Tag Archives: John Forester

Anti-cycling John Forester versus the facts about Holland

I know that John Forester is older than Mr. Burns (if not quite as pleasant) but while he’s still as sane as he’s ever been then I don’t see any reason to rebut his nonsense any less robustly than I would if he was younger.

He’s a man who, apparently, has never visited the Netherlands and yet feels able to make bold claims about what it’s like to cycle there (passing through on a train in the 1930s does not count, John!).

I’ve never visited wherever the hell Forester lives either, but I can guarantee you that the trees are made of old gloves, and the roads are full of custard. Obviously, this is ridiculous, but I have as much authority there as Forester does on the Netherlands, i.e. none at all. Coincidentally, ‘none at all’ is the amount of sense which Forester frequently makes in his online ramblings.

Someone sent him a link to my post which put two of his comments about the Netherlands in context and he responded by accusing me of having no evidence to back up my assertions.

How much evidence do you want, John? How about an entire country? One which I have been to, and you, apparently, have not! Are you really going to die having never visited the one place on the planet which has achieved high levels of safe cycling across all sections of society? It’s like being a life-long Elvis fan — a self-proclaimed Elvis expert, no less — yet you’ve never even visited Graceland.

How can anyone take this incoherent drivel seriously?

“The posting critical of the views of John Forester and John Franklin … is just one more of the illogical and sophomoric position papers in the spiteful controversy concerning bicycle transportation in the USA. Those with a fervent anti-motoring faith that if the USA copied Dutch bikeway designs and traffic law practices the USA would have an enormous switch from motor to bicycle transport. This is a faith for which there is no evidence whatever. Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that such an outcome would be most unlikely, evidence from sociology, urban design, traffic engineering, psychology, and similar fields, areas in which the anti-motorists do not show expertise.

The sophomoric nature of the presentation comes across immediately. For example, the photograph of a cyclist in sporting clothing riding on a bike path between a rural highway and open fields does not disprove the argument that, in urban areas, side paths get involved with a nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic. No single example of an exception disproves a general statement; only a contrary description of all the instances could do so. However, a picture of a crowded bicycling area does demonstrate the argument that such places are not suitable for cycling at American bicycle transportation speeds.

I have written before that the combination of anti-motoring motivation and traffic-fearing cyclist faith not only does not require any factual support, but it actually requires contra-factual arguments to pretend to be persuasive. I advocate changes that make cycling safer and more useful, based on valid theory and supported by factual studies. However, the anti-motoring, Dutch-favoring bicycle advocates have not been able to present such studies based on American conditions.”

There is so much wrong with this that I hardly know where to start. But I’ll start here: a picture of a crowded bicycling area does demonstrate the argument that such places are not suitable for cycling at American bicycle transportation speeds”. What is he talking about? Is he suggesting that all US citizens are fast cyclists? Because the last time I looked, the average US cycling speed was almost zero, considering that pretty much nobody rides a bike there. He seems to be arguing for elitism in cycling, showing his belief that riding a bike should be reserved for the fast and the fearless. Anybody not fit and in a rush need not apply.

The photo in question shows commuter traffic heading into Utrecht central station at rush hour. Is he suggesting that everybody should be able to travel at racing speeds, even in crowded city centres? Cars aren’t allowed to do this, and I wouldn’t recommend going for a jog around Paddington station at 5.30pm unless you really enjoy bumping into commuters. The fact that busy areas in city centres become crowded is proof of the success of cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. It’s proof that people are choosing to cycle because it’s the fastest, easiest option.

He also argues that “in urban areas, [bike] paths get involved with a nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic.” Well this just isn’t true, and I can say this because I have been to the Netherlands and studied their infrastructure, and John Forester hasn’t.

