I joined the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) in February 2012, hoping for an opportunity to inject a different viewpoint on vehicular cycling into the discussion. Having been a committed on-road bicycle commuter for over 40 years, plus being a trained scientist, I felt I had useful insights to share.
I subsequently spent months preparing a researched paper, on later drafts of which I collaborated with coauthor Andy Cline. It was finally submitted to the ITE Journal for peer-review on September 10, 2012, titled “Bicycle transportation promotion should focus on age-appropriate bicycle education instead of bike lanes.” I expected some resistance from reviewers and I wasn’t disappointed.
On December 17, I received a rejection notice after manuscript review by “experts in its topic area.” I asked for and subsequently received their comments. Below I’ve pasted the entire manuscript, followed by the reviewers’ comments.
Please note: References are enclosed thus: 
Bicycle transportation promotion should focus on age-appropriate bicycle education instead of bike lanes.
Martin Pion, B.Sc. and Andrew R. Cline, Ph.D.
Increasingly, efforts to accommodate bicyclists on-road are directed at modifying the infrastructure by adding bike lane striping, including bidirectional bike lanes, based on the belief that that is what most cyclists need. This paper shows that the focus should be on age-appropriate bicycle education instead.
bike lane, bicycle education, bicyclist, “ABC” classification, bike plan
Efforts to accommodate bicyclists on public roads have intensified over the years, promoted by numerous organizations, including the League of American Bicyclists. Currently, a major focus is adding bicycle lanes, driven by the belief that this is what the majority of bicyclists needs. This comprises children and adults who are relatively unskilled and untutored and viewed as unwilling or unable to use roads without such accommodations.
The “ABC” classification and “design user”
The basis for the above beliefs can be traced to a study published in January 1994 entitled Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles, by W.C. Wilkinson et. al., under a contract from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). That reports main goal was to provide a set of tables to guide on-road bicycle facility types “under particular roadway design and traffic operational conditions.” However, the most significant impact resulted from the report’s definition of the “design user” and the need “to accommodate bicyclists of moderate ability,” meaning casual adult riders and children, on roads provided with bicycle facilities. Today “facilities” typically means bicycle lanes.
The impact of the “design user” concept might have been very limited except for the concept having been 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). This is an influential document now used nationwide.
An example of how widely this “design user” influences bicycle transportation planning can be seen in the Great Rivers Greenway Gateway Bike Plan for metropolitan St. Louis, approved in January 2012 by the local metropolitan planning organization, East-West Gateway Council of Governments. GRG’s plan envisions adding more than 1,000 miles of bicycle lanes to existing roads over the next 20 years. In Table 5-1 is the above noted “ABC” classification of on-road bicyclists,
A – Advanced (5 percent of all riders)
B – Basic
C – Child (B & C combined = 95 percent of all riders)
(Note that the recently released 2012 AASHTO Guide has dropped the “ABC” classification but retains its primary elements, stating that, for those in the majority CASUAL AND LESS CONFIDENT group, “a physical network of visible, convenient and well‐designed bicycle facilities is needed.”)
The Gateway Bike Plan is thus predicated on the assumption that 95 percent of bicycle users of the road system will not be comfortable or safe riding on roads without special accommodation, primarily bicycle lane striping, which is viewed as rendering the road system safe for the less skilled or immature user.
This paper examines the validity of this fundamental assumption.
It is fair to assume that, as with motorists below a certain level of age-based maturity, young cyclists lack the perception and skills necessary to bicycle safely on major arterial or collector roads without adult supervision.
Fig. 1: Students of Diana Lewiston’s bicycle safety class listen
for instructions from Lewiston via walkie-talkie.
Photo accompanied story in San Jose Mercury News, 1988
Improved by Kim Mosley, 2012
But teenagers can ride safely in traffic with the necessary training. For a decade, starting in the early 1980s, hundreds of 13-year-old schoolchildren participated in a comprehensive bicycle education curriculum developed and taught in Palo Alto, Ca., middle schools by Diana Lewiston, a dedicated educator and experienced on-road bicyclist, building on the work of bicycle transportation proponent John Forester. The classes were offered as a physical education elective, lasting for 45 minutes each school day for several consecutive weeks.
Among novel ideas introduced by Lewiston were walkie-talkies adapted to mount on each student’s bicycle helmet or headband connected to a transceiver around the waist. When the group arrived at the chosen signalized intersection, Lewiston’s assistant would demonstrate the maneuver by riding through the intersection first. Each student would then follow in turn while being given feedback by Lewiston via walkie-talkie. To make identification simpler, each student wore a number on their back.
