10 Steps to a Revolution

August 6, 2016 § 40 Comments

None of this happened overnight. John Forester got it all started in the 1970s when he laid out the theory behind riding a bike utilizing traffic laws applicable to other vehicles. Communities from Long Beach to Kalamazoo have shared their plans and their experiences with what it takes to change community attitudes towards bikes.

Advocates in LA like Don Ward, Dan Gutierrez, Eric Bruins, and Jim Hannon, and advocates in Michigan like Paul Selden are just a few of the people who have shown the way to cooperating with local government to make roads safer for bikes. The daily drumbeat of advocacy and activism in our local CABO forum relentlessly highlights the solutions to the problems we face.

Most importantly, the people who think the wages of cycling should be death, as enunciated by a local PV realtor recently, and the people who believe that cyclists should be banned and public roads should be privatized, are on the defensive. More to the point, they’re being routed as they stand on an isolated little spit of meanness and greed, heaping hatred on people for pedaling bicycles even as the waves of change gradually eat away at their last sandy redoubt.

The final piece of the puzzle, i.e. acceptance of safe cycling by every community, awaits. It’s not that far off, and the real progenitors for this final change are bike clubs. They are organized, they are community based, they are composed of long-time residents, they are mostly too tired from cycling to scream and yell, and their ass-conditioning means they can outlast any opponent in a city council sitting contest.

Here’s what you and your club have to do to make the revolution complete.

  1. Take a bike education course like Cycling Savvy that teaches you how to ride a bike in traffic.
  2. Get your club leaders to take a class.
  3. Make completion of a cycling in traffic class a condition for leading any club ride or being a board member.
  4. Ultimately make a cycling in traffic class a requirement for membership in your club.
  5. Establish a permanent community liaison in your club whose job it is to attend every city council meeting and/or traffic safety committee meeting that deals with anything bike-related. If your club encompasses multiple jurisdictions, establish multiple liaisons.
  6. Recruit other club members to join your liaisons on an ad hoc basis for various meetings so that there’s always a cycling contingent of 4-5 people to counterbalance the crazies.
  7. Start using cycling in traffic techniques on all your club rides; don’t back down because a few refuseniks prefer the gutter.
  8. Begin using cycling in traffic techniques on non-club group rides by discussing with the chain gang bosses beforehand. Cooperation is generally frowned upon in cycling, I know, but this actually matters, almost as much as who’s going to win the imaginary sprunt.
  9. Sponsor 3-4 cycling in traffic safety classes per year and make them available to the community, which includes law enforcement, local government, and local schools. Think of how much your club members spent on beer in 2016. For a few hundred bucks you could actually save a life or two.
  10. Make cycling traffic techniques at least as high a priority in every club meeting as the annual club bibs/jersey order. Ridiculous? Perhaps, but possible. Maybe you could lead off with, “We’re going to discuss a new jersey design for ride leaders who’ve taken the education course … “

The prophets are in from the wilderness and the unwashed and somewhat-washed cycling herds are ready to receive the message. Go forth and spread the seed, but spread it as traffic, controlling the lane.




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§ 40 Responses to 10 Steps to a Revolution

  • Paul Sotherland says:

    Thanks, again, for your steady drum beat, Seth. Others are joining in…

  • …the wheels are rolling!…One super pissed off BearClaw really knocked the rust out of our ball bearings. The goal has always been to help us all reach home after enjoying a wonderful pedal.

  • bikinginla says:

    From your mouth to God’s ears. One of the biggest problems we’ve faced in LA, and I suspect most everyone else, has been getting roadies involved in advocacy. I can’t remember the last time I saw an organized bike club show up for any meeting. If even a fraction of the riders who take to PCH every weekend would get involved — and vote — we’d see a huge change on the streets. Thanks for helping make it happen in PV.

    • fsethd says:

      Why advocate for change when you can ride yer fuggin’ bike? Hint: Because if you don’t you may not be able to ride yer fuggin’ bike …

  • stephen a smith says:

    You don’t need no 10 stinkin steps. Just take the lane and ride like you own it.

