In Appreciation of John Forester
When it comes to bicycle infrastructure, Metro Boston has changed considerably since I first began riding here. In Spring 2009 the majority of my routes involved traveling along streets with no infrastructure what so ever. When I discovered Vehicular Cycling, I thus interpreted it not as something that was a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with, but as a necessary tool for the realities of my environment. John Forester believes that bicyclists should behave like vehicles, sharing roads with motorised traffic. Effective Cycling gives precise and detailed instructions on how to do that.
As an absolute beginner, I purchased an older edition of the book and found it immensely helpful. It educated me about traffic maneuvers from the bottom up: Starting with very basic concepts that I was able to implement right away, then getting into more nuanced ideas that became useful once I gained a bit of experience and courage. And just as importantly, Effective Cycling got me into an "I can do this. I have a right to do this." frame of mind. It seems almost hard to believe now, but at the time I was often the only bicyclist out on the roads and there were no social or infrastructural cues to indicate that it was okay to ride a bike on the street. No sharrows, no "share the road" signs, no other people on bikes. Drivers would routinely shout "You're not supposed to be here!" at me, incredulous at my very presence. Effective Cycling gave me the confidence and the skills to operate in that kind of environment, and to do it safely.
Today there are bike lanes, sharrows and signage along most of my routes through the city. There are also many other cyclists out on the roads. The combined effect of this has been an increased awareness and acceptance of bicycling. The infrastructure here is far from perfect. The drivers are still far from nice. But nonetheless things are much better than they were three years ago. There is less hostility, less stress. It no longer seems abnormal to ride in the city, and cycling feels more accessible to beginners.
Extreme proponents of the Vehicular Cycling philosophy are against bicycling infrastructure of any kind, believing that separated paths and bike lanes are not in the best interest of cyclists. Often they will actively fight against infrastructure, making it a point to attend town meetings and speak out against it. Conversely, those who favour infrastructure tend to position themselves against Vehicular Cycling, viewing it is a discredited philosophy and a lost cause. But from where I stand, this battle manufactures an unnecessary and ultimately damaging dichotomy.
While I have experienced the benefits of cycling infrastructure firsthand, I nonetheless find the principles of Vehicular Cycling indispensable in environments where said infrastructure is unavailable or imperfect - or when I choose to operate a bicycle on the open road for other reasons. I do not agree with John Forester on every point, but I value much of his advice on riding in traffic. I would encourage cyclists of all persuasions to keep an open mind and give Effective Cycling a read.