He goes on to pre-empt this response by then saying: “No single example of an exception disproves a general statement; only a contrary description of all the instances could do so.” So what he’s saying here is that he won’t admit he’s wrong unless someone documents every inch of the Netherlands for him? Or maybe he’s saying that my photographs don’t mean his quotes aren’t true (although he’s happy to use just one photograph to back up his assertion about American speeds). How many photos do you want, John? I’ve got hundreds, and each one of them proves you wrong. Or maybe you want some statistics again?

Well the Netherlands has a very high rate of cycling – far higher than the UK and the USA – and yet it has the world’s safest roads. That’s not “contra-factual argument” or “traffic-fearing cyclist faith” but cold hard statistics.

In the spirit of my previous post, here are two photos of every-day Dutch scenes:

"…in urban areas, [cycle] paths get involved with a nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic." - John Forester. Juxtaposed by a photo of a cycle path and driveways, and a large intersection, without problems.

A nasty tangle of driveway and intersection traffic in the Netherlands, recently.

Just because John Forester isn’t clever enough to envisage any practical solutions to make cycling attractive to everyone, it doesn’t mean that these solutions don’t exist.

Do you get it yet, John? You don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to cycle infrastructure, and the VC fundamentalism which you spread has failed to deliver anything but a risible amount of cycling – and a high accident rate – in the US.

People in the Netherlands choose to use the bike for transport because the infrastructure makes it so quick and easy. Almost nobody in the US cycles, and it’s partially because John Forester backed the wrong horse in 1972 and spent the next 40 years shouting about it.


NOTE TO ALL COMMENTERS:

I welcome comments on this blog, but please understand what this post is about before typing: I’m criticising things that John Forester has said about cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. This post has got nothing to do with the USA or any other country, so I can do without a load of comments about how it’s politically difficult for you, or how it’s economically impossible where you are, or how you ride on the roads and you’re 97 years old with one eye and you love it. All those things are fascinating but they have nothing to do with Forester being wrong about the Netherlands.

The above message mainly goes out to Forester’s faithful army of “bicycle driving” zealots, especially “Erik”/”Clare Wolff” who posted the same message nine times on this page.


Footnote: Forester thinks I’m someone called Paul Nevins – it was on a group email thread, so I guess this name got mixed up in there somehow. I don’t know who this Nevins guy is, but if he’s annoying Forester then he must be a fairly decent bloke. [Update: It turns out he is a decent bloke — Paul Nevins comments below!]

Also, I know that Forester pushed against helmet compulsion and hates ASZs (“bike boxes” in the US) which shows that he’s not wrong all the time. But why can’t he see that people simply don’t want to ride a bike amongst motor traffic?

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Franklin and Forester quotes, in a Dutch context

I’ve just got back from the Netherlands. I rode a bike there for two weeks and experienced for myself why so many people there use bikes every day, and why transatlantic comedy duo “The Two Johnnies” are wrong to oppose mass bike riding in the UK and US. Here’s some opening thoughts: photos of real, everyday scenes which show the rhetoric of Forester and Franklin to be ridiculous.

Click any image for a larger version.

Photo of two girls cycling safely on cycle path away from the busy road, with John Forester quote: "I have described several very dangerous situations: bike paths and voonerven being the most dangerous. The correct way to handle the dangers of these facilities is to stay well away from them and ride on the normal roadways instead."

Yeah, go on girls – follow Forester’s advice and get on that road, you’ll be fine as long as you ride your bike like you’re driving a car.

 

A photo of two families happily using separate cycle paths, with stupid John Franklin quote: "...the majority of cycle facilities require more skill and more experience to be used safely, not less. It is the least experienced who most often suffer the consequences."

Oh, those poor children suffering the terrible consequences of the Dutch cycling infrastructure!

 

Photo of swarm of people on bikes using segregated bike path during rush-hour in Utrecht, with stupid John Franklin quote: "segregation has no proven record as a 'stepping-stone' to cycling well and more widely"

He’s right, this scene is a figment of your imagination. If you go to Utrecht during rush hour you will see nobody cycling on the bike paths. They’re all just for show, like North Korea.