  • Cycling in motor vehicle traffic isn’t pleasant and cannot be made safe by education. That’s a tall statement, but the facts remain that despite forty-plus years of trying, we haven’t attracted more than tiny number of cyclists to the road. This doesn’t mean we should stop education, nor does it mean the ten recommendations here aren’t valuable, but I believe we should be realistic about their limits. From my experience, education does not attract people to cycling. At best, it gives those who love cycling a set of rules that may make them safer in vehicular traffic.

    I’ve ridden recreationally for years, and now for the past two I’ve been commuting to work from Silver Lake to Century City. Despite all sorts of education, practical and formal, I cannot seem to get drivers to stop threatening me. I’ve been rear-ended on Los Feliz while waiting to make a left turn, positioned exactly as I was “trained.” I’ve been side-swiped on Fountain Avenue while accelerating from a traffic light. I’ve missed a driver executing a right hook into me on Santa Monica by so little that my left shoe scraped against his car bumper. I’ve been cut off suddenly by a driver intent on making a U-turn in the middle of Fountain. These incidents are the few that stand out, the ones that made me question why I ride, but many more have shaken me to the core. They all come together to explain my love-hate relationship with the bike. I love the ride, but every time I strap on my helmet, I have to shove rational fears to the back of my mind.

    I’ve also had the great joy of riding in The Netherlands, Denmark, and northern Germany. The stark difference between cycling on our roads and theirs is hard to describe. When cycling is made first-class, when it has a place of its own, when it is normal — that is when we will actually see a revolution. We should demand better than education. We should demand lanes and tracks and all those things that make cycling safe and enjoyable.

    • fsethd says:

      Not a single track in Mallorca, and it’s the best riding in the world. It’s 100% education. And it’s never been done here. Give education a chance and it will work. On PCH, one of the “worst” roads to cycle on, riders regularly take the lane with no issues at all. N+1 doesn’t equal a policy decision. I’ve been riding public roads on my bike for transportation since 1976, for recreation since 1982, and for both since 2007. I’ve never been hit. So that means my experience cancels yours out?

      More importantly, in the last couple of years I’ve been riding with a 1200 lumen headlamp in the daytime and 100 lumen red taillight, and have had very, very few cars even get close.

      Education and visibility work. Here, in Europe, everywhere.

      • gcziko says:

        There’s a cartoon at the head of this articlewith cyclists named Possibility and Limitation. It’s pretty clear which is Seth and which is Examined Spoke.

        The questions at the bottom of the cartoon are well worth considering.

        • fsethd says:

          Love it. I might change it to “Bicycling is safe and easy and flat fucking awesome.”

      • If you ask a non-cycling co-worker or friend why s/he doesn’t ride to work, chances are that one of the answers will be about safety. Can that person be convinced to take up cycling? In my experience, no manner of representations about riding’s essential safety are enough. One of my co-workers went so far as to tell me that she’d never do any activity that required a helmet; she will stick with golf. My Dutch friends in L.A. do not ride here, though all of them do in their home country. When I ask them, they will also come around to safety concerns (here’s one Dutch man’s opinion of cycling in the US: https://youtu.be/m2THe_10dYs ).

        Ultimately, it’s hard to argue with success. Cycling mode share in The Netherlands hovers around twenty-five percent, with some cities north of fifty percent. The country has achieved these levels of cycling through many efforts, including the finest infrastructure I’ve seen anywhere. I cannot comment personally on Mallorca, but Palma de Mallorca is participating in the 2020 Civitas to improve cycling mobility. It plans more cycle tracks in the Dutch style ( http://www.civitas.eu/content/palma ).

        Meanwhile we have Dutch-level mode shares only in “neighborhoods,” many of them near universities with Dutch-style cycle tracks (e.g., Stanford, Davis). Our best big-city success, Minneapolis, has a mode share that hovers around ten percent. It boasts nearly 100 miles of off-street bicycle tracks (by comparison, L.A. has about 60 miles). Beyond this, we have recent examples of a strong correlation between more infrastructure and mode share increases in cities like San Francisco, New York, and Montreal.

        As far as I can tell, education efforts have made little progress. If people generally think cycling is dangerous, we won’t even be able to get them into class.

    • “Cycling in motor vehicle traffic … cannot be made safe by education.”

