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John Forester speaks at Google - Cyclelicious

John Forester speaks at Google

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By Yokota Fritz

John Forester gave a talk on bicycle transportation on Bike To Work Day at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Forester started with a brief history on how transportation effects city size, shape, and design.

Then Forester gives his somewhat snarky take on the history of bike lanes in California. Given that he got involved in bicyclist activism when he was arrested for disobeying a mandatory sidewalk riding law in Palo Alto in the 60s, his attitude is understandable. In the Q&A, somebody asks about the bike facilities in the Netherlands, San Francisco and Davis, CA; stop signs for traffic calming; the effectiveness of bike lanes in informing motorists of cyclists;. Watch the entire one-hour-long video on Google Video.

In related news, many folks have been following the case of David Prokop in Los Angeles, in which Forester acted as an expert witness for Prokop. Prokop was riding on a Los Angeles bike trail when he bumped into a fence, lost control, and was injured. He filed suit, contending that poor design by the city led to the crash. The state Court of Appeals ruled on the appeal yesterday, deciding that the City of Los Angeles is not liable for damages, ruling that California Class I Bikeways are not subject to state standards for street safety.

Finally, Los Angeles cyclist Will Campbell doesn't think much of bike lanes. Several others have already mentioned this one, but since we're talking Forester and bike facilities, I figure it's appropriate for another mention.


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do you work at google?
Looked pretty clear in the books to me - It's a trail. They don't have to make it useful or safe. Heavens, why would they want to be responsible for that ?!? It's not like we're drivers or anything...
Cycle paths are NOT cycle lanes. To spend legal funds to change the original purpose is self-defeating. But of course many things John attempts to support damages the integration of cycling into our transportation solutions.

Forester's perceptions and observations on how history has dictated our transportation layout is accurate in some respects but misleading in others. No doubt STOP signs are overused and thus the CA stop is dominant. His attempts to question with questions or with "have you ever heard of a scientific study on it" would apply to many of his personal observations as well.

John's prescriptions and idea are a product of an era in our history that created some peculiar solutions. His take and interpretations are understandable but misleading... many "counter-actions" were from that period. In the USA, the car culture has become so dominant that it is hard for "experts" like John to think constructively any longer.

Euro-cities are purposely designed to be not auto-centrict. Yes many people there are "in love with cars" and they are becoming more prevalent. However, city planners there continue to favor cyclists and pedestrians as they recognize the value of people and culture in improving quality of life issues.

John also claims that bike lanes don't increase cycling. This is obviously incorrect as proven by Bogota and other cities. As pointed before, leadership exhibited by such men as Enrique Penalosa, has transformed transportation through the use of bike lanes, bike paths and other infrastructure decisions.

Rational policy making benefits all road users. This is the purpose of "complete streets" and I suggest that is what you should be linking to increase the level of debate and understanding.

I know Forester has his own agenda, but this suit was funded and supported by the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, the California Bicycle Coalition, and the League of American Bicyclists. The leaders of these groups have put aside their animosity towards Forester in this case.

The public has been led to believe that Bike Paths (Class 1 bikeway transportation routes, paved and separated from car traffic) are built with safety in mind partly because California Highway Code establishes minimum safety standards for Bike Paths. But the reality is that municipalities such as the City of Los Angeles are hiding from their responsibility behind a claim that Bike Paths built for transportation are the same as unpaved trails opened for recreation. People are being baited by the promise of a safe Bike Path, but switched to the “ride at your own risk” exposure of an undeveloped trail.

See for details on why California cyclists supported Prokops suit.

Thanks for the link to the Appeal and I look forward to reading it.

I wish CA cyclists well and hope issues of responsibility can be made "clearer" by the case. Too often local municipalities use immunity when in fact they have been aware of problems for many years.


P.S. A recent case in Kansas City Mo about a pedestrian being killed and the city held liable can be found here:
Thanks Fritz for posting this. Any reader of his Effective Cycling--as I had the misfortune to do (well, as much as I could stomach) when I was certified as a League Cycling Instructor (LCI#1237)--understands Mr. Forester's tendency to massage facts in support of his "old paradigm" argument, which is becoming increasingly marginal and obsolete. Mr. Forester is an engineer, not a political scientist. He may have contributed to bicycling knowledge, but he contributes nothing to bicycling advocacy.

One example in this Google presentation is his overly quick dismissal of Davis, a city where I presently am employed. (Me thinks he doth protest too much!) Many college communities in the U.S. have similar demographics to Davis; none have similar infrastructure, none have a similar rate of bicycling mode share (even with some erosion in recent years.)

His understanding of how Davis became so bike friendly seems rather curious. Taking an aside from one of the city's early advocates--citing no public on-record comment--Mr. Forester suggests the goal was motorist protection from an invasion of pedaling hippies. The nation's first bike lane effort was intended to benefit motorists, he suggests. I don't find this credible; the result certainly hasn't benefited motoring in Davis: streets that dead-end for cars but allow through passage for bikes, generally minimal street widths (no 8-lane streets typical in other CA communities), the large campus area closed to vehicles, etc.

In general, I'm hugely skeptical of Mr. Forester's overall history: I doubt the highway lobby barely considered cyclists at all in the 1950s and 1960s. Freeways were the priority, not streets cleared of bicyclists. He seems to have taken comments from certain nefarious local traffic engineers in the 1960s and concocted a national conspiracy out of it.

One of the greatest deficiencies of Forester's argument is its exclusive focus on traveler behavior curb-to-curb. The larger bicycling environment doesn't seem to concern Forester at all. Bicycling enhancing factors such as trees, secure parking, multimodal transit access, close neighborhood retail, preventing sprawl (which extends distances between destinations), traffic calming, cultural encouragement--all serve to enhance the relative appeal of bicycling but don't incite much interest from Mr. Forester.

But what is most troublesome with Mr. Forrester is his general pessimism about the possibility of tackling America's auto-addiction, a pessimism shared by his thankfully diminishing number of acolytes. I don't share that pessimism. My optimism leads me to advocacy, which means coalition building. And this means making friends with advocates for transit, pedestrians, livable communities, historical preservation, wildlife, the environment, neighborhoods, children, and others. In short, we need to challenge car culture, not capitulate.

Certainly recent trends--energy costs, pollution, obesity, traffic frustration, growing demand for transit, objection to sprawl, etc.--mean it's easier to make the argument against auto-dependent transportation today than it was in the 1950s or 1960s. We need advocacy to meet this opportunity, not a lot of backward-looking sound and fury signifying nothing.
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