Most of the course time was spent on bike, initially practicing in the parking lot, but mainly on roads of increasing daily traffic counts.
“There was a change in riding behavior of the students from the beginning of class to the final day which was the road test,” Lewiston wrote. “I cannot assume there was any change when they were riding outside class, particularly if they were riding with others. Habits are not automatically changed as a result of the class but from repeatedly practicing the new behaviors until they become natural when they ride.”
This is a situation analogous to a teenager learning to drive a car. They must first demonstrate knowledge and ability, but it is only through constant practice in traffic that knowledge and experience combine to create a safe driver.
Lewiston accepts the five basic traffic principles as taught by Forester, but she says she learned that, for many adults, bike riding skills are frozen in how they rode as youngsters. Thus education programs such as hers are important for encouraging both good teenage traffic behavior and, eventually, adult behavior.
“The cumulative effect of verifying the validity of the five basic traffic principles through studying accidents and writing a textbook based on what I was learning about cyclist behavior,” Lewiston wrote, “reinforced my belief that only on-road bicycle riding education is the way to learn how to ride in traffic with motor vehicles.” 
The five basic cyclist traffic principles alluded to above by Lewiston may be paraphrased as:
1. Drive on the right, in the same direction as motorists
2. At intersections, position yourself according to your destination
3. Between intersections, position yourself according to your speed, slower vehicles on the right
4. Yield when changing lanes or moving sideways
5. Yield to cross traffic when it has priority
Lewiston’s experience and conclusions challenge the entire rationale for the “ABC” type of cyclist classification for the following reasons:
If it is fundamentally a question of education of the more mature child cyclist and traffic lanes wide enough to be safely shared by both motorist and bicyclist (or control by the bicyclist of narrower lanes when passing by a motorist is unsafe), then the existing road system provides the necessary infrastructure to permit bicycling for transportation. And if education is the key for children above a certain age, then this also applies to adults of any age.
Hence what is lacking in general is not infrastructure but acquiring the skills and knowledge to use the existing road system safely for bicycling.
Indeed, this is the same approach used for motorists, who are expected to master the fundamentals of safe motoring both as regards actual vehicle operation and cooperatively with other road users. There is no expectation that what novice motorists require is a separate lane reserved preferentially for their use: such an idea would be considered ludicrous.
The above argument is not to dispute the public perception about the danger of using a bicycle for transportation on the existing road system. In a 2001 survey of employees at the former McDonnell Douglas Co. (now part of Boeing Corp.) in St. Louis, Mo., as part of an FHWA pilot bicycle transportation promotion program, participants were asked to list the pros and cons of bicycling to work. Fifty percent chose “Roads unsafe” for the cons.
This concern with perceived unsafe roads has been echoed by Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator in the Portland Office of Transportation in Oregon. His paper “Four Types of Cyclists” notes that riding a bicycle “should not require bravery. Yet, all too often, that is the perception among cyclists and non-cyclists alike.” This is the basis for Portland’s focus on bicycle lanes and segregated facilities rather than on educating bicyclists.
The emphasis on bicycle helmet wearing, which is increasingly mandated by law for children, and on bicycle lane striping, has only served to solidify public perception regarding the danger of bicycle transportation.
Adult cyclist training programs
The basic principles mentioned above also apply to adult cycling in the United States. The LAB was the first to offer a comprehensive bicycle education program nationwide. Its foundation adult course, called Traffic Skills 101 (previously Road I), of 9 hours minimum duration, covers bicycle mechanics and bicycle handling techniques and emergency maneuvers, plus on-road training.
When the LAB was headquartered in Baltimore, Md., its foundation adult bicycle education course was Effective Cycling®, developed by Forester. As originally taught by Forester in the mid-1970s, the course involved a much longer time commitment: 10 sessions of 3 hours each. It was offered by some universities for college credit.
For the later 9-hour version, a comprehensive 41-minute video also called Effective Cycling, for which Forester provided technical assistance, accompanied the course.
The video discusses “bikeways,” defined as off-road, mixed-use trails and on-road bike lanes. It criticizes both as being inferior to regular roads for bicycle transportation on various grounds, arguing that bike lanes increase the risks for conflicts whenever a motorist turns across a cyclist’s path in the bicycle lane at intersections or entrances to off-road parking. This is, of course, still true in the absence of bicycle lanes, but suitable training can help bicyclists minimize such conflicts, and the absence of the bike lane stripe removes a psychological (and sometimes an actual legal) barrier. (A legal barrier was created in 2010 when Florida state law was amended to require bicyclists to ride in a bicycle lane when provided, with certain exceptions.)