      Education has not been tried – for forty years or for forty minutes – on any scale that would have mattered.

      And Education is not effective anyway. What’s effective is Training.

      And Training has not been tried – for forty years or for forty minutes – on any scale that would have mattered.

      Translation: The Future Is Bright.

    • Robert Cooper says:

      “..education does not attract people to cycling. … it gives those who love cycling a set of rules that … makes them safer in vehicular traffic.”

      • fsethd says:

        And it teaches cars not to kill us as much.

        • Education does not attract people to cycling; therefore, education fails.

          • fsethd says:

            That’s a weird way of putting it. Education means learning about something. When people learn that cycling is fun and safe, they do it. So education absolutely attracts people, and ignorance repels them.

  • Correct, education does attract people to cycling, but inefficiently.

    Growth of transportation mode share was not the goal of education, although growth might be a tangential result.

    Heat is produced by an incandescent light bulb, too.

    I am at war with the sentiment that “Education has been tried for forty years, and it did not work.”

    We hear that ad nauseam. The slogan leaves out that education was not tried on any scale that would have mattered, and that’s one reason that it did not achieve the goal that it did not set for itself.

    • fsethd says:

      It hasn’t been tried, we agree. It works. Maybe by “education” you mean classroom instruction. I think education includes a lot more than that. People are attracted to cycling when they learn that it’s safe and easy and fun. They learn that through education, mostly.

    • “Take the lane” is one of the foundational principles of vehicular cycling, and it is underpinned by the notion that relatively few car-on-bike crashes are hits from behind: “[T]his fear [being hit from behind] is entirely unwarranted, because about 90% of car-bike collisions are caused by conditions or actions in front of the cyclist, where they can be seen and therefore avoided by proper avoidance action.” (John Forrester, “Effective Cycling,” 6th Edition, p. 271)

      In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists tracked cycling fatalities. They chose to look at news accounts, as official sources are often behind or incomplete. (California’s SWITRS, for instance, has yet to report Milt Olin’s 2013 death.) After a year of data collection, they wrote:

      “We learned, for example, that a much higher percentage of fatal crashes than expected — 40% of fatal crashes with a reported collision type — were ‘hit from behind’ incidents — that’s important to know for our education program. Not surprisingly, high-speed urban and suburban arterial streets with no provisions for bicyclists are an over-represented location — representing 56% of all bicyclist fatalities — that’s good information to share with our Bicycle Friendly Community partners.”


      It’s trivial to reconcile these data points statistically: hits from behind are rare, but when they happen they tend to kill. That may be the case. However, I find it harder to reconcile the idea that cyclists get killed at high rates when riding exactly in accordance with a foundational principle of vehicular cycling. Further, contrary to Forrester, the LAB stats make fears of being hit from behind seem entirely warranted and rational.

      I wish everyone could spend a week riding on real Dutch infrastructure. My own eye-opening trip took me from Copenhagen to Amsterdam, through northern Germany. The infrastructure there really shows the possibilities of cycling, where our own pale imitations come up far short. Someday, someday…

      • fsethd says:

        We’ve all ridden in Europe. I’ve crossed Germany on a bike, and it sucks. The roads are narrow, the speeds high, and the infrastructure outside cities is erratic, incomplete, and nothing like what you find in Copenhagen or Amsterdam. That said, drivers are so much better and not nearly as hostile.

        In total counterpoint to your argument, how do you explain Mallorca? No bike infrastructure anywhere, bikes everywhere, patient motorists, and bikes are completely part of traffic.

        Also, let’s focus on what’s really happening here in the South Bay, where I bike. Lane control works here. It has resulted in success and safety on PCH both in Malibu and Long Beach. Would you rather wait until someone builds a cycle track from Oxnard to Huntington Beach, or control the lane, teach cagers we belong, enforce the 3-foot law, wear bright clothing, and ride with powerful lights?

        Someday is never. Today we have tools to educate, train, and ride with a minimum of conflict. Also, people who are so skeptical are NEVER at the meetings I attend. They have a strong keyboard presence but are NEVER at the classes, NEVER at the council meetings, NEVER at the TSC meetings, and NEVER on the group rides helping others.

