Yer Morning Chuckle

Check out the cover picture of the new edition of Effective Cycling. What in the heck is that person doing? Are those parked cars on her left? Why is she on the line? Why isn’t she commanding her lane? Is that the image of modern urban bicycling? Why are her feet strapped into pedals in a complex urban traffic environment?

Check out the article and comments on Bike Portland regarding the new edition of John Forester’s book. As you can imagine, the whole thing is quite spirited. I’ve discussed Forester and my emotional problems before. No need to go into it further. Well, OK, I will simply remind Carbon Trace readers that I 1) am fully able to separate the concept of vehicular bicycling from Forester’s (to be charitable) grumpy presentation and reliance on fallacious argument (see link above), and 2) am tickled by the idea, as often expressed in comments to posts about Forester, that he is an automobile industry plant 🙂

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Comments 26

  1. Ian Cooper wrote:

    I too have emotional problems that make me hysterically attached to mirrors. My emotional problems apparently stem from two slipped discs I have in my neck that don’t allow me to turn my head far enough to see behind me. Who knew that our emotions were based in our spines? According to John Forester and (presumably) the League of American Bicyclists (who, during my LCI course, insisted – despite my protest of injury – that I turn my head to see behind me rather than use my helmet mounted mirror), they make my arguments for my use of mirrors evidence for hysteria.

    As for John Forester, I too can separate his concept of vehicular cycling from Forester’s desire to alienate just about everyone he talks down to – I only wish John could do the same. That way he might persuade more people of the value of the British (integrated) method of cycling, rather than turning folks against it.

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 8:49 am
  2. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Its unfortunate that JF has gotten so grumpy in his efforts to promote vehicular cycling, which is a fine concept. The discussion of vehicular cycling vs. whatever else is being presented, as anyone who has followed it can attest, often ends up as a whole barnyard of straw men, pig wrestling matches, and other unfortunate excursions from a strictly rational discussion of how best to ride a bike.

    I have to admit to the other 12 step program participants here that I too have emotional problems. I started using a mirror to make it easier to keep track of following traffic. To some degree, I admit to hearing more footsteps these days in the Age of Driver Distraction. But the mirror also helps simply to keep track of following traffic as I anticipate lane changes. The mirror doesn’t take the place of looking back, both because the mirror is small and convex, and the head turn helps communicate to drivers that I’m looking back at them because I am about to do something that requires better two-way data input than from a quarter-size mirror on my commuter helmet.

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 10:54 am
  3. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal and Ian… Exactly.

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 11:25 am
  4. Keri wrote:

    Aw, now I feel really bad. JF emailed me and asked if I could provide a photo from my own archives for the cover of EC. I was looking for a good one (I’d have to get releases to use a student photo, I have lots of those), then got sidetracked by life and didn’t follow through. He must be sick about that cover photo. How awful.

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 2:46 pm
  5. Steve A wrote:

    Have any of you read what Forester has to say about mirrors in the new edition? Since the previous edition, Forester wrote on the Chainguard list: “Some years ago, it became increasingly painful, and hence difficult, to turn my head. I took to mounting a mirror on my helmet … to minimize the occasions on which I had to fully turn my head.”

    Despite the guy’s warts and the new cover, I’ll buy the new edition and wade past the tirades to experience the gems sure to be within.
    As for the parked cars, how many parked cars do you see with headlights on during the day? I do admit that cyclist rides considerably further left in her lane than is typical, however. Regardless; a strange cover photo…

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 6:50 pm
  6. Khal Spencer wrote:

    At least in my case, the razzing about emotional problems vs. mirrors is leg pulling. I have a lot of respect for JF, even if at times he too gets emotionally wound up and lets off a few ill advised broadsides. Don’t we all?

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 9:13 pm
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve… Yeah, use of a mirror is no longer pathological if HE needs one 😉

    Posted 26 Apr 2012 at 10:18 pm
  8. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Khal, I have respect for JF too – just not enough to let him off the hook when he seems hell-bent on making VC appear elitist. He has a scorched earth philosophy when it comes to proselytizing – you’re either with him 110%, or you are a complete fool, and even if you are with him 100%, he’ll try to find ways in which your opinion differs from his, and he’ll excoriate you for it. People don’t respond well to that, but he thinks they do (or he doesn’t care, which is worse).

    Sure, we all fly off the handle… occasionally. But John does it all the time – ‘off the handle’ is his default setting. He looks for ways to belittle everyone he has dealings with. His sense of self-importance, his condescension and his ego would make Donald Trump seem humble.

    John Forester is, whether we like it or not (I don’t), seen as the spokesperson for VC in the US. I know he didn’t necessarily ask for the gig (or maybe he did), but with great influence comes great responsibility. John is irresponsible at best. He’s the worst spokesman for VC it is possible to imagine. I can’t forgive him that.

