A Brief History of How American Transportation Engineers Resisted Bike Lanes

Street design guidance from AASHTO has been eclipsed by the work of American cities. Image: AASHTO
Street design guidance from AASHTO has been eclipsed by the work of American cities. Image: AASHTO

Try to picture American cities if they had started building world-class bike infrastructure en masse in the 1970s, instead of 40 years later. How much safer would our streets be today? How much more active would we be? How many more years would people have enjoyed instead of getting their lives cut short by traffic crashes or chronic cardiovascular disease?

It’s not that far-fetched a scenario. Davis, California, began to build protected bike lanes in the early 70s, drawing significant interest from other cities. But instead of embracing these street design concepts, American transportation engineers shunned them for a generation.

A new paper from Bill Schultheiss, Rebecca Sanders, and Jennifer Toole of Toole Design Group looks at what led the engineering establishment down this path and “delayed the development of urban bicycle transportation networks in North America for decades” [PDF].

In the 1970s, the Davis bike network did inspire other cities, especially in California. It also highlighted the need for engineering design guidance, so the innovations in Davis could be refined and then replicated in other places.

In 1972, the engineering firm DeLeuw Cather surveyed people in Davis and found they preferred to both bike and drive on streets with bike lanes than those without. Few crashes occurred in the bike lanes, but the study noted some difficulties that will sound familiar today: potential conflicts caused by passengers opening car doors, or between cyclists and pedestrians on sidewalk-grade bike lanes, for instance.

As more California cities installed bike lanes and paths, a few municipalities passed mandatory side path laws, which required people to ride in a bikeway if one was available. This provoked a reactionary movement among some cyclists, led by the engineer and amateur bike racer John Forester.

Forester and his followers were worried about being confined to sidewalks where they couldn’t ride fast. A mandatory side path law that accompanied bike infrastructure installed in Palo Alto inspired Forester to write “Effective Cycling,” a book advancing his credo that “bicyclists fare best when they act as, and are treated as, drivers of motor vehicles.”

To discredit California’s emerging bike infrastructure, Forester conducted personal “experiments” where he attempted left turns off sidewalk-level bike paths at high speeds.

Forester “published his account of this ride as ‘the one valid test of a sidepath system’ that proves sidepath style bikeways were ‘about 1,000 times more dangerous than riding on the same roads,'” Schultheiss writes. Although Forester’s experiment was obviously anecdotal and highly subjective, his credentials as an engineer helped lend a scientific veneer to his ideological campaign.

By the mid-1970s, the data on bike infrastructure “were consistent with modern-day research on bicyclists’ preferences and safety,” writes Schultheiss. “Bicyclists preferred separation, there were fewer crashes between bicyclists and motorists on streets with bike lanes compared to streets with shared lanes, and facilities that require bicyclists to move in the contra-flow direction resulted in more crashes.”

Forester sapped this momentum. He seized on some of the safety issues pointed out by DeLeuw Cather and others as evidence that, as Schultheiss puts it, “all methods of separation were unsafe, failing to acknowledge the studies that had found that streets with bike lanes were safer than streets without.” By gaining leverage over influential guidance in the street engineering profession, Forester stunted bikeway development around the nation.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials produced the first edition of its bikeway guide in 1974. It was surprisingly progressive by the standards of the time, with recommendations about protected and unprotected bike lanes. Although it cautioned against protected bike lanes, the 1974 guide advised cities where different types of bikeways are appropriate, taking into account factors like motor vehicle speed and volumes.

By the late 1970s, Forester was president of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, which shaped the Caltrans Bicycle Guide in 1978. That document, says Schultheiss, “codified vehicular cycling as the primary method for accommodating bicyclists.” When AASHTO wrote its next bicycle guide in 1981, the 1978 Caltrans guide “was used as a starting point,” according to Richard Lemieux, an engineer who was the FHWA bicycle program manager at the time.

Dedicated bike infrastructure was out, riding a bike like you drive a motor vehicle was in.

Another version of the AASHTO bikeway guide was not produced until 1991. Interest in bike infrastructure was flagging, and the 1991 guide did not contain many changes.

It took another wave of research funded by the 1991 federal transportation bill for the engineering establishment to question the conventional wisdom that had hardened around Forester’s vehicular cycling philosophy. That decade, the FHWA oversaw a number of studies examining the safety of bikeways, and some of the findings indicated that on-street bikeways were indeed safer.

