Toole Design explains why we don’t have bike lanes in the US

According to Toole, et al, were it not for Forester, we would now have bike lanes everywhere. And not just bike lanes, the entire US would look something like Utrecht, Copenhagen, or Amsterdam. The March 2018 article is a review of a paper by Bill Schultheiss, Rebecca Sanders, and Jennifer Toole of Toole Design Group :

A Brief History of How American Transportation Engineers Resisted Bike Lanes

The “VC is only for old white males” is a trope. John Forester, author of Effective Cycling reiterates, e.g. in this August 2018 discussion thread (group membership required to see whole thread):

The frequent argument against vehicular cycling is that it is promoted by middle-aged men, or older like my 88 years, while cyclist inferiority cycling is promoted by much wider groups with many more members. Vehicular cycling is denigrated by cyclist-inferiority believers in many ways that may be summed up as being an elitist, unpopular, minority view.

Vehicular cycling is the skill of cycling in traffic according to the rules of the road. Operating a vehicle according to the rules for vehicles is not a difficult task; America expects that almost every adult could do it if he wanted. We don’t let children drive motor vehicles because of the danger to the public of motor vehicles driven by immature persons. Indeed, the accident statistics show that we allow motoring by persons who have not yet reached adult maturity. But the public danger of riding bicycles is so small that we allow untrained, deliberately untrained, children to do so.

America is a cyclist-inferiority society, made so by Motordom’s campaign to make motoring easier by frightening cyclists off the road. Motordom managed to keep cyclists frightened of and ignorant about obeying the rules of the road, even cyclists who had motoring licenses. Motordom’s arguments were not investigated for forty years, by which time they were believed implicitly by the public. But once they were scientifically investigated, starting in 1970, they were completely disproved.

From 1950 on, by my memory, there were small groups of cyclists who had recognized the advantages of obeying the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles over the official cyclist-inferiority method. These groups were often sparked by cyclists who had had experience of vehicular cycling in England and France. The skill of obeying the rules of the road while riding a bicycle is not an elite skill, any more than are the skills to paint a chair, light a fire, or write a letter. The proper reply to those who assert that vehicular cycling is an elite, even elitist, activity is that such arguments are based on complete ignorance of it, and that advocating cyclist-inferiority instead demonstrates further ignorance, since cyclist-inferiority has no scientific support. It is important to state that those who oppose vehicular cycling are ignorant, because that is the truth. However, we can then point out that the ignorance, and its ideology, is Motordom’s desired result of its ninety years of anti-cycling campaign. Any person opposing vehicular cycling and advocating cyclist-inferiority cycling needs to be persuaded that he has succumbed to Motordom’s hornswoggling and should learn better.

Toole Design is perhaps the most prominent, another being Alta Planning, of a class of consulting engineering firms promoting designs which are perceived as safe/safer by mass audiences. They sell their services to cities and towns on the basis that they are perceived as safe/safer, which will increase the relative amount of cycling which will (hopefully actually, not just perceived) increase relative safety [see safety in numbers, below] and now the town will be “bicycle-friendly”.

Toole largely promotes a solution of complete segregation including some form of physical barrier all roads beyond very low volume very low speed residential streets. This can be fine in some circumstances; but becomes problematical at every intersection and every driveway. This leads to a need for more engineering solutions, culminating in a “protected intersection” with additional separate signal phases. Bicyclists are normally left “unprotected” at any driveway; and are also left “unprotected” from pedestrians, which are normally plentiful and immediately adjacent to any cycletrack (or call it what you like: sidepath, separated bike lane, protected bike lane).

Toole design has some sort of contract(???) to make the next version of the AASHTO Guide for the develop of bicycle facilities.
Expect (brace yourself for) the next version of the Guide to look a lot more like the present NACTO Urban Street Design Guide
Here is a presentation format explaining the proposed AASHTO updates per Toole.
Here is a more scholarly piece written by Toole’s Schulteiss covering similar material, published in TRB. A Historical Perspective on the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities and the Impact of the Vehicular Cycling Movement
For more about the safety in numbers hypothesis see here. In short the major weakness is that it’s a correlation not a causation.


