Walker Vs. Gutierrez

I’m still digesting all the information from a post over at Ian Walker’s blog concerning a reaction to his bicycle overtaking study, but I can’t shake from my mind the old Hank Kissinger saw, ‘academic disputes are so bitter because the stakes are so small.’

I would side with Ian Walker (who of course is featured in Traffic) in his assertion of cross-cultural differences. Nothing in the traffic world (fatalities, laws, norms, etc.) translates easily across borders — not even state borders. The U.K. driving population, the landscape, the safety rate, the regulations, etc., have little to do with U.S. traffic culture. And while I find the Gutierrez work interesting, I can’t also help thinking it comes shrouded in a militantly ‘vehicular cycling’ agenda — I really can’t imagine many civilians out there would even feel comfortable in the first instance riding on that road on which they’re riding (in L.A., where cyclist-car relations have been less than rosy), much less taking up big amounts of road space. Which points to a larger sort of question: Is this what we should be worried about to begin with? Is a cycling culture going to be built on a game of inches from cars overtaking at high speeds? I can’t imagine these are top-of-mind concerns in the Netherlands or Denmark (but I could be wrong).

But like I said, I’m still digesting, only wading into a very deep pool here (Google ‘vehicular cycling’) and primarily wanted to highlight the exchange.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2009 at 7:23 am and is filed under Cyclists, Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “Walker Vs. Gutierrez”

  1. Lee Watkins Says:

    I think the problem with the vehicular cycling argument is that it seems to ignore the idea that low vehicle speeds are a ground rule for shared spaces – ie. those spaces shared by cars, bikes, and pedestrians.

    The idea that cyclists should act as drivers of vehicles the same way motorists do is not a bad one, but I do think think it is reasonable to assume most people will not ride bikes if motor vehicle speeds are not kept very low and no separate bicycle infrastructure is provided.

    What is very much lacking in the United States is a separated network of roads and pathways for lightweight and low-speed vehicles such as bicycles, light electric vehicles (cars and bikes), mopeds. The entire transportation network is developed for heavy vehicles at high speed and maximized automobile capacity. Meanwhile, sidewalks are largely inadequate for bicycles and light electric bikes except at a pedestrian pace. There is not middle ground between sidewalk and roadway, leaving most with only 2 popular options – drive or walk.

  2. chrismealy Says:

    Yeah, I think if you’re having this debate, you’ve already lost. Only daredevils are going to put up with cars roaring by them, whether it’s by three feet or one foot. If you want cycling for everyone, you have to do what the Dutch do.

  3. Michael Says:

    Daredevils? You do get used to being passed. I get passed all the time, car or bike. Not being a daredevil, I’m the only one in a car actually obeying the speed limit and leaving a safe following distance. Actually, traffic looks a lot the same to me whether in car or on bike, crazy people passing at high speed constantly.

    Anyway, I have US citizenship, so this is the place I’m allowed to live and work. I’m already 37, so I’m not expecting to live long enough to see the US turned into Denmark. So if I’m going to go anywhere under human power, getting used to being passed by motor vehicles is the only way it’s going to happen.

    It’s fascinating to visit Germany, see the bus stops in places than in the US would be examples of why we’re all always going to need cars, because a place like this could never -never!- be served by a bus. See the huge numbers of low-speed cyclists slowly going the kilometer or two to their shockingly close-by destinations. Riding a bike at 9 km/hr won’t do me so much good at home, though, with destinations 10 or 20 km away.

  4. Dan Gutierrez Says:

    Tom wrote: “I can’t also help thinking it comes shrouded in a militantly ‘vehicular cycling’ agenda”. Allow me to help you think differently. Here’s my “agenda”: Legal Driver Equality for Cyclists, which means one set of common movement rules for all drivers. Please keep in mind that an American value like equality is not “militant”, it is the official position of the League of American Bicyclists, an old (>125 years) and fairly conservative cycling organization, as stated in the recently board approved “Equity Statement”.


