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Are you a Foresterite or a Luskite?

September 23, 2010

Ain't it beautiful?

I’m no liar.

A while back, I said I’d report to you all on my reading of Jeff Mapes
Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities. Ready? Here we go!

In relation to my reading, the question I’m asking all of you, and trying to answer for myself, is this: Are you a Foresterite or a Luskite?

No, we’re not trying to sort out some kind of neo-Soviet political issue. Rather, we’re trying to sort out a long-standing cycling issue. First, a little history is needed.

Ain't he dapper?

John Forester is a long-time bicycle advocate who has worked to defend cyclists’ right to public roads since the 1970s. A strong proponent of “vehicular cycling,” in which cyclists behave like motorists, he developed his own cycling education curriculum and wrote the book Effective Cycling.

“Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles,” Forester says.

A Foresterite believes that improved education on cycling in traffic is the answer to the cycling problem.

Ain't she purty?

Anne Lusk is a researcher at the Harvard University School of Public Health, who pushes for separate bikeways that cater to more cautious or less experienced cyclists. She says that it is only the strong, experienced, elite cyclists who are content with the current system and that everyone else is either dissatisfied or simply not cycling.

“Motorists have their space [on the street], pedestrians have their space on the sidewalk, and cyclists need their space too,” says one Luskite cycling advocate.

A Luskite believes that increasing the number of bike lanes and cycletracks will increase overall cycling.

So, while united in their affinity for two-wheelers, cycling advocates have different views on exactly what that aim is and how to reach it. Foresterites might be seen as practical rationalists, seeking to alter their behavior in response to the existing environment. Whereas Luskites might be seen as radical reformers, seeking to create an environment that is congruent with their behavior and values.

The question boils down to which is better for future of cycling: Separate bikeways vs. Vehicular cycling?

Active NCG reader and friend, Pawl, shared with me this super-cool bike movie, which deals with issues closely tied to the Forester/Lusk debate.

There are a lot of social issues tied up in this question too. For instance, Lusk believes that cycling should be a universal form of transportation and physical exercise that benefits people, communities, and the environment. However, by her measure, the current system really only serves healthy, cycling, white men.

“You can’t improve the population of white males that is already skinny,” she says. Instead, she wants to create bikeways that are inviting, safe, and comfortable for everyone.

Forester’s retort: “Contrary to popular belief, cycling in traffic is neither particularly difficult nor particularly dangerous.”

A Foresterite might point out that even with miles and miles of bikeways, cyclists are going to have to enter motorist-centric roadways now and then, so they should be equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate them. They might point to groups like the League of American Bicyclists, who offer lots of information and courses and are increasingly targeting their education efforts on children—presumably of all colors, sexes, and BMIs.

The issue can also get political. Forester has and continues to lobby for legal rights for cyclists.

“When motorists complain about these damned bicyclists,” he says, “I say, ‘It’s your own damned fault, because you have insisted for 40 years that bicyclists stay out of your way.’”

Meanwhile, Lusk is fighting city officials who, in an effort to prevent cyclist/motorist conflict, reject proposals for bikeways near roadways.

“We could do nothing and not have the cycletrack and nobody would die,” she says in response, “but you have nobody cycling and nobody getting physical activity.”

A sticky issue, no doubt, but if you had to pick one—Foresterite or Luskite—which are you?


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Gina M. permalink
    September 23, 2010 10:49 am

    I never thought about this Amy! Thanks for the interesting debate. I think in an ideal world I’d be a Foresterite. But immediately speaking, I’m a Luskite. Personally, I’m scared to death of riding my bike up and down some streets, say Connecticut Avenue in DC. There are no bike lanes and no buffer from the speeding taxis, buses, and the erratic driving of confused tourists. I’m not sure any amount of coaching or education would assuage that fear. However, I see the point that if everyone was educated and could ride along in harmony it would be grand. Riding like just another vehicle on the road would be nice. Given the choice today however, I always pick routes with a nice cushy bike lane.

  2. September 23, 2010 5:24 pm

    Excellent post! I’m totally with Forester. Only by learning to ride with traffic do cyclists have true freedom to ride almost anywhere in the world. BLs are stifling, dangerous and don’t always go where we need to go.

