The Lost League Must Be Reformed   


Election 2006

Important election. The League must be reformed. I ran for Western States directorship, and lost by about 2:1. Since the League still needs to be reformed, I stand by my pre-election statements.

Bicycle sellers and bikeway planners have seized control of the League from its core membership of lawful and competent cyclists. Bicycle sellers believe that bikeways sell bicycles while bikeway planners know that bikeway programs employ bikeway planners; the financial desires of these outside parties conflict with cyclists' need for equitable treatment in transportation. Bikeways have one function, two excuses, and one foundation. Bikeways obviously make motoring more convenient by clearing the way for motorists. The excuses claim that bikeways make cycling safe and reduce motoring. The safety excuse was so against the facts that bikeway officials have long abandoned it, while the reduction of motoring has never been produced. The foundation of all this is the government's policy cum excuse that cyclists ride dangerously incompetently. The current League management is inextricably involved in this governmental institutionalization of incompetent cycling on bikeways.

The League and the nation need a new ideal of bicycling, one that is based on safety, competence, confidence, and equality, one that can restore cycling to its rightful place on the highway and in our minds.

The League's lawful and competent cyclists need a League that reverses the old policy and stands up for competent cyclists treated equitably as lawful, competent drivers of vehicles. This is what traffic law and traffic engineering require for safety. There is no substitute for cycling competence; competence reduces the cyclist accident rate by about 75%. The League's members need a League that promotes the teaching of competent cycling. The nation needs the example and proof that such a program will demonstrate when operated by a League that cares about cyclists' safety and cyclists' rights and status.

The League was given such a program in 1976, but successive administrations devoted to bikeways diluted it into nothing; competent cyclists defeat the bikeway program of incompetent cycling. A reformed cyclist training program is the necessary foundation of reform of the government's policy regarding bicycling, from dangerous incompetence, as it has been for thirty years, to lawful, competent cycling as the traffic laws require.

This is the policy that I have advanced and advocated for thirty years in books, speeches, and as president of both the California Association of Bicycling Organizations and the League of American Bicyclists.

Lost Purpose

The League of American Bicyclists is supposed to be an organization of cyclists, by cyclists, and for cyclists, working for the best interests of cyclists. At present, it is none of these things because it has been seized by people with very different interests. The people fronting for these interests are highly motivated and, over the years, have seized control and have maintained control by means that are unethical for a membership organization. If the League is to continue, it must be returned to the control of cyclists so it can return to serving cyclists.

One side of bikeway promotion argues that cyclists' right to travel on the roadways ought to be limited because some motorists endanger cyclists by behaving unlawfully. On the contrary, cyclists' right to use the public highways should not, and must not, be discriminated against because some motorists endanger cyclists by behaving unlawfully. Enforcement against violators is just; discrimination against victims is both unjust and counterproductive. But now consider the other side of the argument.

Consider the opposite argument, that all cyclists must be discriminated against because some cyclists behave unlawfully. This is, I remind you all, the official argument for the nation's program regarding bicycle transportation, as specified in the policy papers produced by the Federal Highway Administration, papers written by Andy Clarke, who is now, deplorably, employed by the management of the League of American Bicyclists as their Executive Director.

Bikeways are the institutionalization of discrimination against cyclists by motorists. Examine their history: that's why motorists invented them. Examine what they do: the only real effect of bikeways is to clear the way for motorists; all the other arguments are excuses that have been proven false. The national program regarding bicycle transportation absolutely depends on the excuse that cyclists behave so unlawfully that they have to be kept off the normal roadways. That fact explains both why the program consists of little beyond bikeways, and why nothing is done about training cyclists to operate properly according to the standard rules of the road.

That fact also explains why the management of the League of American Bicyclists has been taken over by the bicycle sellers and the bikeway planners. Bicycle sellers believe that bikeways sell bicycles. Bikeway planners know that building bikeways requires bikeway planners. No other motivational speculations are required for these forces to see the political value of being able to pretend that America's cyclists advocate the bikeway program of discrimination against them. And, of course, this explains why this management has so ignored and mispresented the cyclist training program that is the most beneficial program that it could, and should, be providing to its members.

The financial motivation of the bicycle sellers and the bikeway planners is too obvious, just as is the motivation of motorists to clear the roads of bicycles. Both sides use the same two disproved excuses:

  1. Bikeways make cycling safe for those who don't know how, and don't want to learn how, to ride safely and lawfully.
  2. Bikeways reduce motoring.

By playing on these two false hopes among the LAB members, the bicycle sellers and the bikeway planners managed to elect some directors. By then employing methods that are unethical for a membership organization, they gained management control. They have since changed the organization of the League to be much more like a business organization with corresponding centralized purpose and direction, and with much less power in the hands of its stockholders (oh, I misspoke; I meant members), so that it is now a much more powerful advocate for the national bikeway program. That is, as long as its management can pretend to be representing America's better cyclists.