    Posted 27 Apr 2012 at 4:56 am
  9. Andy Cline wrote:

    Ian… Exactly.

    Posted 27 Apr 2012 at 6:49 am
  10. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I think its time to pass off the so-called leadership of the VC movement to someone else who is not as polarizing a figure but quite compelling in walking the walk as well as talking the talk–Keri, for example. By avoiding the VC word while teaching its examples, one avoids the land mines.

    As far as leadership, even Ho Chi Minh was past his prime at some point. Um…wrong VC…

    Posted 27 Apr 2012 at 8:06 am
  11. Andy Cline wrote:

    Make that two votes for Keri!

    Posted 27 Apr 2012 at 8:58 am
  12. Keri wrote:

    Thanks Khal and Andy 🙂

    I think a number of leaders have emerged to reframe bicycle driving in more positive terms. I’d like to see a Cyclist Equality movement promoting bicycle driving principles, education, law reform, progressive* social structure and infrastructure solutions, etc. We definitely need leaders who are not polarizing, but also have big-picture vision and compelling messaging. Most importantly, a leader is nothing without followers and the movement becomes defined by its followers as much as its leaders.

    I love this TED talk by Derek Sivers:

    There’s a reason VC advocacy forums are full of think-skinned, left-brained people who enjoy nitpicking, correcting and arguing over minutia.

    *by progressive, I mean solutions that positively correct —or at least do not reinforce —dysfunctional beliefs, do not conflict with the rules of movement, place cyclists at a disadvantage or inspire harassment and mandatory use laws.

    Posted 27 Apr 2012 at 11:56 am
  13. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Three votes for Keri.

    Posted 27 Apr 2012 at 1:08 pm
  14. Fred wrote:

    In Effective Cycling, Forrester talks about a study which “proved everything he had been saying.”

    Please read it before any other discussion on EC:

    I argue that in fact Mr. Cross’ study contradicts nearly everything that Forrester has ever said and that EC is a vast excercize in Confirmation Bias (read about this on wikipedia).

    Posted 28 Apr 2012 at 12:13 pm
  15. Ian Cooper wrote:


    Which particular points does the Cross study contradict in John Forester’s work? I’ve not looked at the Cross study recently, but I don’t recall any specifics in it that outright prove all of Forester’s points to be wrong, and I’ve read a bunch of studies that tend to support Forester’s assertions – for example: the 1987 Berlin Police crash study; the Aultman-Hall studies of 1998-1999; Franklin’s 1999 review; Wachtel’s 2001 study; Reid’s 2001 paper; Jensen’s 2001 study; Agerholm’s 2008 study; Daniels’ 2009 study and Reid’s 2011 study.

    My point is this: I think the available studies tend to support Forester (even if Cross can be shown to disagree with him). As for my criticisms of Forester, the fact that I think he’s an asshat doesn’t mean I think he’s wrong. The problem we’re discussing here is that his rightness tends to be dismissed out of hand by many who are angered by the fact that he’s an asshat.

    Posted 28 Apr 2012 at 12:33 pm
  16. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Fred, I’m reading through the link you posted. I don’t see anywhere that the Cross study clearly conflicts with Forester’s conclusions. I do notice that Cross has made some perhaps naive conclusions in regard to some accident types and reports that were used in the study. But for a study done 35 years ago, it’s not too bad. I wish the link showed more of the collision types – it seems to show only a small sample.

    Posted 28 Apr 2012 at 1:46 pm
  17. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Also. the Cross study seems to be biased in that it assumes as a ‘proper’ cycling lane position one that we now know to be dangerous. This bias would still exist in modern studies, as the fact is, most accidents are still investigated by people who are not cyclists and who do not know anything about cycling, and who are predisposed to be more understanding towards the motorist’s experience. Fortunately, today’s studies tend to be more rigorous, though we still get folks like Anne C. Lusk et al, who seem to be more than willing to misrepresent their data to get the results they desire.

    Posted 28 Apr 2012 at 1:58 pm
  18. Fred wrote:

    New Note 50

    Yes, the Cross study sucks! This is precisely where I wanted ppl to go to.

    I am going to continue to press people back to several fall back positions.

    Let’s save lots of time and skip all the steps and move to 8. You lose.

    First we have:

    1. VC is great because it is backed by research (Cross)

    2. Actually Cross’ research sucks, but VC is still true for more bizarre reasons.

    3. A series of non-sequitors.

    4. Calling me names, asking for my title

    5. Cooking up some modern BS videos and slide shows to show that VC is true.

    6. More VC BS

    7. Deciding that safety is actually impossible. Yet another fall back position.

    8. Calling me a troll and not responding to me anymore. At this point, I have shut down more VC nonsense as they fail to respond to logic and reason. I win.

