes of traffic followed by parking. Contrast with the former arrangement (as evidenced by 8th avenue north of 23rd street) of parking a much more narrow bike lane followed by FOUR lanes of traffic and another lane of parking. There is a reduced risk of left turn hooks at left turn intersections due to left turn bays reminding both cyclists and motorists of each other.

    I enjoy riding my bike on both the path and the street. On the path I would ride my bike much averaging 15mph versus 25mph on the road. The reduction of lanes also reduces the speed of traffic also encouraging less use of this street by motorists and clearing bottlenecks also making vehicular cycling much safer.

  • clever-title says:

    “Separated bike facilities or vehicular cycling?” The answer to that question is “yes.”

    The cost of building a complete separated nework of bike facilities is unimaginably high, requiring land acquisition and seizure and demolition of roadside buildings, unless the expectation is that road lanes are converted to bicycle/ped use (good luck with getting the motoring public to vote for that).

    Besides, most local roads do not need separated facilities, provided that traffic volumes and speeds are low. This is where Monderman-style shared space, lowered-speed limits, and education and enforcement of safe practices is more cost effective. There are too many local roads which encourage drivers to race at high speeds from one traffic light to the next. Traffic calming and “green wave” concepts that encourage slower, steady speeds would make those roads much more habitable for cyclists and pedestrians.

    On major arterials, properly designed separated facilities do make sense, and are more feasible since there is less roadside development and ROWs are often wider than the existing roadbed. It’s these 50 mph roads where people really do fear getting hit by inattentive drivers.

  • Derrick says:

    Whoa. This can get pretty emotionally charged. Well, I’m also somewhere in the middle. I live a car-lite life. I live in rural KY and it’s easily 10-15 miles to get anywhere… all on country roads. I’ve trained myself to operate as a vehicle along with the cars and trucks. I’m okay with that. But I’m not a single guy. I’ve got a wife and three kids. My kids love their trailer behind the bike. But I WILL NOT risk their lives on a bad road, which really limits our ability to travel as a family on bike. I’d love a MUP. And I don’t get the argument of other users on an MUP. Pedestrians and dogs and rollerbladers on an MUP is just like a bike on the road. We’ve got to politely avoid an elderly woman on a walk just like a semi-truck avoids us on the road. Let’s just be kind to one another out there. Let’s all pay attention. I’m happy to see a bikelane. There is one multi-use path in my area that literally goes nowhere. So I’m happy to see anything that ackowledges that we, as cyclists exist.

  • lyle says:

    “Pedestrians and dogs and rollerbladers on an MUP is just like a bike on the road. We’ve got to politely avoid an elderly woman on a walk just like a semi-truck avoids us on the road.”

    I always used to shout, “On your left!” only to watch grown adults suddenly become confused about which was their right and which was their left. Frantic turning around and I swear, one woman threw herself under my wheels like a lemming.

    With my new sit up and beg style bike, I have a bicycle bell. 95 percent of the people on the bicycle path, no matter how young or old, what mode of transportation instinctively move to their left. The 5% who don’t are either listening to their iPod or talking on their phone. Bells are cheap and inconspicuous. I highly recommend everyone get one.

  • Alan says:


    Yup: Ding, Ding (click here)

  • Bike Coalition says:

    As “A Planner” pointed out the problem with John Forester and his ally’s opinions is that they have taken a my way is the highway approach to bicycling and everyone else is incompetent. This has created a lot of bad blood and consequently they have pushed themselves out to the fringes when they should be in the forefront.

    Recent writings that have focused on the “failure and danger” of Portland’s bikeway system exemplify this. It may be easy to punch holes in an expansive bikeway network but there is no getting around the numbers. Bicycling in Portland has grown to about 10 times the national average for bicycle commuting. Yet there has not been a corresponding rise in reported crashes and in 5 of the last ten years including 2008 the city reported 0 bicycle deaths.

    In Philadelphia Bicycle Ambassadors are trained by League Cycling Instructors whose cycling program was inspired by John Forester’s Effective Cycling. The reason that the Ambassadors exist is that there appears to be very little interest in two to three day safety courses, but we have a dire need people to educate thousands of bicyclists to observe traffic laws. Education and enforcement are the weakest links in our bicycle network.

  • ChipSeal says:

    Larey said; “I am certainly not willing to claim my lane rights as a vehicle when I’m going 14mph and hundreds of other, much larger vehicles are approaching my backside at 50mph. I expect the actual percentage of roadways where such tactics are even remotely possible is extremely low.”

    Larey does not know what he is talking about. Nearly all of my cycling is done on the roads he describes as being impossible to ride while taking the lane. 50 MPH would be considered by automobile traffic as very low speed on these roads.

    The truth is, vehicular cycling techniques have not been tried and found difficult. They have been presumed difficult and not tried.

    In the first place, cycling is not dangerous. Even gardening is statistical more hazardous than cycling!

    Secondly it is not overtaking traffic that presents the most danger, it is crossing traffic at junctions and intersection!

    Third, I don’t think there are crowds of people, on the fence, just waiting for bicycle infrastructure in order to get out of their cars and ride their bikes! These folks are just uttering what they hope is an acceptable reason for not riding bicycles.

  • The Great Debate: Vehicular vs. Segregated Cycling | Commute by Bike says:

    […] there are pros and cons with different aspects of both vehicular and infrastructure-dependent cycling. Understanding the […]

  • Shebicycles says:

    Nicely said – and I, too, have my feet in both camps on this one. I am comfortable riding on the road, but enjoy incorporating a stretch of bike path riding on my trips when it is possible.

    I’ve encountered a lot of people who are strictly “bike path” cyclists – they haul their bikes by car to our local Greenway just to ride there. And while I’m happy to see anyone get on a bike, part of me wishes that they could be convinced to try and ride on the road, and actually ride TO the bike path rather than driving there by car. For this reason, I see dedicated cycling infrastructure to be a real incentive to get the reluctant cyclists to shift their transportation choice from car to bicycle.

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