Successive versions of the AASHTO guide showed marginal progress, but it wasn’t until cities took the initiative and began implementing protected bike lanes in the 2000s that American bikeway engineering caught up to where Davis had been in the 1970s.

As Steven Higashide recounts in the Atlantic, urban DOTs in New York, DC, Chicago, and other cities filled a vacuum left by AASHTO and popularized protected on-street bike lane designs independently. By banding together as the National Association of City Transportation Officials and producing an Urban Bikeway Design Guide, they have led hundreds of other cities to implement the type of bike infrastructure that John Forester disdained.

Since 2010, the overwhelming preponderance of research has shown not only the people prefer to ride in dedicated bike infrastructure, but that these street designs improve safety for everyone.

From the National Association of City Transportation Official's Bikeway Design Guide. Photo: NACTO
From the NACTO Bikeway Design Guide.
  • John Forester

    chandru here provides the justification for superstition. When we discuss sidepath issues, we are discussing sidepaths alongside city streets that cross intersections and driveways. Intelligent people who have cycled on such recognize that they create many more, and more difficult, car-bike collision conflicts than does obeying the rules of the road on the roadway. It is also correct that most American cyclists are so afraid of same-direction motor traffic that this fear overwhelms their judgment about the more numerous causes of car-bike collisions, causing them to believe that sidepaths make cycling safe. Well, chandru, how do you distinguish which of these understandings is the valid one? I take it that you say that normal scientific methods should not be used, only the opinion of the ignorant.
    chandru also writes that the rules of the road are built on superstition (that’s what I make of his talk about building codes), so we might as well try anything new to see what happens. The current world was not built in this haphazard way; it was built through improvement of what has been according to an accurate design theory. chandru recommends discarding the past successes and starting out as if we know nothing and without any accurate design theory.
    Lastly chandru claims that recognizing the truth about sidepaths has to be “willfully obtuse”. That would be a reasonable argument if chandru provided a scientific demonstration of how sidepaths produced a lower car-bike collision rate than does obeying the rules of the road. But, you see, neither chandru nor any other bicycle activist has produced such a demonstration.
    chandru’s arguments are nothing but the repetition of the common inaccurate superstition.,

  • Nancercize

    If that’s your justification for continuing to favor car drivers, what if someone had pointed out that only 2.7% of Americans used cars to get around before we became a car-centric country? Jut as we aren’t bike-centric now, weren’t always car-centric either. We changed, partly because of the infrastructure enabled it.

  • Joe R.

    We don’t need to duplicate the Dutch system to the tee. Rather, the goal is to find a way to increase cycling mode share as much as possible. One way I’ve suggested is to have a course network of grade-separated bike highways in major cities, supplemented by local side streets without bike lanes. That doesn’t require major concessions on the part of motorists, and yet it would make cycling faster and safer than perhaps it is even in the Netherlands.

    It’s worth noting that much of the Netherlands more resembles American inner ring suburbs than large cities like New York. It’s here that we have the room to accommodate separate bicycle infrastructure, and also where I feel cycling has huge potential. Distances are typically too far to walk but not too far to bike. However, people don’t feel safe riding on fast suburban arterials. Moreover, these suburban arterials have infrequent crossings. By definition then, they represent a place where protected lanes work relatively well. So we can have that in inner ring suburbs, what I mentioned in the first paragraph in cities. Not a duplicate of the Dutch system by any means, but rather doing something which should work well in the US.

    One mistake many advocates have made is to take bits and pieces of the Dutch system and use them in contexts they were never really meant for. They also failed to realize that the Dutch never had to solve the problem of how to move bikes quickly through large cities with heavy amounts of motor traffic. Asian cities are actually ahead of the curve here, with China already building elevated bikeways. Here I think America can lead the way by solving a problem which largely doesn’t exist in the Netherlands.

  • Joe R.

    North-south isn’t so difficult if we lose the idea that the cross streets should be through routes. For example, let’s say we bollard off all minor cross streets on the west side of 1st Avenue and the east side of 3rd Avenue. Those streets can still be accessed for deliveries via 2nd Avenue, although the vehicles will need to make a u-turn after the delivery (or back out). Do the same thing for the other avenues. Basically, motor vehicles will be able to access the cross streets every other avenue. The minor cross streets then would be strictly for pedestrian or bicycle through traffic, not through motor traffic.

