This paper appeared in the January 2016 ITE journal with the cover below and may be reviewed and/or downloaded by clicking the following live link:
Promoting Equality through Bicycling Education in the United States
The paper was authored jointly by myself (Martin Pion), living in Ferguson, Missouri, and Andy Cline* from Springfield, Missouri.
*Andy Cline is Associate Professor of Media, Journalism & Film at Missouri State University.
I received the following e-mail from Marianne Saglam (pron. “salem”), Communications and Media Senior Director at the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, September 23, 2015:
“Good news, your paper has been accepted to ITE Journal.”
Finally, ITE had accepted a paper for publication in its prestigious international journal on a different subject to the norm, and probably one unthinkable just a few short years ago. This followed a three-and-a-half year effort and three previous rejections by peer reviewers.
A draft of this fourth paper was originally submitted for peer review on July 17, 2015. A final updated version after numerous revisions was submitted on Nov. 18th, 2015.
Three earlier draft papers with somewhat similar themes (except perhaps the first, which directly challenged current orthodoxy) were submitted in September 2012, August 2014, and January 2015, and all were rejected by reviewers. However, in the case of the third submission, two of the four reviewers recommended acceptance if proposed changes were made. This was substantial progress, both previous submissions having been rejected unanimously, the first by five reviewers who all criticized it mercilessly.
That first draft was started in late February-early March 2012, shortly after I had become a member of ITE, and took six months to complete. I approached the task based on a naive view of what would be acceptable to transportation engineers, the paper being titled:
“Bicycle transportation promotion should focus on age-appropriate bicycle education instead of bike lanes.“
One of the subsequent reviewers commented dryly:
“If one accepts the premise that there is nothing traffic engineers can do to affect driver or cyclist behaviors, and that education is our only hope for increasing bicyclist safety, than I guess the conclusions are more or less supported.”
And it’s true that that is pretty much the conclusion I’ve reached after 45 years experience as an on-road transportational bicyclist and, since 1997, with the additional advantage of having taught many others how to ride safely on-road as a certified cycling instructor. (I’ve found that there is nothing like teaching a subject to really learn it well oneself!)
This certainly wasn’t my view when I first committed to bicycling to work daily at ITT’s Central Research Lab. in England for environmental reasons. Unable to find any good information on how to bicycle safely on-road, I resorted to subjective instinct and became a strong advocate for the partially completed local cycleway system which entirely segregated bicyclists from motorists in many places.
My views didn’t change much until several years later, after accepting a new job at the former McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. (now part of Boeing) in the St. Louis area in 1980, following a job transfer to the United States in early 1977.
That was when I was first introduced to John Forester’s book Effective Cycling, my first edition being published by MIT Press in 1984. It analyzed the causes of bike crashes and car-bike collisions, and showed how they could be mitigated or avoided with cyclist knowledge and behavior, plus knowing the commonest motorist errors and learning how to respond. Forester combined two different disciplines which uniquely qualified him in reviewing this subject: he was both a Professional Engineer (P.E.) and an M.Sc.
To me, one of his most revolutionary ideas at the time was the recommendation to exercise lane control when a poor sightline did not provide a clear view of the road ahead, such as a bend or brow of a hill. I thought this would be pure suicide but I found it worked! On a blind right-hand bend on my way home from work one day I checked behind that I could safely move left, gave a hand signal, and then merged to control the lane and, voila, the motorist arriving behind politely waited until I moved right so that he could pass safely. To me that was a revelation.
It’s worth noting that, while Forester is best known for Effective Cycling, intended for the layman, I found his book Bicycle Transportation – A Handbook for Cycling Transportation Engineers to be valuable for the more technically minded.
Another person who has influenced me, and is featured in this published paper, is Diana Lewiston, who originally assisted John Forester and then went on to create her own bike education curriculum which she taught to 13-year-old middle schoolers in Palo Alto, CA, from 1980 thru’ 1991. One novel idea was her use of walkie-talkies attached to bicycle helmets or headbands, enabling her to communicate with students as each navigated a difficult intersection, for example. (Her students were encountering radio interference from baby alarms in nearby homes and I assisted by obtaining and installing a component to change the frequency.)
Karen Karabell is also featured in this paper. She has become a leader in adult bicycle education locally, promoting a soundly-based program called CyclingSavvy which she first offered in metro St. Louis, Missouri, in April 2011, and which was started several years earlier in Orlando, FL, by Ms. Keri Caffrey and Mike “Mighk” Wilson.
