By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In 2005, desperate to inspire the Dallas bicycle advocacy community, Summer launched "Cycle Dallas," a personal blog to promote vehicular cycling as the best way to ride. It wouldn't be long before the city officials discovered the blog and realized that a city employee was sculpting policy based on personal belief, not popular positions.
In November 2008, Summer was removed from his position as bicycle coordinator and transferred to another department. A month later, the city pledged to support and partially finance a $300,000 plan to overhaul the old bike plan. Bike lanes would get a second chance in Dallas.
The goal of building cycling infrastructure is to encourage more people to ride their bikes, thereby encouraging a more active street life. But, says Richard Wharton, a friend of Summer and fellow vehicular cycling enthusiast, a cheaper and more effective solution already exists and has always existed. "Education is by far the cheapest solution for getting more people on bikes...We should have been doing this for decades."
But we haven't been. We never accepted the notion that proper cycling means aggressive on-street riding. Rather, we rode in cul-de-sacs far out in the suburbs.
"Somewhere along the line the community at large decided that educating people to be better bicyclists was not a priority," Wharton says, "and it fell off the map."
Over the decades, bicycling has enjoyed certain peaks. In the mid-'90s, when we were flush with cash, mountain bikes were a hot Christmas present. Today, with the economy circling the drain, cycling makes economic sense. The nationwide green movement and city planners' efforts to draw residents back to urban centers and away from the suburbs are also giving cycling a boost.
From most every angle, the time is ripe to figure out how to get more people using bicycles. The question is how, which brings up the true division between vehicular cyclists and, well, just about everyone else: Should bike supporters insist on more education or the construction of bicycle infrastructure?
John Forester is the grumpy godfather of the vehicular cycling movement. The author of two books, Effective Cycling and Bicycle Transportation: A Handbook for Cycling Transportation Engineers—works that persuaded Summer to oppose bike lanes—Forester argues that teaching people to ride a bicycle like any other on-road vehicle is safer than caging bicycles in lanes.
"Millions of Americans think that a bike lane stripe makes cycling safe," says Forester, who is 80 years old and delivers each sentence with the fury of a hissing snake. "It doesn't." Instead, cyclists should learn to make proper turns, how to pass other vehicles on the road, how to take the lane at an intersection and how to stop at red lights and stop signs. "So many things that motorists are expected to know."
Forester accuses the cycling advocates who are pushing cities across the country to install bicycle infrastructure of doing what's popular, not right.
"They advocate bike lanes," Forester says. "They say all around the world bike lanes have just brought in hoards of new cyclists. And then you ask them how they ride, and they ride in the same way I do. Vehicular style! Because they know it's safer and better. And yet they're advocating bike lanes because it brings in more people...That's why they're ideological hypocrites. This business of trying to reduce motoring by increasing the number of cyclists is their ideology."
Forester's ideology, however, is based less on love of safety education than in what he sees as a civil rights battle to have motorists accept cyclists as their on-road equals.
Until the mid-20th century, according to Forester, bicycles were expected to ride on the roads according to the same rules as motorists. In 1944, the uniform vehicle code was updated to order that bicycles stick to riding as far to the right of the road as possible and that they ride in paths, if provided, rather than the road. These rules, Forester stresses, were dreamed up by motorists.
"Who gets the traffic laws written? It's the motorists. There was no understanding that cyclists were anybody but incompetent children who should be kept safe by shoving you off the side of the road. This is called bike safety education," Forester says sarcastically.
Perhaps it's true that bikeways bring in more cyclists, but they were invented to "segregate" cyclists, says Forester. "That's because cyclists are inferior!"
It's not hard to understand why some vehicular cycling advocates have tried to distance themselves from Forester's rants and promote vehicular cycling education as a safety tool. "In the advocacy community, the very term vehicular cycling has some emotional baggage attached to it, which is too bad, because it's the easiest way for people to be safe on a bike," says John Schubert, the 57-year-old former vice president of the League of American Bicyclists, an organization representing the interests of the nation's 57 million cyclists. The league doles out gold, silver and bronze bicycle-friendly awards to cities, which Dallas covets.
Schubert, along with Summer and Forester, accuse the league of abandoning its mission to defend cyclists. They say the league is following a popular trend of supporting the building of bike lanes at the expense of safe riding.