09 July 2012

Effective Cycling, Revised

The latest edition of John Forester's Effective Cycling has been published.  I plan to obtain a copy, in part because I am curious to see what has changed.  Also, given Forester's age, it might be his last revision to his book.

I have one of the early editions of the book, from 1985.  It may have been the first publication--at least in this country--to advocate and explicate the concept of Vehicular Cycling.  This means that cyclists should ride as if their bikes are vehicles--which, in fact, is what they are for many of us.  That means, among other things, taking and using lanes in similar ways. In turn, he says, motorists and policy-makers should treat bicycles as if they are vehicles.  

At the time the first edition of the book came out, Vehicular Cycling seemed like a radical idea.  Even more radical was his notion that there shouldn't be separate infrastructure for cyclists because if cyclists acted more like vehicle operators, there wouldn't be any need for separate bike paths and such.

Almost everything urban planners have done to promote cycling and make their cities more "bike friendly" runs counter to what Forester says.  One reason for that is that most planners are not cyclists; even the ones that are labor under the same misconceptions the non-cycling public has.  Also, it seems that cities can get money for building bike lanes, but not for Effective Cycling courses (or any cycling courses, for that matter).

I don't entirely agree with Forester's idea that there should be no infrastructure for cyclists.  If Vehicular Cycling became the norm, there wouldn't be as much need for paths and such.  There are a few areas, I think, in which such lanes make sense.  However, I would rather not have any lane at all than lanes that are poorly conceived- and -constructed and therefore even more dangerous than the streets from which the lanes are supposed to protect cyclists.  

Still, I think the fact that such questions are being discussed at all is perhaps Forester's greatest contribution.  


  1. Those that say there is no need for specific cycling infrastructure seem to be the fast and furious city bike commuters.

    They certainly aren't thinking about children cycling to school, mothers popping to the shops, grannies visiting their grandchildren, or visitors to our cities that might want to see the sights by bike.

    Pedestrians consider it dangerous to share a space with a bike, so I fail to see how some think it's safe for a bike to share the same space as motor vehicles.

  2. Are you going to get the paper or ebooks version. I took the former along on a trip and somewhat regretted it.

  3. In UK people is having good points about VC.

  4. I agree with the first comment: back when Forester's book was first published, I probably could have cruised through heavy traffic and bypassed double-parked delivery trucks easily. Now that I'm middle-aged, wearing bifocals, and cursed with a bad left knee, it's a lot harder to fearlessly barrel down a busy street. Riding the way Forester suggests requires a certain amount of physical prowess that many of us don't have now, maybe never did. I'm looking forward to seeing my city implement a bike-friendly route for getting from residential neighborhoods into downtown, and some of that means having paths that I don't to share with motorized vehicles.

  5. Steve--I'll probably get the paper version. It's still my preference.

    Zandranna--I appreciate what you're saying. However, I'm not sure that segregating bicycles entirely is such a good idea. For one thing, it limits the number of places to which you can ride, which makes bicycle commuting less feasible.

    Hangakugozen--You make some interesting points. I wonder whether other people feel the same relationship between their physical prowess and their ability to cycle in traffic.

  6. Some people tend to think that segregated cycling means that motorists can't go where cycles are and cycles can't go where a motorist is. This simply isn't true.

    Segregated cycling means that motorists aren't allowed to encroach on a path/road/lane, set aside for cyclists only.

    Very few roads in the Netherlands are cyclists banned from using. Those that are, are very, very fast roads with many lanes and there is always a very wide cycle path running along side them with cycles over taking each other at speeds they wish to do.

    Other roads have cycle lanes. A lane with a solid line and tarmac in red. Once again cars aren't allowed in that area to drive in or to park in. Cycles however are allowed to be on that road if they so wish. Few cycles do because in their lane they are already able to cycle as fast as they want to and over take slower bicyclists.

    Other people think that segregated cycling takes cyclists out of their way into a longer journey. Once again with the Dutch style cycling this isn't true. They have planned their roads to give cyclists the direct route and motorists the more roundabout route.

    Segregated cycling isn't banning cyclists from their right to use the road. It's simply supplying a good safe route for cyclists that want to use it.

    Segregated cycling means that everyone from 8 to 80 can get out on their bikes and not just keep cycling for the elite fit, healthy, and brave few.

  7. In Holland it was the cyclists who seemed to be the first class citizens...