Several of us long-time members of LAB have concluded that the scandal of the current League management is now so great, and so obvious, that members, if properly informed, are likely to vote for reform directors. Despite the reduction that the current management has produced in the power of the members (members elect only half of the directors), we hope that, in a few years of elections in different districts, control can be returned to lawful, competent cyclists.

One of our websites is that for

This year there is an election of director for the Western States region of the League. I have submitted my statement of candidacy to the League's Board of Directors for inclusion on the ballot. I think that my qualifications should render such inclusion as a matter of course, but it is always possible, possibly probable, that the Nominating Committee will find some excuse to disqualify me. In that case I will have to run a petition, which, I point out to you all, the current League management has made much more difficult, just to prevent such challenges to its control.

Lost Principles

All roadway users, including cyclists, operate by the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles. These rules provide the best blend of safety and efficiency that we know, with equal rights for all. Operating according to the rules requires a moderate degree of competence, which is easily learned. Operating with competence develops confidence that the rules work well. The League should assume that its members aim to be lawful and competent road users, and the League should protect their status as lawful and competent. Instead, current League management advocates a national policy based on incompetent bicycle riders. That policy is directly contrary to the interests of competent cyclists.

False Principles

League management's advocacy is without a shred of scientific evidence and it is disproved by the evidence that is available. While this deficiency is recognized by well-informed cyclists, League management has prevented this from being discussed within the League. League management advocates the government's program regarding bicycle transportation, which is compounded from the opposites of motorist convenience and anti-motoring hope, and is supported by the public ignorance and fear that camouflage the incompatibilities. The hypothetical basis for this advocacy is the supposition that bikeways make cycling safe and therefore reduce motor traffic. This supposition is supported by the large portion of the planning profession that opposes motoring and is ignorant of cycling. See The Bikeway Controversy

Difficulty of Conflicting Principles

The League included me in its "list of 25 people who indelibly changed the face of cycling in America." (American Bicyclist, Fall 2005) The citation read: "John Forester, a past President of the League, put bicycling education on a scientific footing with his 1976 book, Effective Cycling, and expanded policy and design recommendations with his 1977 book, Bicycle Transportation Engineering -- both published by MIT Press. Forester's advocacy led to the California highway manual's bicycle section, the basis for U.S. national bicycle facilities guidelines. He is a strong advocate of cyclists' right to the roads. As a critic of special bicycle facilities, he has been criticized in turn for not taking a broader perspective on cycling issues. Now in his 70s, he is still active as an advocate, and maintains a Web site,".

In its Winter 2006 issue, the League published the following letter from James M. Green.

"I feel ethically and morally bound to register my strong objection and disgust to your magazine of having included John Forester as an "Inspirational Figure" in cycling.

"I strongly suggest that you print a retraction of Forester being "inspirational" in cycling. About the only inspirational thing Forester has ever done was to prevent the funding of much needed bikeways and bike lanes. By giving this individual this kind of credibility, his writings are given credence and are used as an excuse to destroy projects that municipal and State Governments desperately need. In many areas with the price of gas rising, the only means of transportation some people now have is by bicycle. To allow the writings of Forester to gain additional credibility and to be used to block these bike use initiatives is a terrible way to put the general public at risk. I have always thought LAB promoted the use of bike facilities and yet you honor someone who is strongly against them."

I thank Mr. Green for crediting me with such good results from my efforts on behalf of lawful, competent cyclists. However, the so-obvious rancor in his words demonstrates two things: the emotional nature of bikeway advocacy, in which rancor is employed both because bikeway advocacy has no scientific basis and because its typical advocates, as here, have insufficient scientific knowledge to understand their problem. Green claims that "municipal and state governments desperately need" bikeways. Green may be correct; state and city governments rarely turn away federal funds, but his claim is harmful to lawful, competent cyclists, who need good roads where they enjoy the status of drivers rather than bikeways where they suffer from the status of children. The scientific evidence shows that bikeways reduce neither accidents nor the skill required for safe cycling, while empirical evidence shows that bikeways do not reduce motoring; the governmental bikeway program is a failure.

The League responded to Green's letter with the following Editor's Note:

"John Forester was included in the list of top change agents because of his significant contributions to bicyclist education and his championing of the rights of cyclists against poor roadway and bicycle facility design for more than 30 years. His positions are sometimes controversial and always strongly held, however his views do not necessarily represent those of the League of American Bicyclists."

The editor's note follows standard editorial practice, but omits some important background information about Mr. Green and his actions related to and directly involving the League, information that League management has not handed down to new staff. Green has long made acrimonious claims against me for exposing his scientific errors in various cases in which he has been an expert witness, and in the four editions of his book, Bicycle Accident Reconstruction. In the most notorious case, Johnson v. Derby, Green claimed that it was safe to ride a bicycle at night without a headlamp, which is directly contrary to League policy formalized in 1980, when I was president. In Keyser v. the League (Superior Court, Richmond, VA; 1994), Green claimed that the League was negligent in not arranging that all of its rides had complete police escort for the duration of the ride, as if the cyclists were trespassers, while I argued, on the League's behalf, that cyclists had the right to use the public roads. For a general account of the controversy, see Green. For a description of the Johnson case, see Johnson. For a description of the Keyser case, see Keyser. For my review of Green's book, see Bicycle Accident Reconstruction. For Green's college record, see Green college.