    If the Cross study is wrong then VC is wrong. This is Forester’s position. Please read the WHOLE study.

    Posted 29 Apr 2012 at 2:35 pm
  19. Fred wrote:

    Also, read closely what a “rural road” is.

    VC treats all roads like rural roads. Look at type 13 and 14 and read all the analysis.

    Forester is a liar.

    Posted 29 Apr 2012 at 2:37 pm
  20. Fred wrote:

    Oh, it really makes me angry when people say that Forester’s rightness is because he’s not a nice person.

    I started out as a fan. Don’t put words into my mouth (or anything else).:)

    This is a total insult to my intelligence. I have done tons of research on this. It’s my research AND ALL OF PREDICTIONS TOTALLY FAILING AND the fact that the vast majority of traffic experts reject his findings is what makes me reject his ideas.

    Let’s not get personal here.

    He’s totally wrong.

    When cycle tracks were built, we got LESS accidents not MORE even without helmets.

    The jury is in VC is dangerous, infrastructure saves lives and gets people cycling.

    Oh, when I read most other “pro-VC” papers, they, too, show the opposite.

    Posted 29 Apr 2012 at 3:00 pm
  21. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “Oh, it really makes me angry when people say that Forester’s rightness is because he’s not a nice person.”

    I think I said that he was right DESPITE the fact that he’s not the nicest person.

    Posted 29 Apr 2012 at 5:06 pm
  22. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Interesting and relevant discussion here:

    Posted 30 Apr 2012 at 11:26 am
  23. Keri wrote:

    Excellent, Khal! Thanks for that 🙂

    Posted 01 May 2012 at 5:18 am
  24. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I thought that NPR piece was sort of relevant to the last few posts.

    “Vehicular Cycling” aka Smart Cycling, aka Cycling Saavy, are methods that teach cyclists how to best ride a bike in a traditional roadway environment, period. The Cross study and many others point out many errors that cyclists make (they make about 50%, motorists the other half) when riding in traffic that lead to crashes. By eliminating their own errors and by thinking carefully about how a rider interacts with traffic, one can optimize one’s chances for not having a bad experience. Period. That’s all. Hence the old saw “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles”. Forester wrote this quite some time ago as a way to train cyclists to ride in traffic. In that context, it is pretty good advice.

    VC in any of its incarnations don’t make one immune from a crash. Neither does Driver’s Ed or a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. These simply create a more competent rider who is less likely to make a mistake, more likely to recognize a bad situation unfolding, and skilled enough to do something about it. It doesn’t automatically prevent other people’s mistakes. Some concepts such as optimized lane positioning are intended to lessen the chance of another person making a mistake. I don’t think I have seen a peer-reviewed study showing if such concepts as lane position pass rigorously applied controlled experiments in reducing crashes vs. causing different kinds of crashes in terms of risk reduction. Holler if you know one and meanwhile, recognize the difference between scientific proof and scientific hypothesis.

    The goal of complete separation of bicyclists into their own infrastructure would make cyclists safe from car-bike crashes by tautology. Obviously a cyclist who never crosses paths with a car will never be hit by one. Having said that, a cyclist on a cycling infrastructure will have to learn the “rules of the path” to avoid chaos developing and resulting crashes. Also, many paths in urban environments must be engineered at all intersections to control and manage movement. Such controls are not foolproof and can be overridden; residual crashes will be at such locations. Such facilities can nonetheless encourage more cycling because they decrease motorist-cyclist interactions and don’t require a high degree of road saavy, i.e., if you are not interacting with cars, you don’t need as well developed traffic survival skills. Then again, not all cities, and few rural areas, have separated infrastructure nor do all communities want to spend the money on them. Then what? One has to fall back on good rider skills. These are portable, so why the fuss? Also, separated facilities come at a cost of both dollars and access, i.e., mandatory use laws.

    I hate to see us get into these VC vs. Paint and Path wars. Each side makes good points, each side presents a valid paradigm and each side has to deal with reality, which doesn’t correspond to either camp’s most extreme statements. These wars pain me, they often create more heat than light, and they get people mad at each other, which as cyclists, we really don’t need since we are already a small minority.

    Let’s stick to facts. Arguing the relative moral superiority of VC vs. separated infrastructure is more like religion, and we all know how many wars have been fought over that. The many nasty fights that Mr. Forester and others have fought are examples of this emphasis on “religion” rather than finding solutions that work well.


    Posted 01 May 2012 at 12:48 pm
  25. Khal Spencer wrote:

    God, that has to be a verbal diarrhea record for me.

    Posted 01 May 2012 at 12:48 pm
  26. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal… I appreciate your participation here.

    Posted 01 May 2012 at 6:05 pm