I’m grateful to Karen for introducing me to Shawn Leight in early 2015. Shawn is a highly regarded and very experienced transportation engineer and Vice President of CBB Transportation Engineers & Planners, who in July 2015 was elected to serve as 2016 ITE International Vice President. One of Shawn’s goals is bringing together the major factions in the bicycling community who are currently at odds – those who favor bike infrastructure such as bike lanes, and those like me (and Karen) who prefer being treated as equal users of existing public roads – by accommodating all cyclists.
in his genuine desire to understand all viewpoints, Shawn met Karen & me over lunch in January 2015 for a wide-ranging discussion on bicycling and transportation.
Shawn Leight (left), Martin Pion, & Karen Karabell at The Boathouse in
Forest Park, St. Louis, on Jan. 29th, 2015
Shawn was very helpful subsequently in critically reviewing several draft papers and providing insightful, detailed and constructive criticisms and suggestions. He made clear that these were his own thoughts, and not made in any official capacity, or would necessarily gain the approval of reviewers, since he wasn’t involved in that process in any way.
I have no doubt that Shawn’s responses were very helpful in shaping the final published version of this paper. And they were generously provided at a time when he was heavily involved in traveling the country soliciting support for his ultimately successful bid for the position of ITE International Vice President. (Please see http://www.shawn4ite.org for Shawn’s illustrated web page.)
Historical review of paper’s progression
I became a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers in February 2012 with the idea of submitting a paper on the transportation subject I knew best: bicycle education. I felt that it would be valuable to share some of my experience, acquired over 40 years, with professionals who are among the most influential in shaping the on-road environment.
Marianne Saglam, ITE
The response to my first inquiry as to how to proceed, dated March 6th, 2012, came from Marianne Saglam, Communications & Marketing Senior Director. She was helpful, and has remained so, despite the repeated rejections of my subsequent draft paper submissions following ITE Journal peer review. I’m grateful to Marianne for the patience she has shown over the years.
Below I’ve described the progress of this effort preceding the final publication of the fourth version of this paper, starting at the very beginning.
First paper: Submitted September 10th; Rejected December 18, 2012
I started work on this paper in around February 2012, the original working title being:
The bike lane explosion is based on a myth: The “ABC” designation of cyclists. Bicycle transportation promotion should focus on age-appropriate bicycle education instead of bike lanes.
The ABC designation noted above had first been proposed in a report by Bill Wilkinson et al for the FHWA called Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles, Report No. FHWA-RD-92-073, January 1994.
Wilkinson’s report estimated that only 5% of of the bicycling population were in Group A – Advanced Bicyclists – described as experienced riders able to operate under most traffic conditions and just needing sufficient space on the roadway or shoulder to minimize passing or overtaking conflicts. Group B – Basic, casual riders, and Group C – Children, pre-teen riders, made up the rest, preferring low-speed, low traffic-volume streets or designated bicycle facilities.
While not that report’s primary purpose, the ABC designation subsequently proved highly influential after these designations were incorporated into the 1999 update to the “Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities,” published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
I had concluded from my on-road training of young cyclists in 2000, coupled with knowledge of Diana Lewiston’s successful training of hundreds of twelve and thirteen year olds, that what was hindering on-road bicycling was knowledge and not the lack of suitable on-road facilities. Yet the ABC designation ignores that and, in addition, this idea has been perpetuated to support and emphasize a facilities approach to bicycle transportation.
This first paper was formally accepted for ITE review by Marianne Saglam on September 10th. On December 18th I received a rejection notice, which at the time was an immense disappointment.
In 2013, an edited version of my original paper was accepted by ITE’s Pedestrian & Bicycle Council just before the September 10th deadline.
“Bike Lane Myths vs Equality, Education, and Engineering” – ITE Ped/Bike Council Fall 2013 E-Newsletter
It was subsequently published with the above title on October 3rd in the Fall 2013 Newsletter and is posted on my thinkbicyclingblog at the above live link.
Second paper: August 4, 2014 – October 23, 2014
In 2014, I worked on a second version of the original paper retitled:
How Bicycle Education Can Enhance the American Transportation System.
The ABC designation and its criticism, which was featured in the first paper, was dropped. Instead, the paper referenced a March 2013 ITE Journal article on the Dutch bicycle system and drew comparisons and contrasts with U.S. practice. Robert M. Shanteau, Ph.D., P.E. was added as a coauthor after he provided a useful reference to a relevant on-line video, Bicycle Training in the Netherlands. A screen capture from the video of 12-year-old children being tested on their bicycling knowledge and proficiency was subsequently added to the paper.