LAB Executive Director: Most Prominent Opponent of Vehicular Cycling

League management has long employed, now as its Executive Director, the nation's most prominent opponent of vehicular cycling. Since vehicular cycling is required for safe cycling, arguing against it requires mendacious lawyers' trickery. See Clarke

Lost Members

The present League advocacy of a national policy based on incompetent cyclists has turned away many competent cyclists who have been long-term members, both because the League no longer serves their interests, and from plain disgust.

Lost Activities

The League used to organize numerous activities desired by competent, enthusiastic cyclists. These ranged from national rallies to lists of willing hosts for touring cyclists. The current League management's emphasis on advocating for incompetent bicycle riders leaves it with little time to continue such activities and with insufficient knowledge to make them work.

Lost Potential

Any organization of enthusiasts needs to ensure that its members increase their skills. This gives the members more enjoyment and a feeling of confidence. Besides, the organization needs to recruit new members and to provide training in the activity, so that new members enjoy their participation instead of dropping out. The League used to have such a program, the Effective Cycling Program, which was designed to raise cyclists from beginners to very competent. Furthermore, the League exists in a society in which cycling competence is rare and underappreciated. Therefore, the League needs to train its members, for their own benefit, for the League's benefit, and to demonstrate to society that cycling competence is both practical and easily attained. The current League management, so intent on attracting beginners and advocating the national program based on beginners remaining beginners, naturally failed to understand the value to the League of its Effective Cycling Program. The current management just let the Effective Cycling Program wither away.

Lost Communication

Any organization of enthusiasts needs to stimulate greater enthusiasm among its members and to instill in them a sense of understanding and unity of purpose. It does this both by messages from the top and by encouraging discussions and activities involving subordinate units.  The League's magazine used to carry articles that interested enthusiastic cyclists and editorials that explained the value of cycling competence and the need of showing that competence to society. The League's current management cares nothing for such communication, largely limiting its presentations to its own political activity.

The Snare and Delusion

The League's current management has completely abandoned this concept of an organization of enthusiastic cyclists. Instead, it has chased a delusion that has proved to be a snare. The delusion consists of two parts:

  1. There are an enormous number of Americans who are anxiously waiting to buy bicycles and ride them instead of driving cars, if only they can be protected from motor traffic.
  2. Bikeways provide safe bicycle transportation for those who are not competent cyclists.

 Both parts of this are delusions. There are very few opportunities in today's cities for substituting bicycle transportation for motor transportation (and most of these would only be done by enthusiastic, and therefore competent, cyclists). Bikeways do not make cycling safe for those who do not already know how to ride safely, and therefore don't need them. These are why bikeway building has not reduced motor traffic, and why bikeways have not reduced the cyclist crash rate.

This delusion produces strong financial incentives. The bicycle trade believes that bikeways sell bicycles, though largely for recreation instead of transportation. The bicycle planning trade knows that bikeway building employs bike planners. These are the two highly motivated groups who have wrested control of the League from dedicated cyclists by using unethical means. They recognize that by supposedly speaking for America's cyclists they possess political power in advocating bikeways, and that is how they use the League.

The snare also has two parts, in this case nooses.

  1. The need to advocate bikeways, and the mind-set that can do it, are both contrary to the needs and understanding of competent cyclists. The people who do it abandon the activities and needs of competent cyclists, thus losing their core membership. Those whom they recruit instead become simply dues-payers, useful both for the money they bring and the supposed size of the voters enrolled.
  2. Advocating bikeways is a high-cost activity; at least so far as cyclists are concerned: expensive staff, expensive offices on DC's K-street of lobbyists, and the like. These require more money from outside sources who want bikeway advocacy, making the League an even weaker hostage to these sources.

Thus the League develops a weaker and weaker membership while incurring higher and higher costs. Thus the League becomes nothing more than another Washington pressure group devoted to the causes of selling bicycles and employing bike planners.

League Seeks More Money

In December, 2005, President Michael Greehan distributed a letter to all members asking for money for the League's programs. I suppose that this is another sign of the League's financial troubles. Greehan tries to make his appeal in the name of cyclists' rights, trying to steal the thunder of the vehicular cyclists' campaigns over the last thirty years. He fails to be persuasive, because League management has for decades worked against cyclists' rights as drivers of vehicles through its advocacy of money for bikeways, money that will produce more bicycle sales and more employment for bicycle planners. The text of Greehan's letter, with my comments, is at: League Solicitation

The Reform Group

The League Reform Group is composed of cyclists devoted to the concept of the League as an organization of, by, and for cyclists. Several members have been directors, even president, of the League before the takeover.

Its home page is:

The Reform Group Platform is:

The members of the Reform Group are shown at:

A list of the articles in the Reform Group website is:

A more detailed statement of the history of the takeover is:

The Statement of Qualifications submitted to LAB for the election of spring, 2006, for Region 6 is at:


Return to: John Forester's Home Page