  3. Jenny permalink
    September 24, 2010 8:20 am

    Foresterite! I used to bike in NYC, learned to really follow traffic laws, and felt totally at home on the roads. Now in DC I rarely bike, frequently use bike paths…and feel totally scared when I’m on the roadway. Some of that fear factor difference, I’ll blame on being older and wiser now, and understanding a bit better what it means to put your body in harm’s way. But I think part of it comes from getting used to this no-woman’s-land of the bike lane, and then not being able to confidently adapt to the streets!

  4. avaerewyck permalink
    September 24, 2010 10:39 am

    I love, Love, LOVE the feedback, y’all! Keep it coming!

    Gina – I feel your fears of Conn. Ave. One good thing about D.C. is that often, not far from the main cross-cutting diagonals, are less busy, less intimidating streets that can get you there too.

    Trikebum – Glad to have you here at NCG! Where are you doing your cycling?

    Jenny – I had not idea you used to cycle NYC. Props to you! Part of your fear in D.C. may also have to do with the lesser bike-awareness on the part of drivers. I know I experienced that when I cycled there. I’m curious: Have you tried riding at all with the kiddo?

    And another question: Do you all feel the same way about off-street bikeways (multi-use paths, paved trails, etc.) as you do about bike lanes?? Are they more or less advantageous in the grand scheme of cycling culture?

  5. pawl permalink
    September 27, 2010 9:44 pm

    Definitely a Foresterite.
    However, I understand that there are a great number of Luskites out there, so I think it is important to accommodate people who are not so adept or confident at negotiations with automobile traffic. I also think that people who can and do bike like they’re in traffic are better off doing so, and that if you throw Luskites & Foresterites in the same lane, that’s sort of like putting Grandpa in the Indy 500 or 16 y/o with a brand spanking new license in an off road car rally.
    Why do we have to have only one or the other?
    Also, I think multi-use pathways are more dangerous for everyone involved than if bikers rode with automobile traffic. With foot traffic there are no understood rules & laws regulating behavior. Someone might side step suddenly right in front of a Foresterite and Everyone gets injured.
    A lot of this is personal too. I hate getting stuck behind slow bikers and walls of pedestrians. I kind of get a thrill riding with automobile traffic, not on major major thoroughfares, but 25-35 speed limit zones.

  6. Jenny permalink
    September 28, 2010 8:32 am

    Hey Amy! I haven’t tried riding with the kiddo yet. It’s tempting — we see a lot of families commuting by our house in the mornings, usually a Dad in a suit on a bike, with kids on bikes/scooters, all headed to the nearby elementary school before, presumably, the dad peels off for work. It’s awesome. But I’m not comfortable riding on the street by my house, so doubly less so with the kiddo on board! I just don’t trust the impatient, aggressive drivers. I totally agree with your comment about NYC drivers being different — my theory is that they’re so used to the free-for-all that is New York traffic, that they actually LOOK at the road to see what’s around them. Which is pretty all-important for the bikers’ safety.

    So glad to chat with you! And yeah, when they’re headed my way I love paved trails, and I have plenty of patience for multi-use traffic these days.

  7. avaerewyck permalink
    October 1, 2010 11:52 am

    I like the thrill too, Pawl, and I also like your Grandpa/Formula 1 metaphor. There was a time when we were much too small and unequipped to navigate such situations, and one day we’ll be older and perhaps less enamored of speed and danger. Regarding unpredictable pedestrians on multi-use trails, perhaps because we, as cyclists, are accustomed to being the roadway underdog, always in the shadow of cars, it’s difficult for us to accept the role of the less vulnerable traveler. Seems to me that’s what multi-use trails ask of us.

    Jenny, I think you’ve got the nail on the head there. It’s about culture and social norms. In Germany, for instance, motorists are much more focused on driving, being alert, detecting danger, and avoiding accidents. In many places in the U.S., a driver might be more concerned with finding a good radio station (or texting!)than protecting the safety of the cyclist in front of him. And then there’s Italy, where drivers seem very aware of cyclists, though also prone to cutting them so close as to brush an elbow. I know you’ve been in a lot of different countries. Do you have traffic behavior observations from any of them?

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