    Now that you have the minor cross streets bollarded off, you put the bike lane on the same side of the street (i.e. west side of 1st Avenue, east side of 3rd Avenue, etc.). Because there is no cross motor traffic, the bike lane would get a flashing yellow “yield to crossing pedestrians” when the car lanes get a red light. Sure, yielding may incur some delays, but they would be minor compared to hitting a red light every few blocks, as is the case now. Off-peak you might have clear sailing all the way. The only potential delays are at major cross streets, which of course must remain as through routes. Here you can install overpasses. That would be one overpass every ten blocks or so, and no other major infrastructure investments. In principal it could be almost as fast as installing full viaducts, but for a fraction of the cost. The only downside is minor side streets are no longer part of the grid. Still, that’s a minor concession on the part of motorists compared to closing most of Manhattan to motor traffic altogether.

  • Doc Wu

    I knew what you meant. You must feel so smug and special riding by all those car drivers, who sit there fuming. Some of those drivers, the next time they see a cyclist on an open street they will give them a punishment pass to say thank you.
    In that specific situation, that bike lane is a windfall for a cyclist. It’s long, straight, and there are no turns or driveways. But that’s only one situation. In the majority of places, a similar-looking bike lane is actually worse for riding in than the regular lane.

  • Maggie

    I didn’t take that video. I was just interested to hear your thoughts on the use of bike lanes.

    You started out by saying that attitude adjustments are required by everyone. Great advice! There’s no call for animosity. Do cyclists attack drivers for feeling smug and special when they take the on-ramp to an interstate highway? Do we happily threaten them with physical harm if they do? I think not. That would be ridiculous.

  • John Forester

    So, grade separated bikeways to serve as the freeways for bicycle traffic, with their ground connections connecting to low traffic streets that don’t need bikeways. Some forty years ago I worked with a UCLA group on such a plan. There were difficulties, and I decided that this didn’t make much sense for the cyclist. I doubt that I can find my documentation now.

  • Joe R.

    It probably didn’t make much sense 40 years ago given the generally lower traffic levels and much lower numbers of stop signs and traffic signals. In the years since, traffic has greatly increased while traffic signals have sprouted up like mushrooms. Some stretches by me which had one or 2 traffic signals 30 years ago now have 20.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Mr. Forester, was it the Westwood/West Los Angeles/UCLA Veloway that received some funding during the 80’s and died around 1990:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/60b54279e181dae563562f70bb68552b8b783d93dbdafc867ee5ea69a19335fd.jpg

  • John Forester

    Yes, that was its name.

  • Joe Gunderson

    I agree with Forester. All ages and abilities bicycling is a sham concept and has never been achieved anywhere in the world- Especially in the Netherlands! The internet is full of #fakenews and fake photoshop photos which fool all these fear mongering segregationist who want to oppress freedom loving cyclists with segregated paths the government will prioritize funding for instead of highways and build everywhere the second I drop my tinfoil hat. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f20af5c466428acde66637de10fdfae58c5d20950d620b0c1d804443fd254bc0.jpg

  • Perhaps it’s a bit dishonest of you to cherry pick part of what he said and doctor up a photo to prove your point?

    This was Forester’s entire quote:

    “The “all ages and abilities” argument was always an impossible sham; it ain’t possible. Even the Dutch have not achieved it; they give their cyclists years and years of training, and are proud that they do.
    To operate according to the rules of the road one has to know how to obey them. But that’s not difficult, no more difficult that learning how to obey the rules for soccer or baseball. That was proved thirty-five years ago. 15 class hours on real roads in real traffic with 20 students per instructor produced elementary-school cyclists who were far better at obeying the rules of the road than were the adult commuting cyclists in the surrounding cycling-popular Silicon Valley cities, proved by actual observation of students and of adult commuters.
    Why hasn’t America adopted this system? Its rather simple. For seventy years Motordom has had its program for frightening cyclists off the roads, and for the last thirty-five the bicycle activists have wanted bikeways instead of safe cycling.”

  • Joe Gunderson

    Forester’s entire career has been a long running rant based on distortions and lies while he screams “scientific method” and claims his way is the truth. His follower are suckers.And his advocacy which has resulted in foolish followers opposing bikeways based on hyperventilating “fear of a government conspiracy” they will lose their right to bicycle 30mph with traffic has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people in this country maimed and killed taking the lane. That is his legacy.

  • Thanks for dodging the question, making facts up, using ad-hominem attacks, etc.

    Now for my next question: can you please provide your sources for your figure of “thousands“ who’ve been maimed and killed for “taking the lane?”