I didn’t record a start date but a first draft was e-mailed to Marianne Saglam on August 4th, followed by a revised version on August 13th. Marianne confirmed it’s formal receipt on August 24th and it was sent out for peer review on September 23rd.
This second paper was also formally rejected in an e-mail dated October 23rd, 2014, followed by the three reviewers’ rejection comments. The first reviewer in particular provided an extensive analysis, writing:
“More discussion of bicycle education goals, strategies and outcomes would be needed to make a compelling paper.”
“The author’s premise, that everyone would be comfortable riding a bike in heavy traffic if only they had some on road cycling training is controversial and not supported by any evidence. Again, I agree that education is a good thing, and it undoubtedly would even convert some noncyclists to cyclists. But it is very egotistical of the authors to think that “everyone” is like they are. Even if one accepts the argument that “everyone” could be taught to ride safely and be safe in heavy traffic, it does not change the fact that many people would still simply choose not to bicycle at all if it means sharing the lane with traffic.”
Following the above reviewers’ responses, attention turned to addressing their concerns in a third paper.
Third paper: Submitted Jan. 27th, 2015 – Rejected May 13th, 2015
The third draft paper had the following two alternate titles:
Age-appropriate bicycling education complements efforts to accommodate safe on-road bicycling
Age-appropriate bicycling education deserves more attention in the United States
This draft paper included several paragraphs I had invited from Andy Cline based on a personal bike tour he’d undertaken in central Amsterdam, Holland, in early June 2012, and then posted about in detail on his blog. [Please see AMSTERDAM: MY BIG TAKE-AWAY and video Surrendering the Streets.]
On Jan. 14, 2015, I e-mailed the draft paper to Shawn Leight who had kindly agreed to review it before formal submission.
Prefacing his initial response, Shawn Leight wrote in part:
“For full disclosure. I do sit on the ITE International Board of Direction. I am a Candidate for ITE International Vice President. I do not, however, have any interaction with Marianne Saglam’s paper review committee. The opinions expressed below are my own. I am NOT speaking on behalf of the Institute. Any suggestions that I provide are my suggestions and the paper review committee may agree with my thoughts, or they may not.”
Shawn then went on to provide robust arguments in support of both infrastructure improvements and bicycle education, pointing out that if I’m not “advocating for mandatory bicycle education and licensing in the United States … those who plan, design, and manage the transportation system need to strive to accommodate all. We cannot pick and choose to provide infrastructure for some and disenfranchise others. It would be irresponsible for us to ignore riders wanting to use these facilities.”
“There is a relatively simple solution. It does not have to be “either or”. We have plenty of roads in our urban areas to accommodate the preferences of all riders. Not every road needs a cycle track or a bike lane. We can provide bicycle infrastructure for those who prefer to use it and at the same time provide roads without bicycle infrastructure for riders such as yourself who prefer to ride in the traffic lane. Many roads can do all.”
Shawn’s reply contained detailed criticisms, and suggestions for omitting what he felt were unsupported assertions. (That included the newly-added sections by Andy Cline on his Dutch cycling experience, but it was agreed to drop them.) This process was repeated several times, a final version being completed on Jan. 23rd, and formally accepted for review by Marianne Saglam on Jan. 27th, 2015.
On May 13th, 2015, a formal rejection letter was received from Marianne Saglam, but for the first time two of the four reviewers suggested approval after addressing detailed issues, and Marianne invited submission of a revised version addressing those issues.
Fourth paper: Submitted July 17th, 2015 – Initial acceptance Sept. 23rd, 2015. Final version Nov. 18th, 2015, following numerous revisions.
This paper ended up with the title:
Promoting bicycling education in the United States in the context of “Equality”
I proposed the idea of adding “Equality” to the subject to broaden the paper’s scope and introduce a concept not typically touched on in such papers. Marianne Saglam responded positively the same day, writing: “I think that could work.”
This subsequently led to the word count exceeding the 3,000 word limit and Shawn Leight again assisted by reviewing and proposing edits to several versions in July 2015, the final word count being reduced below 2,800.
The draft went through numerous additional iterations, at least 16 by my count. In October 2015, Bob Shanteau requested removal of his name as a coauthor, to which Andy Cline and I regretfully agreed, although an acknowledgement was later added to the published paper.
The paper was tentatively scheduled for inclusion in the December 2015 Journal but instead was published in the January 2016 edition.
The one person receiving no acknowledgement in the paper itself is Shawn Leight , but as indicated above, I’m personally indebted to him for both the time he was willing to devote to reading and analyzing numerous drafts, and for his thoughtful and very helpful critiques.
Thank you again Shawn!