Thursday, May 24, 2007

[Cyclelicious] New comment on John Forester speaks at Google.

Paul Dorn has left a new comment on your post "John Forester speaks at Google":

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.

Posted by Paul Dorn to Cyclelicious at 5/24/2007 01:09:00 PM