  • Frank Krygowski

    First, you’re better off making that argument in some society that has just 2.7% in cars. Its entirely useless in an America that has 0.6% bike mode share despite decades of promotion.
    See http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/05/08/bicycle_commuting_still_not_that_popular.html

    And we did not adopt cars because of the infrastructure. That’s backwards. The infrastructure arose because the country rapidly became car-centric. Specifically, Henry Ford’s cheap cars made it possible for farmers across the country to probably triple their mobility, improving their social lives, their access to towns, stores, schools and medical care. The cars also allowed other people to have homes outside the crowded and polluted cities of the early 1900s, yet still access the cities with far more convenience than streetcars. Cars rapidly became very popular for good reasons, not for mere reasons of fashion. And those early motorists soon demanded the “good roads” that bicyclists had envisioned.

    As a guess, I’d say at least half of 1920s American families either had a car or aspired to buy one. That constitutes a huge voting bloc that demanded the building of “good roads” and were willing to help pay for them via gasoline taxes.

    You simply don’t have that same voting bloc regarding bike facilities. Keep in mind, even Stevenage’s minuscule 2.7% mode share is a _maximum_, achievable only by a system designed into a brand new town. A more realistic picture is about 0.5% to 1% mode share resulting from the trendiest facilities. In states that see real winter, that’s far, far smaller than the number of people complaining that potholes aren’t fixed immediately. It should be obvious which voting bloc elected officials are likely to listen to; and their reasons are perfectly logical.

  • John Forester

    The title of this document is a lie: it claims to be a history of “How American Transportation Engineers Resisted Bike Lanes” I was there, and they wanted bike lanes to get bicycles out of the traffic lanes. Look at the makeup of the governmental committee that worked so hard to get both bike lanes and sidepaths. Half represented the owners of the street system; most of the rest represented Motordom, eight total of the above, and the ninth one was the only cyclist, and I got in by unwitting subterfuge. You see, I claimed to represent cyclists who obeyed the law, meaning the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, and they thought I meant that I would obey any damnfool statute they invented.

  • Frank Krygowski

    Chandru, about sidepaths reducing collisions: Do you have a comment on the Columbus, Ohio sidepath built just a couple years ago, that resulted in a 600+% increase in car-bike collisions? Or on the one Columbus built in the 1970s that did the same?

  • Maggie

    Doc Wu, I’m still interested to hear whether you agree in midtown Manhattan, where motor vehicle traffic speed averages 8.2 mph, cyclists can use bike lanes, and bike lanes will allow more people to substitute bike trips for taxis.

  • Maggie

    “I claimed to represent cyclists who obeyed the law… and they thought I meant that I would obey any damnfool statute they invented.”

    Huh.

    Have you adjusted your thinking at all for social and residential changes since you developed the theory in Palo Alto in the 1970s? Like reurbanization in the US over the last 20 years, the rise of live-work-play land use, rising US obesity levels, and the aging of the baby boomer generation?

    I’m curious how the thinking evolves, or whether it’s more a theory of unchanging concepts of geometry and physics.

  • Quote the entire statement and it might make more sense:

    “You see, I claimed to represent cyclists who obeyed the law, meaning the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, and they thought I meant that I would obey any damnfool statute they invented.”

  • Maggie

    I disagree. I was taken aback by the arrogance. It’s sort of an old man yells at cloud statement: an octogenarian engineer writing about “damnfool statutes” he won’t obey.

    That said, I am not going to revisit the broader question with you. I wasn’t impressed but I don’t see the need to revisit it. Best wishes fjl229! You may have the last word, if you like.

  • John Forester

    Maggie claims that several social changes should have caused me to change my position that obeying the rules of the road is the best way to cycle. Here is her list of changes:
    Reurbanization. The latest evidence that I see shows that the suburbs are growing faster than the urban centers, some of which have been losing population. But I have to suppose, for this answer, that reurbanization exists. I see no reason why any level of density changes the principle that the best way to cycle is by obeying the rules of the road.
    “Live-work-play” land use. I hadn’t heard this one before. I presume that it means all of one’s activities occur in a small area. Aside from some nasty activities such as financial juggling for profit and political juggling for profit, the evidence shows that the modern distributed city provides better conditions for its inhabitants than does the urban concentrated city. However, to return to Maggie’s argument, I see that her argument provides no reason to change from my position that obeying the rules of the road is the best way to cycle.
    Obesity. Of course, being fat makes it harder to cycle up hills. And I am willing to hypothesize, without any data, that obeying the rules of the road burns more calories than disobeying those rules. Is that your point, Maggie?
    Baby boomers. I say that obeying the rules of the road is the best way to cycle whether one was born before or after the Second World War.