        Not saying you’re one of them, but those who discount lane control in the South Bay are never present with any realistic alternatives. Look at the fucked up, messed up, deadly bike track in Hermosa brought to you by non-vehicular advocates. Go ride that for a while and tell me it works, or it’s like Copenhagen, or that you’d like more of it. Hint: You’ll hate it.

        Ride lit up in the lane. It works.

        • I believe southern Germany has fewer bike paths, while northern Germany is criss-crossed by them. Perhaps your German experience might be related to that (?). Actually, I found northern Germany to have better cycling infrastructure than Denmark generally.

          Mallorca sounds wonderful. I’ve not yet been there, but I’d guess explaining it as a cycling haven would rely on a few elements: 1) low population and/or population density (i.e., 622 per sq mi vs L.A. at 23,000 per sq mi), 2) resort destination with relaxed people largely in vacation mode, 3) high levels of tourist cycling have taught residents to expect riders everywhere, and 4) low traffic on mountain roads. If these elements can explain it, I might reference my own experiences in the French Alps and Provence, where similar conditions made for pleasant cycling. By contrast, Mallorca’s main city seems to be actively engaged in building out bike lanes and paths. I’m not sure how to square that with its image as an otherwise picturesque cycling place.

          What rankles me most about vehicular cycling is its insistence that “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” (John Forester, “Effective Cycling”). That sentiment has been used to scuttle any number of cycling infrastructure improvements, including the famous story of Forester killing off Palo Alto’s incipient paths in the 1970s. I’ve argued in previous posts here that there’s a direct line between the treatment of cyclists as “drivers” and our current dismal mode share numbers. I’m surprised to see the sentiment that we haven’t tried hard enough with education. Forester himself is parsimonious with it: he only wants strong, capable, and (yes) trained riders on the roads. That leaves out huge categories of other potential riders: children, the aged, handicapped, the reluctant, etc.

          Incidentally, Forester has never been to The Netherlands to see quality infrastructure first-hand (Jeff Mapes, “Pedaling Revolution).

          On the other hand, I think training/education is valuable, at least as a stopgap measure. It may be the only practical way forward for the moment. It may make riders safer (are there studies?), and it at least promotes cycling. Yes, we should continue education, continue advocating for cycling, and continue agitating as we can.

          However, the next time a city council says they want to build a cycle track, we should NOT stand in the way. We should put in our input as to how to make it better, but otherwise let them build it! Ultimately, quality infrastructure is the only proven way I’ve seen to increase cycling.

          • fsethd says:

            That can’t be true because cycling increased exponentially in the 1980’s and again in the 90’s when Lance became famous. There was no concomitant explosion in infrastructure.

            Education and training aren’t stopgap. They are the only ways that people will be able to safely cycle when they leave the cocoon of urban infrastructure. Instead of building cycle tracks, why not dedicate the money to training and education? A billion dollars in training and education would make an entire city friendly and safe for cycling. The same amount in infrastructure would get you a few short tracks.

            The cycle track here in the South Bay is abysmal, dismal, dangerous, and discourages people from riding in the street and from learning how to ride. It sucks and it should never have been built. A terrible solution isn’t better than nothing, it’s often worse.

            And then you have PV, which will build nothing. No lanes, tracks, anything. That’s ground zero for most of America: places that are never going to ever, ever, ever have infrastructure and even if they do, only a smattering of it.

            Palma has little cycling infrastructure and is dense and crowded and bike friendly. Insurance, liability, education, training, and challenging road conditions mean that people are careful behind the wheel.

            And most importantly, where are all the infrastructure people at TSC and CC meetings? In the South Bay they are long on keyboard theory and damned short on butts in seats.

          • fsethd says:

            Also, I rode from Cologne to Berlin. The infrastructure was for shit. The bike path from Cologne to Koblenz sucks, and once you hit Koblenz and leave the Rhine Valley there’s hardly anything that is direct, useful, maintained, and connected.

      • “That can’t be true because cycling increased exponentially in the 1980’s and again in the 90’s when Lance became famous.”