    Here is the relevant text: “Equality – The equal legal status and equal treatment of cyclists in traffic law. All US states must adopt fair, equitable and uniform traffic laws, that are “vehicle-neutral” to the greatest extent possible. Cyclists’ ability to access to all destinations must be protected. State and local laws that discriminate against cyclists, or restrict their right to travel, or reduce their relative safety, must be repealed.”

    You may also be interested in reading the precursory article that I co-wrote on the subject of Equality and the effects of discriminatory laws.


    Thanks for “listening”,

    – Dan Gutierrez –
    Long Beach, CA

  5. Tom Vanderbilt Says:

    Interesting comments all. I realize the US is not Denmark, but we should also remember that Denmark itself was “not Denmark,” in terms of cycling numbers, not so very long ago. So there’s hope.

    And Dan, I agree with you philosophically 100% (and will check out your pubs); but might just add the familiar issue that many people would not feel comfortable riding on the street on which you were largely filming; even if there’s a law on the books that drivers must respect cyclists, pass at a certain distance, etc., I believe only a minority of users are ever going to feel up for cycling in conditions like that. Which means either lowering traffic speeds or building separate facilities (or both). I myself am admittedly something of a vehicular cyclist, but I also have a certain threshold for risk and tend to cycle fairly quickly — on the roads I’m doing that on, the other cyclists seem to look like me (and usually male). On the new separated path by my house, on the other hand, this past weekend I saw couples out cycling, I saw a parent tugging a kid.

    FWIW,when I’m driving, I try to give as much room as possible, wherever the cycle position, for a variety of reasons.

  6. Jack Says:

    I’m a VC when I ride on the streets (often enjoying the high risk challenges) but I’ve learned that my attitude isn’t shared by the majority of potential cyclists. I know many who use to cycle in Europe when living there and won’t even consider cycling on what I would rate as “safe” streets.

    In addition, my young sons (not near driving age) are expected to have the same level of experience & knowledge as other cyclists in the VC world view? The 5Es are great but also unrealistic for all but VCs who refuse to get in the back of the bus.

  7. Michael Says:

    Also interesting was my impression of the German cycling traffic as looking suicidal. Riding well off to the right of car traffic past driveways and minor intersections is pretty much asking to be hit in the US. In Germany I suppose a combination of the motorist being likely to be blamed for a collision with a cyclist rather than held blameless and just the huge number of cyclists, with motorists waiting for a gap in the cycle traffic, makes a big difference. There, motorists look first. Here, you’ll be hit. I’m not sure how you get from “ride your bike over here, but you’ll be killed if you do” to the “now that everyone is doing it, it’s reasonably safe” mode. I suppose if enough people are using a cycling facility you might even maintain it rather than letting it deteriorate into a broken-up mudhole like we do here, but if it’s a broken-up mudhole no one will use it enough to justify fixing it.

  8. chris hutt Says:

    This is an interesting debate. Here in the UK the only sensible way forward in traditional urban areas is “shared use”, meaning motor vehicles and cyclists (but not generally pedestrians) sharing streets. That requires above all a change in attitudes and expectations.

    Attitudes and expectations have already changed significantly over the years and continue to do so. Moves towards lower speed limits (20 mph) in urban areas are symptomatic of that rather than the cause of it. The transition towards shared use isn’t smooth and involves a fair amount of conflict, both verbal and physical.

    The crucial change must be in what clearance is considered acceptable when motorists overtake cyclists. The clearance requirement is conditional on vehicle speeds and other circumstances so cannot be easily prescribed, but one metre would be about right at low speeds. Road and lane widths need to reflect that.

  9. MikeOnBike Says:

    Tom said “many people would not feel comfortable riding on the street on which you were largely filming”

    Perhaps not, but those same people are entirely comfortable driving cars on those very same streets.

    Vehicular Cycling doesn’t mean “seek out high speed arterials”. The point of Dan’s videos is to show that cycling on busy roads is unremarkable if you follow the same rules as everybody else.