Forester withdrew his approval for the League to use the name Effective Cycling® following differences caused by the League’s change of emphasis from bicycle education to on-road facilities.
In 2010, a competing program called CyclingSavvy was introduced under the auspices of the Florida Bicycle Association and is gaining national acceptance. The program was started in Orlando, Fla. by certified League Cycling Instructors, Keri Caffrey and Mighk Wilson, who concluded that the Traffic Skills 101 course needed a major overhaul and should focus exclusively on bicycle handling and traffic safety. It is a structured 9-1/2 hour course offered à la carte with virtually no time allocated to bicycle mechanics, unlike Traffic Skills 101. Adult students can start by attending a 3-hour classroom session called Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling, extensively illustrated with graphics and video. That is followed by a 3-hour parking-lot session called Train Your Bike, which can be taken independently. To participate in the 3-1/2 hour on-road bicycling Tour of the City, which includes navigating difficult intersections alone after prior instruction and demonstration, the student must have completed both the other two sessions. The figures below illustrate the courses which are offered both to students and would-be instructors.
Fig. 2: Pion shown controlling the curb or outside lane during the CyclingSavvy St. Louis “Tour of the City” in April, 2011. Photo: Karen Karabell
The very first CyclingSavvy St. Louis course for students, which was also a pre-requisite for those wishing to become instructors, was held in April, 2011, conducted by newly qualified instructors, Karen Karabell and Harold Karabell.
This was followed In early June, 2011, by a CyclingSavvy Instructor training course, conducted by Caffrey and Wilson. Before the course, Caffrey and Wilson rode the route, which included a major intersection featured subsequently in a video posted on-line. This shows the instructors followed by Karen Karabell at about 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, 2011, bicycling in single-file on Kingshighway Blvd., a busy multi-lane arterial, while crossing I-64 in St. Louis. The video, with Karabell used a helmet-mounted video camera facing forward, and Caffrey leading using a backward facing camera, is posted on-line at http://commutestlouis.com/2011/06/nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself-2/ It is instructive to observe how seamlessly the three cyclists integrate into the traffic stream while demonstrating lane control.
During the actual instructor course, before each major feature such as the one above, a student uses colored chalk on the sidewalk to map out the route and how they will navigate it. This is called “chalk talk,” a unique feature of the CyclingSavvy program, used to help prepare participants before they bicycle individually through a difficult road junction. It resembles Lewiston’s method for teaching students how to deal with demanding intersections.
Andrew Cline’s “chalk talk” task during the CyclistSavvy Instructor certification class in June, 2011, was the Kingshighway – I-64 intersection described above (see Fig. 3 below).
Fig. 3: Cline demonstrating “chalk talk” during the CyclingSavvy on-road instructor training session in downtown St. Louis in July, 2011.
The obesity epidemic and bicycling promotion
There is increasing alarm over the obesity epidemic among schoolchildren, associated with a sedentary lifestyle. This has led to a national effort to encourage more walking and bicycling to school via the federally funded Safe Routes to School Program. An equivalent opportunity exists for encouraging bicycling to school if parents and others are given training along with children of sufficient maturity.
What about bicycle facilities?
Both in Europe and North America attention has focused on facilities to accommodate bicycling. These range from off-road trails shared by pedestrians and cyclists, to facilities provided in the road corridor, including bike lanes. They are being promoted by numerous organizations, some supported directly by sales taxes, and others via government grants. They include bicycle manufacturers and retailers organizations, environmental groups, bicycle facilities planners, and also the LAB. In St. Louis, Missouri, they include Trailnet, Great Rivers Greenway, and the local chapter of the Sierra Club.
Mixed use trails involving the conversion of abandoned railroad right-of-ways can be a useful alternative to the road system for transportational cyclists, since they are often direct, have only slight grades, and if having little pedestrian traffic, can be quite fast and efficient. The Ted Jones Trail in North St. Louis County linking the downtown City of Ferguson to the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the UMSL North Metrolink station is of this variety.
In general, though, they are no substitute for the road system.
Mighk Wilson, Cycling Savvy co-developer and also a Smart Growth Planner in Orlando, Florida, sums up the issue this way:
“For me the crux of the matter is, Do on-road bicycle facilities make cycling safer for untrained cyclists? I have come to the conclusion (after 15 years of actually trying to prove they do) that they do not, that they increase the complexity of the cyclist’s operating environment, and that they are more likely to lead untrained cyclists into conflicts they do not expect, understand, or have the skills with which to react.”