        Bicycle statistics are notoriously hard to get. Mode share numbers come from surveys, and in Los Angeles, have been stuck at one-percent for decades, as far as I know. There was incremental growth in bicycle *sales* during the 1980s and 1990s, in-line with overall economic trends. However, sales have yet to reach the 1973 peak, and in any case, the bicycle shop industry has been on a spiraling decline for years, following an overall shrinking of cyclists since the 1970s. You can read all the stats and see the graphs here: http://ht.ly/R1EQ0

        • Robert Cooper says:

          Stuck in a Loop:

          “Mode share numbers come from surveys, and in Los Angeles, have been stuck at one-percent for decades, as far as I know. There was incremental growth in bicycle *sales* during the 1980s and 1990s, in-line with overall economic trends. However, sales have yet to reach the 1973 peak, and in any case, the bicycle shop industry has been on a spiraling decline for years, following an overall shrinking of cyclists since the 1970s.”

        • fsethd says:

          Bike shops are failing but Internet sales are not. Club membership is busting out all over. Anyone who thinks there are fewer cyclists on the roads today than thirty years ago wasn’t cycling thirty years ago. What has probably decreased is the number of kids on bikes.

          But none of that matters. What matters is the risk of getting hit. And until someone waves an infrastructure wand that puts German bicycle freeways alongside every neighborhood, city, county, and state road, bikers will have to deal with cars. The safest way to do that is by acting like a car.

          Also, your rear-end stats are ersatz stats because they don’t reveal where the biker was when hit. If the biker was hit on the edge or shoulder or in the gutter then it doesn’t impinge on lane control theory at all. And since by definition hardly anyone has been practicing lane control over the last 40 years, almost all of those rear-enders will have been precisely the victims that Cycling Savvy would save by making them visible and predictable.

          The only alternative is to quit cycling until the freeways get built, or to huddle in the gutter. No thanks, and no thanks.

      • “The only alternative is to quit cycling until the freeways get built…”

        The decline in overall ridership numbers during the past forty years seems to indicate that’s exactly what’s happening. From the link above, “Or, to put it another way, *on a per capita basis, half of American cyclists have quit riding bikes in the past 20 years.*”

        • Robert Cooper says:

          Still stuck in a Loop:

          “The decline in overall ridership numbers during the past forty years seems to indicate that’s exactly what’s happening…”

        • Robert Cooper says:

          Someone needs to step up to the plate and admit that sales of bicycles and ridership (whatever that means) and mode share are not the only criteria. In fact, they are not even the most important criteria.

          • fsethd says:

            What plate? This isn’t baseball. I don’t care what people advocate for as long as they get off their ass and go to a city council/transportation committee meeting. Internet advocacy is stupid, an oxymoron, and a waste of time unless it’s backed with butts in seats.

            Examined Spoke is too lazy to even use his real name. How’s he going to sit through an actual meeting and survive the give-and-take of people who hate his stinking guts and want to kill him, i.e. cager opponents of all bicycles and all bicyclists, in the lane, in a cycle track, or in the mortuary.

        • fsethd says:

          Hey, thanks for contributing, but this thread is ending (for you) unless you put forth a real name. As I’ve suggested, people waiting for bike freeways can either quit or get with training and education. Since you obviously support quitting, please understand that your voice has been heard, your choice has been made, and further anonymous comments will be marked as spam and left to die a lonely, awful death in the company of handbags from China and web links to cheap Viagra.

  • It is important to acknowledge that adoption of cycling by more people is the sole criterion used by Examined Spoke to determine the success of any program, including programs that did not target increased mode share as a goal.

    Mode share is not my sole criterion, and I do not recognize it as one of the top ten most important criteria for education, which includes “education,” training and public relations.

    From Examined Spoke:

    “Can that person be convinced to take up cycling?” AND

    “Ultimately, it’s hard to argue with success. Cycling mode share in [name of a place with lots of mode share] hovers around twenty-five percent, with some cities north of fifty percent.” AND

    “…mode share increases in cities like San Francisco, New York, and Montreal.” AND

    “As far as I can tell, education efforts have made little progress [in the effort to increase mode share.]

    • fsethd says:

      My criterion for Examined Spoke is more basic: Will you show up at every CC and TSC meeting to advocate for safer streets? Because if you won’t, it’s kind of like the armchair bike race analyst who’s never bothered to pin on a number.

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