    Nor does VC mean “all roads should be high speed arterials, and cyclists should just deal with it.” The same techniques also work on quieter streets, of course, but that makes for a rather uninteresting video.

  10. Paul Dorn Says:

    As an earlier post indicated, “…if you’re having this debate, you’ve already lost.” The argument is over. Facilities win. There are more bicyclists in Portland, and that’s not due to an invasion of VC advocates. There are more bicyclists in San Francisco today than a decade ago, and VC had nothing to do with it. There are more bicyclists per capita in Davis, CA than anywhere else in the U.S., and it was clearly the facilities, not any VC education campaign. Cycling is safer when there are more cyclists, and newbies won’t ride with fast traffic no matter how much scolding from the “eat your fiber” vehicularists.

    Paul Dorn, LCI #1237, author of the Bike to Work Guide (Adams Media, 2009)

  11. DanC Says:

    > I find the Gutierrez work interesting,
    Dan Gutierrez and Brian DeSoua’s work is excellent, first rate.

    > … it comes shrouded in a militantly ‘vehicular cycling’ agenda
    Glad you are digging into this VC thing, Dan is definitely direct, assertive, confident but questioning the educational, informational message of the videos as violent or hostile, did you really mean that?

    >I really can’t imagine many civilians out there would even feel comfortable in the first instance riding on that road on which they’re riding (in L.A., where cyclist-car relations have been less than rosy), much less taking up big amounts of road space.

    Here is easier, comprehensive “Vehicular Cycling Primer”

    Cyclists who has basic skill, follow traffic laws and know how to “control a traffic lane” are safer than hugging the curb or riding elsewhere!

    I’ve read in blog comments elesehwere about Dan/Brian’s videos that assert VC riding is only for SUPER, UBER, COMPETIVIVE, BRAVE MALE CYCLIST not mortals, average folks. Oh Pshaw! What do you REALLY know about riding a bike? Here is another perspective:

    – Dan C

  12. KC Says:

    What MikeOnBike said!

    And I’ll add: a transportation cyclist who needs to get from point A to point B is sometimes going to have to use roads like that. Dan & Brian’s videos show how to do it WITHOUT being brush-passed at high speed.

    What it seems Walker was doing was measuring from the edge of the road. But the significant distance is that between the cyclist and the center line. I’ve experimented with this quite a bit. I found that as I moved away from the edge, passing clearance got closer as drivers squeezed their cars through between me and the center line, or traffic in the next lane (even if they had to move slightly into that lane). Motorists will do this rather than slowing down and waiting a half second to change lanes.

    The variables I’ve found are lane width and traffic density. Three feet from the edge works well in a 9-foot lane, not so much in a 12-foot lane. On a light-traffic road, people will change lanes if I ride in the right tire track. But if a large platoon of traffic approaches, they’ll choose to brush past instead of slowing a little and merging into the next lane over. That’s a terrifying experience and it raises the anxiety of everyone involved. But when you ride far enough left, motorists identify the need to change lanes from a great enough distance that they do it much sooner and often don’t have to slow down. This results in less harassment because they’re over it by the time they get to you. The lane position demonstrated in videos is essential for protecting your space in those conditions. It results in a surprisingly enjoyable ride on roads most people would consider impossible for cycling.

    Viewing Dan & Brian’s videos and putting their methods into practice greatly expanded my access and enhanced the quality of my riding.

    Of course, I would prefer that we had more connectivity—street redundancy and permeability through the broccoli subdivisions. I don’t ride on a noisy arterial for the fun of it. It is the most efficient way, and sometimes the only way, to get to my destination.

    What I would not prefer is a bike lane on a high speed road like that. I get twice the passing clearance by claiming the right lane as I do when forced (by law or motorist coercion) to use a bike lane. The difference between 3 feet and 6 feet is significant on a high speed road.

    I hope the Equity statement is a step toward improving advocacy goals. Why ask for 4 feet in the gutter when you can have the whole lane? Why demand 3 feet of passing clearance when you can routinely get 6 or 8. Reach higher people!