Discriminatory laws and occasional aggressive motorist behavior towards bicyclists require changes in public policy and attitudes. Bicycling must be viewed as a legitimate mode of transportation, with age-appropriate education taught to users comparable to that required for motorists. Categorization of cyclists, such as the “ABC” designation proposed in 1994, should be replaced by educational efforts to ensure cyclists have the knowledge and skills needed for safe and efficient cycling for transportation, comparable to those required of motor vehicle operators. This should include bicycle education for teenagers, including offering it as a Physical Education elective in schools.
1. Wilkinson III, W.C., Clarke, A., Epperson, B., Knoblauch, R. Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles. Washington, DC, USA: Federal Highway Administration Report No. FHWA-RD-92-073, January 1994
2. Guide for the development of bicycle facilities, 3rd edition. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 1999.
3. Gateway Bike Plan. Great Rivers Greenway, 2011.
4. Minutes of January 2012 Board of Directors meeting. East-West Gateway Council of Governments, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
5. Gateway Bike Plan Chapter 5: BICYCLE FACILITY NETWORK. Great Rivers Greenway, 2011.
6. Guide for the development of bicycle facilities, 4th edition. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 2012.
7. Lewiston, D. Bicycling in Traffic. Intermediate Bicycle Handling & Beginning/Intermediate Urban Traffic Skills. Palo Alto, CA, USA: April 1992. Curriculum now posted on-line on thinkbicyclingblog, with permission.
8. Forester, J. Bicycling Transportation: A Handbook for Cycling Transportation Engineers. 2nd edition. 1994. MIT Press.
Forester, J. Effective Cycling. 6th edition. 1993. MIT Press.
9. Private communication from D. Lewiston to A. Cline and M. Pion, dated May 10, 2012
10. Forester, J. Five basic traffic principles. On-line at http://www.johnforester.com/BTEO/ectraining.htm
11. Private communication from D. Lewiston to A. Cline and M. Pion, dated May 10, 2012
12. Pion, M. Ferguson/Boeing/UM-SL Pilot Bicycling Transportation Promotion Project (CMAQ-5500(619)). Report of respondents to the Baseline Bicycling Transportation Survey of Boeing and the University of Missouri, St. Louis, February-March, 2001.
13. Geller, R. Four Types of Cyclists. On-line at: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/264746
14. One example is the Consumer Products Safety Commission, on-line at http://www.cpsc.gov/library/helmet.html.
15. League of American Bicyclists Traffic Skills 101 foundation course. Summary on-line at http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/education/courses.php#101 with course details at http://www.bikeed.org/
16. Effective Cycling Video. Seidler Productions, Tallahassee, FL, USA: 1992. On-line at http://www.seidlerproductions.com/products/effective_cycling/
17. CyclingSavvy was introduced under the auspices of the Florida Bicycle Association. A course description is on-line at http://cyclingsavvy.org/about/3-part-course/
18. National Center for Safe Routes to School, 2012. On-line at http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/program-tools/getting-results-srts-programs-increase-walking-bicycling
19. Trailnet. On-line at http://www.trailnet.org/
20. Great Rivers Greenway. On-line at http://www.grgstl.org/
21. Sierra Club of Eastern Missouri. On-line at http://missouri.sierraclub.org/emg/default.aspx
22. Ted Jones Trail. On-line at http://www.northstlouiscounty.com/attractions/parks_ferguson_tedjonestrail.shtml
23. Private communication from M. Wilson to M. Pion, July 12, 2012 8:07:35 AM CDT
The following were the comments of five reviewers of this manuscript. While they contained some positive observations, overall they were rather dismissive of the thesis that education is far more important in promoting bicycle transportation than the present focus on infrastructure, as epitomized by bike lanes.
ITEJ Comments Compiled: Manuscript #09194: “Bicycle Transportation promotion should focus on age-appropriate bicycle education instead of bike lanes.”
Author: Martin Pion
The content is interesting and timely in the continuing discussion about how to encourage and accommodate active transportation, including bicycling. My concern is with the premise that education is more important than facility. I do not believe it is helpful to the discussion to present this as “education instead of bike lanes”, as stated in the title and reflected throughout the paper. Why create an either-or dynamic. Both are important and address different aspects of rider safety and comfort. I think that if this paper were restructured to focus on how education can enhance different aspects of rider safety and comfort without making it a choice between education and facilities it would be more broadly accepted and have a greater impact. I agree that the model of facility type by rider is not helpful either and that bike facilities, like other transportation facilities, should be designed for safety without regard to user type (we certainly don’t designate roadways for use by timid drivers vs. aggressive drivers). I think education in bicycling is important, as is education in driving, and think it should be enhanced and promoted. I just don’t see the benefit of pitting it against bike lanes, which are also important to the majority of riders and potential riders. Overall, good information presented in an unnecessarily argumentative way.