  • You misquoted him though. There more to it.
    Then you being gender, age, and profession into it.

    To maybe answer your questions about changes:
    The rules of the road for drivers of vehicles hasn’t changed much since they were invented in the late 1800s by a person who never even drove a car. He invented them to bring order to the streets when they were predominantly used by animal driven buggies and bicycles.

    The damfool statutes were the ones that tried to take away the rights of bicyclists to operate as vehicle operators. These include banning bicyclists from certain roadways, the “far to the right” law, and mandatory facilities laws. On the topic of door zone bike lanes, which it seems like we both agree are bad, how many bicyclists do you see ride in them anyways? Especially in places with mandatory bike lane laws. Sure there are exceptions to these laws but how many bicyclists know them? How many bicyclists get passed at a close distance because they believe they need to always hug the curb?

  • John Forester

    Maggie claims that it is arrogance for a cyclist to assert that a statute endangers cyclists. Maggie is unaware of the long history of cycling statutes that attempt to prohibit cyclists from obeying the rules of the road, statutes that were enacted to make motoring more convenient. Considering the tenor of Maggie’s arguments, one would think that she would abhor such statutes, but her words don’t suggest that. Rather that she is ignorant of the history of cycling traffic law. Maggie, you need to learn a great deal more, about history and about engineering, before you should be qualified to discuss these subjects. There! That’s my arrogance in action.

  • Maggie

    “I claimed to represent cyclists who obeyed the law, meaning the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, and they thought I meant that I would obey any damnfool statute they invented.”

    “I say that obeying the rules of the road is the best way to cycle whether one was born before or after the Second World War.“

    Crystal clear, so consistent. I see why engineers have worked around you rather than with you.

  • Stephen Simac

    you are contradicting the theme of this article which claims that he influenced the entire traffic engineering philosophy of the 80’s.

  • Stephen Simac

    Your commentary sounds ironic,(and as a pedestrian I tell cyclists to get off the sidewalk) but cycling at speed on a sidewalk, will inevitably result in a collision with motor vehicles at driveways and intersections, and more frequently the many obstructions engineers deem appropriate for sidewalks, that they would never put in traffic lanes, or even bike lanes.

  • Stephen Simac

    I can assure you that driver behavior towards cyclists sharing the road was far more antagonistic in the 70’s, even routinely violent than today. That’s due to our civil rights movement of Share the Road, and bicycles are legal vehicles, not enlightened driver education programs.

  • Maggie

    right, and so “it wasn’t until cities took the initiative and began implementing protected bike lanes in the 2000s that American bikeway engineering caught up to where Davis had been in the 1970s.”

  • John Forester

    Maggie, there are engineers and engineers. In Davis last summer, Prof of Civil Engineering Peter Furth deviated from his scheduled subject to attempt to do to my position what Maggie has been trying here. In the very few minutes I was given to figure out an answer and give it, here is the substance of my reply.
    The rules of the road system for traffic on roadways has been worked over for more than a century and is accepted by the great majority of road users as providing reasonable safety with reasonable efficiency. You, Prof. Furth, have thrown away this system to replace it with an entirely different system that takes more space, costs more (both capital and operating), is more difficult to operate safely (indeed some aspects cannot be operated safely by a person with only normal faculties) (and more).
    “Every one of these actions violates standard engineering ethics, so that Prof Furth should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”
    You see, Maggie, those engineers whom you have praised for violating my recommendations have done so only by taking actions that violate standard engineering ethics.

  • Traffic engineering philosophy doesn’t include only segregated facilities. Plenty of bike lanes, “bike routes”, rails to trail conversion and of course promotion that “roads are for cars, bikes get out of the way” blossomed in that time period.

  • John Forester

    Maggie claims that American sidepath engineering only caught up with Davis recently. That’s where Maggie’s ignorance of engineering has caught her up. You see, there was no engineering in the Davis system of the 1970s. Sure, someone decided where to paint lines on the road, but that was pure superstition without any engineering analysis.
    Sidepaths today are in no better situation; there is no engineering justification for them. The only justification that they have is political, either to make motoring more convenient (as originally), or to appease the demands of frightened and ignorant people.
    Therefore, it is gross injustice to force those cyclists who choose to obey the engineering built into the rules of the road, to force them to operate dangerously to suit the political desires of others.
    After forty years of dealing with ignorant ideologues such as Maggie and Prof Furth I have lost all interest in trying to reform them; let them kill themselves in their own way. The only remaining issue is to protect the right of those cyclists who choose to follow the engineering practices built into the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles. That task would be made much easier if the frightened and ignorant bicycle advocates admitted that their position is based only on politics and not at all on engineering. But, you see, those people are too frightened and ignorant (as shown by most of these discussions) to admit such an obvious truth.