    Take this from a small, middle-age female. This works way better than being marginalized on the side of the road. It’s not militant to want the best possible outcome for cyclists (as opposed to the easiest method of convincing uninformed people to ride bikes). If we seem a little strident, it’s from years of frustration that “bike advocates” keep demanding so much less — to the point of putting unsuspecting cyclists in harm’s way by catering to their fears with illusory facilities.

    Riding in traffic is easy!

  13. Serge Issakov Says:

    Hi Tom,

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about driving in traffic, which I assume is covered in your book (I’ve not read it, yet). But, whatever misconceptions exist about driving motor vehicles in traffic, I’m sure they pale in comparison to the ignorance and superstitions associated with riding bicycles in traffic. I’m delighted you’ve discovered the “very deep pool” of vehicular cycling, which may perhaps be thought of as blasting these superstitions and “starting over” in terms of thinking about bicycling and traffic. I look forward to a second edition of your book which will describe the journey on which you are now embarking, and what you learned along the way. I encourage you to look for the new North American edition of “Cyclecraft” by John Franklin, which is to be published shortly. I think the ability to easily, effectively and comfortably apply the practices explained in this book – originally written in the U.K. – to riding on the roads in the U.S and Canada, challenges the notion that the difference in driving cultures makes a significant difference in how one should behave to be safe.

    I agree with you that it’s hard to imagine many people riding on the roads depicted in Dan and Brian’s video, but that’s ultimately probably because of the superstitions that I hope you will help us slay. Let us not just continue to build and support the facilities that reinforce these false notions, and do very little, if anything, to make cycling actually safer.

    “Position on the road is by far the most important influence that a cyclist has over his safety.” -John Franklin, “Segregation: Are we moving away from cycling safety?”

  14. Brian DeSousa Says:

    The issue of vehicular cycling versus facilities to accommodating cycling and the cultural/legal differences between the US/UK are irrelevant to the concerns raised about the Walker study. The point is that Walker’s analysis did not even consider one important variable in the equation: the effect on cyclist lane position on motorist overtaking distance. Walker needs to address this before his results can be given any credibility.

  15. Wayne Pein Says:

    Paul Dorn said;

    “There are more bicyclists per capita in Davis, CA than anywhere else in the U.S., and it was clearly the facilities, not any VC education campaign.”

    Historical records show that there were huge and increasing numbers of bicyclists in Davis before bike lanes were introduced there. Like elsewhere, the bicycle facilities merely contracted bicyclist space and rights.


  16. Jim Baross Says:

    I’ve been “at” this debate between Vehicular Cycling and Separate Facilities for a long time. I have come to a straddling position that both “sides” can co-exist; there is no reason to have to choose a side if a a few concepts/proscriptions are accepted.
    1. Vehicular Cycling as taught by the League of American Bicyclists and supported by the traffic laws in most states works right now for most (certainly not all) roadway situations for those bicyclists who are competent and/or skilled enough. As more people accept and act as though bicycling belongs in the traffic mix, behaviors will improve and safety will be enhanced.
    2. Facilities that are separated from motor vehicle traffic can, when appropriately designed, operated and maintained (and many are not), right now provide desirable transportation alternatives, especially for those folks willing to limit their routes, speeds and destinations to the available networks. Someday it might be possible to have routes to all destinations separated from motor vehicle traffic.
    3. We can do both.
    A. Establish separated networks as quickly as funding can be found… maybe first on underutilized existing corridors like railways, and along waterways and other barriers, safe routes to school, crossings of difficult/hostile intersections, etc.
    B. Protect and Improve existing on road/integrated access by effecting users behaviors – educate, enforce, encourage equity and thereby increase safety and comfort for all roadway users – and design and maintain roadways for bicycle and for pedestrian travel too (“Complete Streets”), not only for the highest Level of Service (LOS) for motor vehicle uses.
    4. DO NOT allow the introduction of separated facilities to reduce/restrict the legally operating bicyclist from use of the public right of way on (at least?) an equal basis with legal motor vehicle operation… as it is allowed now under most vehicle laws but not, unfortunately under the existing cultural bias toward motor vehicle use.