There was an Outside/In podcast April 2018 (presumably not coincidentally around the same time as above; the podcast credits Bill Schultheiss but he does not appear) replete with musical interludes referring to the same themes, including audio interviews w/Forester, Anne Lusk and Tara Goddard. The transcript is a quicker read, but i’m sortof confused because it appears the transcript isn’t complete (e.g. there’s a male host, and a female sidekick; they had this chatter about the “funnel of death” that doesn’t appear in the transcript). Anyway,  the first comment by a “Rob X” is a pretty good rebuttal:

Rob X A year ago · 0 Likes

While I disagree with Forester on certain points, the value of his contributions has been immense. It seems to me a carefully cultivated alliance and industry has sprung up to discredit his contributions, and simultaneously to lobby for (and to be paid to design) segregated facilities. But there are problems for those wishing to throw Forester's contributions out the window.

First, American bicyclists will always need to know how to properly interact with motor traffic. Despite fantasies to the contrary, we will never turn America into Amsterdam. American density is too low, the distances traveled are too great, the terrain isn't flat enough, the climate extremes too great, the historical bike culture is absent, etc. Most important, Americans will never tolerate the gas prices, taxes, license requirements, parking restrictions, route restrictions, extra traffic light phases etc. that the Dutch use to dissuade car use. So there will be no way significant numbers of American cities will provide door-to-any-door bike path access. Cyclists will have to operate on at least some very ordinary streets. If they do so safely, they will be using techniques first explained succinctly by Forester.

Second, communities are learning that their "paradise" bike paths and lanes can be more dangerous than ordinary streets. Example: Columbus Ohio installed a mile of "parking protected" bike lane on Summit Street, and saw over 600% increase in car-bike crashes.
Similarly, bike lane projects in Washington DC led to five-fold increases in crashes at certain intersections. In an article in Bicycle Times ("Staying Safe in Protected Bike Lanes") Carol Szczepanski offered about a dozen requirements to protect oneself from the bad crash that she had in a DC cycle track - including "... choose another route." And a well constructed before-after study in Copenhagen (Jensen, 2007, "Bicycle Tracks and Lanes - a Before-After Study") found large and significant increases in crashes after installation of bike lanes. Also, Davis California installed the country's first "parking-protected" bike lane in the 1960s, but soon removed it due to big crash increases. Many of the rash of cyclists killed late summer in London a few years ago were feeling safe in bike lanes, trapped there between the curb and turning lorries. The same has happened in the U.S. and Canada, where "right hook" deaths are far from rare.

Advocates for segregation don't publicize these failures. Indeed, many seem to assume that "any bike facility is a good bike facility." But Forester correctly predicted such problems, and noted the problems that should be obvious when straight-ahead cyclists are placed to the right of right turning motor vehicles. (Can you imagine that design being used for car lanes?) He noted the problems with cyclists entering intersections at speed from the wrong direction, hidden from view of motorists. He explained the problem with bike lanes in the "door zone," where cyclists are unable to avoid a suddenly opened door of a parked car.

It's true that there are many idealists who disagree with Forester, and who hope that badly designed bike facilities will attract so very many bicyclists that motorists will unfailingly be on high alert, and avoid collisions despite the difficulties generated by fashionable facilities. But physics and geometry - not to mention climate and culture - are on Forester's side.

Note - this is not to say that I'm against all bike facilities. I do think there are roads that can benefit from well-designed bike facilities. But I've seen far more problems than solutions. And I strongly decry the notion, used by segregation promoters, that bicycling on an ordinary street is a terribly dangerous thing to do. That message is clearly false, and that sales tactic hurts bicycling and society here and now.

Peter Flax Interview w/Forester

Published Sep 29, 2019 on medium. It’s a good read, and very fair. I suspect Flax’s intro statement

Forester was at first reluctant to participate in an interview because he’s felt burned in the past — by writers who ultimately wanted to take aim at his positions or character. In the end, he agreed to this interview after I offered to publish it as a long-form Q&A, without involving other sources or a creating narrative beyond our conversation.

was a direct result of the outside/in 4/2018 podcast because if you listen to it that’s exactly how it come off to my ears.


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