The paper talks about bicycle promotion through better education.
The paper presents several examples of training programs for child or adult bicyclists and talks about their effectiveness, yet no evidence (such as a formal evaluation, before and after studies, etc) is presented to verify these assertions.
Well designed training programs should have specific learning objectives and means to measure how to meet these objectives. No data are presented and it is hard to know if the case studies given are the best way to do it. The paper makes lots of assertions that are not backed up.
Also, although the title talks about age appropriate bicycle education versus bike lanes, no evidence is presented to document why education should be used rather than providing bike lanes. I don’t see why one wouldn’t want to do both. The ‘one versus the other’ idea is bothersome. Is there a hidden agenda or bias behind this?
This paper is a terse and weak attempt to advocate for education as a sole means for increase cycling mode share/usage. The paper fails to fully vet the crux of the issue and does not support their conclusion with enough factual data or peer reviewed research. There is one anecdote from Palo Alto, that is hardly consensus. Furthermore, the authors fail to consider that bicycle infrastructure and education could be complementary tools to increase bicycle usage. These two efforts are not tacitly mutually exclusive (or at least they did not prove that they are).
The authors conveniently ignore Moritiz’s 1999 research that found 50% fewer bike crashes on bike lane than on streets without bike lanes; they do not acknowledge newer bicycle facilities such as sharrows, bike boulevards and cycle tracks; and they are apparently unaware of Furth’s 2012 research on Level of Traffic Stress for bicyclists.
Again, 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.
While the description of the new adult cyclist training programs is original, the material on the uselessness of traditional bicycle facilities is just a recycling of John Forester’s decades-old mantra.
This paper represents a popular point of view that keeps popping up, and traffic engineers and bicycle planners should be made aware of this persistent sentiment. On the other hand, I don’t believe this one-sided diatribe against traditional and time-tested bicycle facility design standards should appear unchallenged in our professional magazine. But I do not want to dismiss the wonderful educational efforts of the League of American Bicyclists as well as the newer adult cycle training techniques described in their paper. Perhaps this could be rewritten as a pure education program presentation without the anti-bike lane baggage.
The second heading covers from P.1 to P.5 but only really applies to P.1-2; page 5 seems to return to the theme, but pages 3 & 4 would fit better under a heading like “Examples of a better way of doing things”.
There is some good material on the potential benefits of training, but this is masked by the biased premise with its implied criticism of many professionals around the world who have provided excellent facilities for which cyclists are grateful.
The authors seem to have started with a particular viewpoint, and have then looked for evidence to prove it, not paying much attention to other points of view, eg. they assume that cycle infrastructure and cyclist education are alternatives, ignoring the possibility that they may be complementary.
They also seem to jump to unsubstantiated conclusions, eg. it seems to be implied that every cyclist, if trained, will be quite happy to ride on busy arterials. This ignores questions like “Will aggressive drivers change their behaviour when encountering confident cyclists?” or “If they are trained properly, will all cyclists enjoy riding in mixed traffic on busy arterials?”
A search of ITE Journal didn’t reveal much if any writing about promotion of cycling skills, so this is potentially a useful topic to be addressing in this Journal.
While it doesn’t promote special interests is a political sense, it promotes the work of those who provide cycle training as in some way superior to those who work to provide cycle infrastructure
The authors seem to start with a conclusion and then look for evidence to support it. I don’t find their arguments convincing. If the paper had started with a more suitable question, eg. “Is provision of cycle infrastructure enough?” then their discussion and examples would have been more interesting and valuable; however, the whole paper seems to be aimed at throwing out cycle infrastructure programs and replacing them with training programs, and is structured and presented accordingly.
Just as road safety involves engineering, education, enforcement and emergency response, so cyclist safety is multi-faceted. Those cities which are most successful in promoting cycling and active transportation have developed excellent networks of cycle/multi-use facilities, while also promoting training, bike maintenance, etc. A good example that I am familiar with is Vancouver. Apart from the work of various municipalities and regional authorities, there are organizations such as BEST (Better Environmentally Sound Transportation) and HUB which are enthusiastic about the network of bicycle facilities being developed there, while also providing safety tips online for cyclists, arranging training (Streetwise Cycling Courses) and promotion (Bike to Work Week), etc. Similarly, in the UK, City and County Councils and SUSTRANS promote active travel, training and cycle facilities as all being important in overcoming obstacles to the promotion of cycling. Several multi-faceted programs were developed as part of central government funded cycle demonstration project cities.
I also feel their blinkered approach misses out on the big picture: cycling promotion is linked to complete streets, neighbourhood planning, safe routes to school, community events, etc.