  17. Dan Gutierrez Says:

    Paul Dorn wrote: “There are more bicyclists in Portland, and that’s not due to an invasion of VC advocates. There are more bicyclists in San Francisco today than a decade ago, and VC had nothing to do with it. There are more bicyclists per capita in Davis, CA than anywhere else in the U.S., and it was clearly the facilities, not any VC education campaign.”
    No one has claimed that education programs have or would have created these changes; this is a strawman argument. In addition, Paul has the causality nearly backwards; cycling advocates lobby for facilities, facilities don’t create cycling advocates, so places like Portland have facilities because of the hard work of the BTA. In San Francisco, mode share has been increasing despite a moratorium on facilities development (due to a lawsuit), so facilities increases are NOT causing the mode shift at present (other factors are clearly in play). In Davis, the University closed the roads to cars many decades ago, creating a large mode share of cyclists. In the suburban areas around the city core, cycling mode share is declining, and only the university keeps the mode share relatively high, so facilities alone are not the cause Paul claims them to be.

    To claim that facilities universally create increased mode share is to drastically over simply the specific causative factors, which vary from area to area. More importantly it is a false dichotomy to directly compare facilities advocacy with education programs; their goals are different. Education programs are aimed at decreasing an individual cyclists’ exposure to known crash causes; please see these slides (12-27) for examples:

    Facilities programs are not aimed at decreasing individual cyclists’ risk exposure, because special facilities cannot replace the traffic skills needed to negotiate the crossing conflict areas where the majority of car-bike crashes occur; this point is summarized on slide 27 above. Learning traffic skills will reduce an individual cyclist’s exposure to crash causes; this result is independent of whether there are a lot of special facilities in a given area, or none!

    When the traffic laws are non-discriminatory, cyclists can always choose to use travel lanes, or they can choose optional special facilities. Such laws make all facilities designs inclusive; only when laws force special facilities use are the interests of cyclists preferring “integrated behavior” and those preferring “separated behavior” and/or “segregated behavior” put into conflict, thus creating a divisive design. Please see these slide for details:

    With equitable laws, all roads + bikeways combinations are inclusive, with each cyclist being free to choose the behavior they prefer. I’m not interested in forcing Paul, or anyone else to use a travel lane, if he would instead prefer to use a bike lane or a path, and I hope he and others would respect my right to choose a travel lane instead.

  18. John S. Allen Says:

    The argument that we must “do what the Dutch do” boils down to: increase mode share, and you automatically increase safety and also optimize bicycle travel conditions. Then you can supposedly throw concerns about cyclists’ riding skills, cyclists’ rights to use the roads, and careful facilities design out the window as irrelevant.

    Aside from the question as to whether this is what the Dutch actually do, those concerns do matter in terms of bicyclists’ safety and mobility — even more so in the USA and Canada, because we start with a built infrastructure that requires longer trips, and we often have to deal with more demanding terrain than in table-flat Amsterdam.

    For now, I’ll just throw in a few observations to support these contentions.

    Here’s a page about effective and low-cost measures that that are crucial to bicyclist mobility in the “broccoli subdivisions” mentioned in an earlier post in this thread, but irrelevant in dense, pre-automotive cities such as Amsterdam:

    Suburban Sprawl as it affects bicyclists.

    Here are a blog entry and a video,

    HAWK Beacon at E. Burnside and 41st Avenue, Portland, Oregon.

    pointing to some rather sloppy engineering, and possible inprovements, in a bicycle facility in Portland, Oregon, the mecca of mode share.

    Here’s a video showing the depth to which facilities design can sink in a major North American city when concerns for increasing mode share completely override issues of bicyclist travel time and avoidance of traffic conflicts:

    Bicycling on the boulevard de Maisonneuve, Montreal

    Well, enough for now.