  • Jack Hughes

    Maggie, if you really want to better understand the Davis “protected” bike lanes (and why they were a failure (looked good on paper, not good in practice)), see: http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?p=1927

  • Jack Hughes

    VC principles worked for me when I was 8. I am willing to, and do, teach children. Dutch kids are getting cycling instruction in the schools. Kudos to the Dutch.

  • Jack Hughes

    We already have 8-80 infrastructure: low-trafficked city streets. It’s what I rode on when I was 5, 6, 7, and 8 and on what my father rides at 80.

  • Jack Hughes

    Are you saying the facility in the video is NOT designed for the 8-80 infrastructure movement? If it is not, pray tell, what facility is? (keep in mind that 8-80 includes 18-70)

  • Jack Hughes

    Dollars to doughnuts you misunderstood a point that is often over generalized. Rather, it’s more a matter of understanding that passing traffic, even stopped traffic, on the right can be dangerous. Opening passenger doors, motorists turning right (often without signalling), etc., present dangers that would caution against passing on the right in violation of normal traffic rules without extraordinary caution. It is a good thing to have an idea of what makes cycling dangerous and not dangerous in a particular circumstance–lots of the bike path/bike lane infrastructure encourages the unwary cyclist to do exactly that which will put her in harm’s way.

  • Jack Hughes

    That again? Really? This from a guy who likes extra-narrow door-zone lanes in Chicago!

  • Jack Hughes

    YOU may not like being referred to in the third person, Maggie, but as these threads get longer and longer, a pronoun like “you” gets rather lost. If I need to know to whom Forester is referring, his use of “Maggie” is quite a blessing.!

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Exactly, Mr. Hughes.

    Yes, the thread does show who the reply is too; but messages get jumbled. In a proper forum, people would be addressed as Mr. or Ms, (Last Name). There would also be a one sentence recap prior to the response.

  • Maggie

    I won’t insult you with a snotty “pray tell”, because that would make me look a bit like an aggressive jerk.

    I think that bike lane is fine, although it’s a problem that the bus is blocking the box in the video. Apparently Frank disagrees and thinks the existence of the bike lane is the problem.

    I’m okay that he and I don’t see it the same way.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps what he’s trying to say is that he had no issue following the same rules of the road every other vehicle operator should follow but as soon as restrictive laws imposed only on bicyclists for the purpose of “getting them out of the way” and “for their safety” came into play, he refused to follow those particular rules.

    I agree BUT let’s take this one step further. In general, there are certain rules of the road which make sense for all users, like traffic has a certain direction depending on the lane, or at intersections traffic signs or controls can assign priority to certain movements over others. However, consider that all rules are not the same for all vehicles. For example, large trucks often have a subset of more restrictive rules they must operate under. That might include lower speed limits, prohibition from certain roads/bridges, prohibition from certain turning movements, etc. The corollary of that is lighter vehicles with better operator visibility should have less restrictive rules when possible. As it relates to bicycles, that might be treating red lights or stop signs as yields, being able to make some turning movements motor vehicles are forbidden from, etc. Of course, the basic right-of-way rules still take precedence. If a cyclist can’t safely pass a red light without usurping another user’s legal right-of-way then they’re not allowed to.

    My question is while I agree 100% with Forester fighting the restrictive rules you mention, why stop there? There are some motor vehicle laws which make sense when applied to motor vehicles but not to bicycles. I gave some examples. There are doubtless others. Perhaps these rules didn’t cause man inconvenience or safety issues in Forester’s time but they often do now. A cyclist can’t stop and start for red lights every few blocks and do a 20 mile trip like that. Even the pros can’t, and yet a lot of roadways full of traffic signals to slow down cars compel them to do exactly that. And starting out when the light changes with a pack of cars which are bigger and can accelerate faster is a major safety issue for cyclists. As a cyclist, it’s the one thing I avoid above all else. It’s also an annoyance to drivers to have cyclists in their way in such a situation. The better solution is to let the cyclists pass the red light. It saves them time and energy. It avoids any conflict between motorists and cyclists at the intersection.

