Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Offering a New Transportation Engineering Perspective on Cycling Facilities: A Response to John Forester's Letter in ITE Journal

To the Editor:

In John Forester’s letter to the editor critiquing “Physically Separated Bikeways: A Game Changer for Bicycle Mode Split” (vol. 81, no. 4), he takes credit, as he has elsewhere[i], for alerting the engineering community to the supposed danger of bikeways that are physically separated from adjacent traffic. His objection is based primarily on his advocacy for a style of bicycling effective under what most people consider the worst of conditions: a roadway shared by bicycles and high volumes of fast motor vehicles. So-called “vehicular cycling”—essentially operating a bicycle as if it were a motor vehicle—allows the small minority of people willing to operate in such environments a safe way to ride. While Forester deserves credit for developing such a style, better alternatives are now and have long been available.

There is a growing consensus among transportation professionals and decision makers that direct their work that it is the diametrically opposite of Forester’s antiseparation doctrine that results in increasing numbers of people bicycling. Creating as much separation as possible between people riding bicycles from high volumes of motor vehicle traffic improves the safety and comfort of all road users. There is substantial and growing evidence to support these views based on the recent experiences with cycle tracks in Montreal, Canada, Portland, OR, New York, Long Beach, CA, and Washington, DC that are not merely anecdotal, but are being confirmed by emerging research. A 2010 study of Montreal’s bikeways found, not surprisingly, that they were significantly safer than riding in mixed traffic, as well as enormously popular[ii]. New York City reports similar results. Research suggests that the cycle tracks in Portland, OR increased cyclist perceptions of safety (particularly those of women)[iii], a necessary step toward expanding the use of bicycles across a broader cross-section of society. Of course, European cities have long known about these benefits of cycle tracks and comparative research has shown that European countries with cycle tracks had far lower bicycling fatality rates than America[iv].

Unfortunately, Forester’s statements reflect more a personal philosophy about the appropriate relationship of bicycling to driving than they do a reasoned understanding of current research and emerging trends. Stating that “[bicyclists] acting subservient to motorists” is an “indignity”, phrasing such as “cyclist-inferiority cycling” and discussion about how people riding bicycles are “disenfranchised” from riding on the public roadways by cycle tracks, are about as relevant to this discussion as is the 35-year old study Forester cites as the basis for his critique. He was also opposed to building rail-trails in the 1980s and 1990s for these same reasons, which have proven to be groundless.

The fact is that transportation policies are advancing to support increased bicycle transportation; a growing number of jurisdictions and the professionals that serve them are finding ways to accommodate that desired growth and are achieving success in doing so. With better alternatives now available, willingly planned for and successfully implemented in cities across the country, relying on vehicular cycling—and thus relegating bicycling to only those few willing to ride in such environments—would represent a failure both of policy and engineering. The growing movement to create cycle tracks in American cities is being facilitated by the engineering community’s recognition that separated bikeways can be safe, convenient, and attractive. The 2010 publication of the Bikeway Design Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials offers the first national guidance on separated bikeways such as cycle tracks. We hope that many other positive steps follow.


Robert Burchfield, P.E., City Traffic Engineer, Portland, OR
Susan Clippinger, Director, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, City of Cambridge, MA
Michael Gardner-Sweeney, Traffic Engineer for the City of Boulder, CO
Brian Kemper, P.E., Acting City Traffic Engineer & Signal Operations Manager, Seattle Department of Transportation
Peter Koonce, P.E., Manager, Signals and Street Lighting Section, Bureau of Transportation, PortlandOR
Dennis Leach, Director of Transportation, Arlington County, VA
Andy Lutz, P.E., Chief Engineer, City of Indianapolis, IN
Susanne Rasmussen, Community Development Department, Environment and Transportation Planning Division, City of Cambridge, MA
Bridget Smith, P.E., Deputy Director, Livable Streets, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Wayne Wentz, P.E., Director Transportation Engineering, Arlington County, VA
John Yonan, P.E., Deputy Commissioner/Chief Engineer, Chicago Department of Transportation, Division of Engineering
Paul Zykofsky, AICP, Associate Director, Local Government Commission, Sacramento, CA
Mia Birk, President, Alta Planning + Design
John LaPlante, P.E., PTOE, Director of Traffic Engineering, T.Y. Lin International
Rock Miller, P.E., Principal, Stantec Consulting
David Parisi, P.E., Parisi & Associates
Jamie Parks, AICP, Kittelson & Associates
Todd A. Peterson, P.E., PTOE, Senior Transportation Engineer, Parsons Brinckerhoff
Matthew  Ridgway, AICP, PTP, Principal, Fehr & Peers
William Schultheiss, P.E., Senior Engineer, Toole Design Group
Andy Clarke, President, League of American Bicyclists
Dan Burden, Executive Director, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute
Keith Laughlin, President, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
Barbara McCann, Executive Director, Complete Streets Coalition
Randy Neufeld, SRAM Cycling Fund
Gil Penalosa, MBA, Executive Director, 8-80s Cities
Jennifer Dill, Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Peter Furth, Professor, Northeastern University
Ian Lockwood, P.E., Loeb Fellow, Harvard University
Chris Monsere, P.E. Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
John Pucher, Professor, Rutgers University
Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator, Portland, OR
Zaki Mustafa, Chief of Field Operations, City of Los Angeles, CA

[i] Forester, J., 2001. “The bikeway controversy.” Transportation Quarterly 55(2): 7-17.
[ii] Lusk, A.C., P.G. Furth, et al. 2011. “Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street.Injury Prevention 17: 131-135.
[iii] Monsere, C., N. McNeil, J. Dill. “Multi-User Perspectives on Separated, On-Street Bicycle Infrastructure” Paper 12-1753, Accepted for presentation at the 9th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC, 2012.


Steven Vance said...

I'm happy to see that at least two Chicagoans signed that (John LaPlante and Randy Neufeld).

Steven Vance said...

Did ITE Journal publish this?

pkoonce said...

They did. Having the current president sign on doesn't hurt the chances of publication.

Steven Vance said...

Do you have a scan or a link to the letter in publication?

Ian Brett Cooper said...

It's great that "transportation policies are advancing to support increased bicycle transportation". I just wish the infrastructure that resulted from such policies was safer than the road. If it was, I could support it.

In practice, what we get from transportation engineers is facilities that endanger cyclists' lives and assurances from the engineers that they don't.