  19. LBJ's Love Child Says:

    Dorn said: “The argument is over. Facilities win. There are more bicyclists in Portland, and that’s not due to an invasion of VC advocates. There are more bicyclists in San Francisco today than a decade ago, and VC had nothing to do with it. There are more bicyclists per capita in Davis, CA than anywhere else in the U.S., and it was clearly the facilities, not any VC education campaign.”

    So… the facilities also explain the brewpubs, coffee shops, and indie book and record stores? Try “demographics” for what’s happening in the places you mention, not facilities. It’s all inter-linked, and it’s root is a demographic skew that can’t be repeated by facilities construction.

  20. Serge Issakov Says:

    Wayne wrote: “Like elsewhere, the bicycle facilities [in Davis] merely contracted bicyclist space and rights.”

    I remember visiting family friends in Davis since I was 6 years old in the 1960s, and riding bikes in their hot summers, and yes, Davis was Platinum bike friendly before even the first bike lane stripe was conceived, much less painted.

    Jim wrote: “We can do both.”

    Sounds good, but what does “doing both” really look like, and how do you define progress, much less success, in this “doing both” paradigm?

    3A is “Establish separated networks as quickly as funding can be found”. Why? Why is this so important that it must be done “as quickly as funding can be found”? Does the reasoning have anything to do with cyclist safety? If so, what? The implication of even trying to “establish separated networks as quickly as funding can be found” is that it is necessary to make cyclists safe… that bikes and cars do not mix… that bikes do not belong on the same roads with motor vehicles. These are the inescapable messages of any efforts that seeks to “establish separated networks as quickly as funding can be found”.

    3B is “Protect and Improve existing on road/integrated access by effecting users behaviors”. Why? Why is this even worth doing unless it is believed that bikes and cars can and do mix, that cycling can be done safely and comfortably in traffic, that bikes do belong on the same roads with motor vehicles.

    I can understanding supporting separated facilities that bypass limited access routes on which cyclists are not allowed, as quickly as funding allows, but genuinely pushing to “establish separated networks as quickly as funding can be found”, while at the same time working to “protect and improve existing on road/integrated access by effecting users behaviors”, creates a cognitive dissonance that is more than this mind can manage.

    KC wrote: “If we [vehicular cycling advocates] seem a little strident, it’s from years of frustration that “bike advocates” keep demanding so much less — to the point of putting unsuspecting cyclists in harm’s way by catering to their fears with illusory facilities.”



  21. AndrewP Says:

    I think John S Allen’s post really hits the VC debate nail on the head … most of this comes down to arguements over safely and/or increasing modal share of cyclists.

    1. Do VC riders believe that their riding style will increase modal share? I don’t see much evidence that it does. Why is this important? Because if it cannot, then VC is simply a method of coping with the existing conditions of an auto-centric society, making a cyclist safer on the road. Not a bad thing in and of itself!

    2. Does separate facilities help increase modal share? Some will point to Portland and other cities that it can. Many new cyclists will tell you how they love their bike paths and bike lanes and how it gives them the confidence to ride on a street. However, others will blow holes in this argument, citing that will their might or might not be an increase, you have(acurately I think)continuing safety issues, costs, and the fact that you will never have facilites to go everywhere a cyclist needs to go.

    To me, it’s all about increasing modal share. Some studies provide evidence that increasing the number of cyclists on the road changes motorist behaviors, and this translates into safer cycling. If this is true, then the question is, how do we get there, and will getting there be safe?

  22. MikeOnBike Says:

    AndrewP said: “Some studies provide evidence that increasing the number of cyclists on the road changes motorist behaviors, and this translates into safer cycling.”

    If that correlation is true, what’s the cause? What’s the mechanism?

    I think it’s likely to be the opposite of what most people think it is. I suspect the cause is a culture that respects cycling as transportation. The effect is a larger population of cyclists with good cycling skills.

    Here’s one view of that theory:

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