    If people are going to oppose restrictive laws, or laws which compromise the efficiency of cycling, then you need to oppose other laws besides those restricting cyclists to slow side paths. You need to oppose any traffic laws which needlessly fetter cyclists or place them in dangerous situations which could have easily been avoided.

  • Joe R.

    It looks to me like most of the problems cyclists encounter in that video have nothing to do with the design of the bike lane and everything to do with motorists (and in a few cases pedestrians) not doing what they’re supposed to do. The motorists who block the bike lane should have remained on the other side of the intersection until they had a clear path all the way across. Instead, it looks like they tried to make the light, but then had to stop in the bike lane when the pedestrians got their walk signal and started crossing. Same thing with the turning cars. They’re supposed to yield to any cyclists in the bike lane and then wait until the crosswalk is clear so they can complete their turn, not get stuck in the bike lane waiting for crossing pedestrians. And then you pedestrians intruding into the bike lane.

    I’ll grant that this bike lane isn’t a place I’d care to ride, at least at that time of day, but I’m not seeing how that intersection would be much better for cyclists not matter what you did. Even the “no bike infrastructure” solution wouldn’t be great for cyclists. I personally avoid very busy intersections, bike infrastructure or not, because there are always multiple conflicts.

    The only thing which would work great for cyclists in that intersection would be an overpass, or better yet putting the entire bike lane on a viaduct. That might really be true 8-to-80 infrastructure.

  • Joe R.

    Like anything else, it depends upon the situation. Not passing on the right isn’t an absolute. What I do is typically slow down enough to stop if lack of space puts me in a potential door zone. If the light goes green then once I’m near the intersection I hang back from any vehicles ahead of me which can potentially turn in my path. If the light remains red then I can safely ride all the way up to the intersection. At that point I do one of two things. If there’s no cross traffic, I proceed across on the red light. If there is cross traffic, I wait until it’s clear, then proceed across. If I can’t proceed across before motorists get a green light, then I look at what the vehicles next to me and in front of me are doing before moving. If their front wheels are turning, then I hang back until they turn. If not, I ride slightly behind them, ready to hit the brake if they suddenly turn.

    I’ve been doing it like this for decades. Never had a problem.

    That said, I’m a highly experienced cyclist who fully concentrates on what I’m doing. It’s easy to see how a less experienced cyclist might get right-hooked. For this reason, if we have side paths, we should either prohibit turning movements across them, or have the side path go under the intersection prior to when motorists can turn right so as to avoid conflict (as a bonus cyclists also avoid red lights via the underpass). The latter is a great example of an inherently safe solution. It doesn’t depend upon anyone following procedures to avoid danger.

  • Joe R.

    I personally experienced a lot more hostility in the last 20 years compared to the previous 20. I guess location has something to do with, as does riding style. While I won’t hesitate to take the lane when absolutely necessary for safety, I also make a point to move over at the earliest possible opportunity (usually the next intersection) if anyone behind me looks like they want to pass. I don’t even have to stop to do this. I just coast a bit, maybe slow down to 10 to 15 mph, then resume taking the lane once any vehicles are past. I can see why cyclists taking the lane for miles at 12 mph uphill on rural roads draws the ire of motorists. Sure, it’s absolutely legal for them to do this, but it’s something I consider bad manners. In that situation, for both the sake of motorists and cyclists, I’d much rather have a parallel side path physically separated from motor traffic by a barrier or a buffer. Of course, what we usually get instead is a shitty, gravel-strewn shoulder which is barely rideable even in the best of circumstances.

    I’ll certainly grant there are many times cyclists draw the ire of motorists for no reason whatsoever. I have mixed feelings as to whether or not bike lanes help or hurt in those situations. They may help by getting cyclists out of motorists’ way. At the same time though they cause more hostility against the cyclists who refuse to use the bike lane for whatever reason. Bottom line, when we do build bike lanes, I think it’s super important then to make sure they’re usable by cyclists of all abilities. In that regard, I see a 25 or 30 mph design speed for bicycle facilities as perfectly reasonable. The hard part is getting local DOTs to spend the money to build such bike facilities.