 

Photo of a speedy Lycra-clad sporty cyclist using racing bike on long, straight, uninterrupted cycle path, with stupid John Franklin quote: "Efficient and speedy cycling is important if cycling is to compete as a mode of transport with the car. Road-side paths of almost any kind prevent this and make cycling slow and dangerous."

This guy rides his racing bike slowly, the Lycra is purely for sexual reasons.

 

Photo of a young girl (aged about three?) riding her bike without any fear as there are no cars around, with John Franklin quote: "The extra care enforced by the presence of motor traffic, generally results in the safest cycling environment overall."

If only there were more vans and taxis around here, this toddler would be truly safe from all those cycle paths!

 

Photo of three smartly-dressed middle-aged professional-looking people, calmly, casually and efficiently riding bikes on a bike path, with stupid John Forester quote: "Why is it that Dutch people persist in using bicycle transportation when the system is so stacked against them? Why do they still cycle when the system restricts them to slow speed and more and longer delays, disadvantages forced on them by the dangerous design of the system that they are forced to use?"

The system is so stacked against these guys, can’t you see the upset and stress the restrictive cycle paths are causing here?

 

Three photos of people using bike paths: one of a disabled man using a hand-cranked tricycle; one of two boys and their dog; one of an elderly man. A stupid John Franklin quote: "you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles ... a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease"

I’m sure these guys can manage that 20mph sprint speed (especially the dog). If not then they shouldn’t be allowed out cycling! It’s a tough sport for serious men like John Franklin!

I was going to include more quotes from John Forester, but to read his deranged ramblings requires more resolve than I have right now.


Update, 20th August 2012

Again, some people (mainly on Twitter) are misunderstanding what I’m doing here: Vehicular Cycling is a good coping strategy for fit, confident people to ride on hostile, motor-dominated roads. Opposition to Dutch-style infrastructure is what I’m attacking, and that’s quite a separate thing.

I didn’t have to search far and wide for these quotes — both Johns are clearly against mass cycling — and only the final one is from any Vehicular Cycling instructional material (it’s from John Franklin’s book about VC, Cyclecraft — though the book also contains unnecessary anti-infrastructure dogma too).

All the other Franklin quotes are from this document from 2002, which while I admit isn’t the most current thing available, it’s one of the first documents I came across on his website and is still often quoted by anti-infrastructure people. If Franklin has changed his views since then, he hasn’t done so publicly.

Both the Forester quotes are from this document which is of similar vintage, though again Forester doesn’t seem to have changed his opinions at all since — or even bothered to visit the Netherlands to see the improvements since the 1930s. I’m sure he’d find that a lot has gone on since then.

(The Forester document is an article attacking an academic paper which recommended Dutch-style infrastructure. One of the authors of the paper, John Pucher, replied to Forester: “I strongly oppose this ELITIST view of cycling, and think that many policies should be implemented to encourage bicycling by everyone, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, children and grandparents, students and businessmen, etc. Forester’s policies would guarantee that cycling remains a marginal mode here in the US.” I think Pucher has been proved correct, and I tip my hat to him here.)

Either way, the age of the quotes doesn’t really matter. Both these guys are still quoted frequently by people who have been hoodwinked into joining the ‘Vehicular Is The Only Way’ club, and they have been shown to have had concrete effects on the roads today. Read any article on the many blogs discussing cycling in the UK and you’ll often see a comment from someone saying that the roads are fine, we just need more training, linking to a Franklin document or quoting him. Who knows how Kings Cross junction would look today had the cycling lobby not been split in this way all those years ago?

So, use vehicular cycling all you want — there’s not much choice in the UK, after all — but don’t let that blind you to the possibilities of bike riding for everyone, which promoting VC as the best and only option has consistently failed to achieve (and obviously cannot achieve, as the final image demonstrates so clearly). There’s only one proven way to reach mass cycling: the Dutch way.

 

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