The text below was posted to the Chainguard Yahoo! Group. It is from Bicycle Transportation Engineer John Forester who wrote the book on Effective Cycling. If you're local, trustworthy and interested I'll loan my 15 year old copy.
If you don't know Mr Forester read this and meet him. If you do know him and have stong feelings against what he advocates - there are better forums than here to argue his points.
- Inadvertent admission of cycling incompetence by John Forester -
In the Washington Post is a column discussing cyclocommuting in DC that was posted to two different transportation lists. The URL is just below this. I wrote a comment to both of those lists, and I send a copy to chainguard by this.
The column by Moira E. McLaughlin in the Washington Post, 29 July 2008, amply illustrates all the defects in American bicycle transportation and in American bicycle transportation policy and practice that I have been describing for decades.
Excessive solicitude for cyclists: "I wonder when his "Be careful getting to work this morning" will turn into "Think you should find another way to get to work this morning?" It should not be a matter of being careful to avoid some undescribed dangers. Would anyone caution an adult motorist to be "careful when driving to work this morning"? Not unless, I suppose, that motorist was operating under the handicap of one of those prescription drugs marked with cautions against operating machinery. It is expected that any adult motorist in the habit of driving to work knows what he ought to do and is careful to operate properly. It is the same with cycling. I am sure that Moira is careful, but, on the basis of what she writes, I think that she operates without the skill that would make care beneficial.
One piece of evidence for this is the following: "In light of the apparent increase in ridership and the recent fatal accident, I have been thinking more about safe bike riding. The scariest things about the death of Alice Swanson are that she was on a street that is generally full of traffic -- that is, a place with a predictable flow of slow-moving cars -- and that the street has a marked bike lane. R Street is not what I would have thought of as a high-risk area."
This is strong evidence of Moira's ignorance because Alice Swanson got herself killed by trying to overtake on the right-hand side of a vehicle that was turning right. Avoiding such right-turning vehicles is almost the most elementary piece of proper cyclist behavior there is. And Moira furthers the indictment by then implying that this should not have occurred because "the street has a marked bike lane," when that is one of the predisposing causes of this dangerous cyclist behavior. Despite which, bike lanes are touted as enormously important cyclist safety measures.
Here's a bit more evidence: "So how does a biker navigate a busy, multiple-lane avenue like Independence, Connecticut or Wisconsin?" The supplied answer is: "Bike shops offer classes about D.C. bike laws (bikers are supposed to abide by the same traffic laws that apply to drivers), safety (wearing a helmet) and rider-to-rider etiquette." I suggest that it is highly likely that Moira has a motor-vehicle driving license; most adult American cyclists do, the prime exceptions being those whose license has been revoked and unlawful immigrants. Her suggestion that knowledge of the laws has much to do with the skill of driving a vehicle is rather as if handing a copy of the Uniform Vehicle Code to, say, a never-has-driven citizen of Manhattan Island (there are some) qualifies that person to drive a motor vehicle.
Here's some more evidence: "I also admit to riding on the sidewalk, which is illegal in some parts of the city. But I do that out of necessity. Even on a street with a bike lane, plenty of cars pull to the side of the road. Buses are especially hazardous, though the bus drivers on 14th Street NW seem to be aware of the cyclists in the bike lane. My options when a car pulls into a bike lane are few. (Drivers in the District are permitted in restricted lanes if they are loading or unloading people or turning right.) I can stop and risk getting run over by a biker coming up behind me. (I have done this and angered my fellow bikers.) I can swerve into traffic to go around the car. Or, I can jump onto the sidewalk for a few seconds to avoid the street all together. To me, this last option is the best." Out of necessity, Moira chooses the very dangerous method of cycling on the sidewalk? It is much safer to go around and overtake on the left-hand side of vehicles in the normal way, a way that is directed by the traffic laws on which Moira has just relied. Angering other cyclists by stopping behind a vehicle stopped in front of you, or was it moving right and hadn't yet stopped? Are they angered because they would overtake on the right-hand-side of that vehicle? All that I can say is that I have never been the target of this particular kind of anger. Or, "swerve into traffic to go around the car." Well, of course, swerving into a new line of traffic is damnably dangerous, one of the other very elementary instructions in safe cycling. Just look behind and negotiate a lane change, and things work swimmingly.
And here's some more evidence of unutterable incompetence: "I sometimes think that etiquette for urban bikers needs more emphasis. I am always surprised when another cyclist passes me without saying, "On your left." With parked cars on my right and traffic on my left, those three words can be crucial; I wouldn't want to swerve left to avoid a pothole, only to collide with a passing biker." Swerving to avoid a pothole? You deserve, as quite a few exasperated people frequently comment about such matters, you deserve to be smashed flat as a tribute to Darwin for improving the gene pool by eliminating the incompetent. Never swerve, unless it is to avoid an imminent great danger produced by someone else, in which case swerving may well be the lesser danger. An instance, when a motorist approaching a stop sign from your right continues into the intersection without yielding to you, you then make an immediate swerve to your left, because it is unlikely that there is a motor vehicle beside you, and running the risk that there is is better than running the certainty of the other collision. Always look ahead for such things as potholes, and if they are large enough to be avoided, then look behind and negotiate a lane change to avoid it. If you can't manage that, then do your best to reduce the impact with the far edge of the pothole (which is the part that damages you).
In short, the whole article is clear evidence of what is wrong with American bicycle transportation, and with the governmental policies that encourage incompetent cycling, and with the anti-motoring activists who praise and advocate it.
John Forester, MS, PE
Bicycle Transportation Engineer