  • The restrictions placed on large trucks come with good sound reason. The roads or bridges may not be engineered to handle the loads, the geometries at intersections might not be adequate to accommodate for their turning movements, etc. These restrictions or “exceptions” to the usual traffic laws make sense and treating stop signs as yields and red lights as stop signs for bicyclists are both perfectly valid since bicyclists have far less vehicle impeding their view and the bicycle itself can stop faster. These kinds of changes to the laws benefit cyclists and advocates need to work carefully to lobby for these chances in a pragmatic manner.
    The laws Forester was fighting were ones, under the illusion of safety, seek to remove bicyclists from the roadways and unfairly restrict or make more difficult their movements. The primary reason for enacting these laws were for the convenience of motorists and other slow moving vehicles such as tractors, delivery vehicles, abdominal driven buggies didn’t get the same draconian laws. They are simply required to use the right most lane for traffic and use turnouts to release traffic when provided and ultimately this is what we want to . This is how we were treated in the past too and it caused no issues. The laws ignored the cyclist’s needed for operational space and ushered in the myth that bicyclists don’t belong on the roadways.

    Bicycle drivers who operate on roads as you describe simply maintain their lane position, provided they aren’t turning or passing obviously in the right most thru lane just like any other vehicle moving slower than the rest of the traffic stream. Faster moving traffic has no problem either waiting or they pass and those who throw a temper tantrum over it usually just honk which is harmless. Often in these events traffic is stop and go and few ever go that fast. Sure it’s annoying having to stop at every light but it’s equally annoying to do so in a car. Unfortunately encouraging the cyclist to filter forward and pass the light as you describe violates “first come first serve” and it annoys others because many have already safely and courteously passed you and don’t want to do it again.

    To suggest bicyclists operating as drivers of vehicles in the standard travel lanes in times of heavy traffic are “in the way” or “annoying” motorists is popular opinion but it neglects to respect the bicyclist as a member of traffic and as a slow moving vehicle operator. Also while it’s true cars, which by the way aren’t the only type of motor vehicle on the road, are greater in size and typically accelerate at a greater rate than a bicyclist riding a bicycle the concern that this is a hazard to bicyclists operating as drivers is highly overblown. Motorists pay attention primarily where they intend to point their vehicle. If a bicyclist is relevant in the scene, by operating in the travel lane using an appropriate lane position, the motorist will have no choice but to see and acknowledge them.

  • Jack Hughes

    Aye, J.R. There’s the rub. The “8-80” infrastructure is impossible to integrate in any reasonable way with the transportation grid we have, or are able to conceive, unless we were to spend astronomical sums for very little benefit. A cyclist has to climb an overpass no? Tell it to the 8-and-80-year olds why they are climbing significant inclines all the time and then tell them how hard it is to get to the corner store via an incline over the intersection where it is located.
    The behavior problems you note are _design_ problems. A bicycle facility works best when it doesn’t require special behaviors from operators of vehicles. That it is set up as two-way on one side of the street is a beginning point of the problems.

  • Jack Hughes

    In that case, please read that instead as “please tell me.” My question remains: is that an “8-80” facility or not? If not, please tell me how it could be bettered to reach that standard.

  • Joe R.

    Obviously separate bike lanes for each direction on opposite sides of the street would lessen a lot of the problems. That’s really the primary thing wrong here.

    As for overpasses, no, if you need one every block then they’re a horrible idea. On the other hand, if you’re talking one or two dicey intersections per mile then they make lots of sense. Underpasses make even more sense if the utilities under the street allow them. A cyclist can use the momentum gained going down to come back up the opposite end. As such, underpasses would be a nonissue for children or the elderly.

    Unfortunately in this country we still think we can do bicycle infrastructure on the cheap, and it shows. If we really want safe 8 to 80 infrastructure in areas with congested streets, we don’t have too many options other than spend more money on them. As for the benefits, think of how car highways increased overall demand for car travel. Bike “highways” on viaducts through urban areas would do the same. While facilities like the one in the video offer dubious benefits to cyclists, it’s clear completely separated facilities would be extremely popular and also offer myriad benefits. Those include greater safety, freedom from stop lights, faster travel speeds, and probably much better pavement condition, as only bikes would be using the facility.

  • Maggie

    This video was taken in 2011, is that correct?

    I’m not local to DC so I’ll defer to locals on any changes DC has implemented in the last 7 years. The two issues I see in the video are 1) the bus blocking the box and 2) the turning conflicts between a small number of right turning cars and the enormous numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists crossing K Street.

    That feels like a signalized turn would help. I notice from google street view that the intersection got a new streetlight sometime between June 2014 and July 2015. It looks to me like the new streetlight is set to kill the turning conflicts seen in the video.

    Do you have more recent knowledge? Is there more you saw that troubled you?

    To clarify, I’m comfortable and confident that 8-year-old bicyclists know not to ride directly into buses. I’m surprised that people raised this as an issue. I’ll raise the possibility that it could come across as concern trolling.

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