Policies for Restoration of the League of American Bicyclists

By John Forester
MS, PE, Bicycle Transportation Engineer

John Forester, of Lemon Grove, CA, is nationally, and internationally, known as the author of Effective Cycling. [1]  This pioneering work codified vehicular cycling–the best method yet devised for bicycling on roads and other types of facilities.  He is also the author of Bicycle Transportation [2], a how-to manual for traffic engineers and bicycle “facilities” planners.  He occasionally presents seminars on bicycle transportation engineering.  He was a League director 1976-83, president 1979-80 and is founder of the League’s Educational Program.

1.  League Purpose

John Forester giving Bicycle Transportation seminar

The League of American Bicyclists is the national organization of non-racing cyclists, who are presumed to operate lawfully and competently according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.  The LAB should therefore be run according to the interests of such members.  Those interests include:

  1. Increasing the enjoyment of cycling through sponsoring and coordinating cycling events
  2. Providing information by which members can better enjoy cycling
  3. Providing organizational support for members to better organize their cycling activities
  4. Providing the organizational framework by which national, regional and local cycling clubs can cooperate
  5. Promoting the attractiveness and enjoyment of lawful, competent cycling to attract new members to both LAB and to regional and local clubs
  6. Instructing cyclists in safe and effective cycling practices
  7. Protecting our right to the roads by improving traffic law and by training police so they enforce the law properly

A program based on these policies ought to attract more people who are interested in cycling as an activity rather than bicycling as a political program.  LAB has not recently done much along these lines but has, instead, discontinued many of its former activities.  We believe this is why less than 10 percent of cycling club members belong to LAB and why we frequently hear that club cyclists and cycling instructors maintain membership only because of the insurance offered.  LAB has become irrelevant to many knowledgeable cyclists.

Because most cycling takes place on public roads, LAB has the duty to improve the relationship between cyclists and government highway activities.  Because bicycle transportation has become a matter of social interest, LAB has the duty to improve the relationship between cyclists and those who are concerned about bicycle transportation.  LAB should act in accordance with members’ interests in dealings with the bicycle industry.  It is in these relationships that the League has too often taken actions that are against the interests of cyclists.  Therefore, these relationships must be reformed.

2.  General Social Situation of Cyclists

Those who enjoy lawful, competent cycling are a very small portion of the public.  Cycling is insufficiently practical or effective in enough situations to generate large numbers of transportational cyclists.  We must expect that cycling will remain a minority activity, as it has been since 1900.

Most minority activities are relatively uninfluenced by the rest of society.  However, because cycling takes place on public roads and because much bicycle use is by children, the public exercises rather strong ideas about cycling.  Unfortunately, those ideas are mistaken and at odds with the best cycling practices.  The rationales combine selfish convenience with mistaken notions about public safety.  The public believes that roadway bicycle operation both delays motorists and kills cyclists, and requires extreme levels of skill and power.

The League must recognize the social situation of cyclists in today’s society and design its policies and practices to improve this situation.

3.  Governmental Relationships

Cyclists have the right to use public roads according to the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles.  That is the basic law under which we and other road users operate.  The proper exercise of this right is affected by both the legal situation and road conditions.  In both respects, government has been trying to reduce our use of the public roads.  It has been enacting legal restrictions that discriminate against cyclists alone, and it has been building roads that are difficult for use by cyclists.

One motive for these anti-cyclist policies and actions is the desire of motorists for fast and unimpeded travel.  This desire has produced laws that restrict cyclists to the side of the roadway and to bicycle paths.  It has also produced laws that prohibit cyclists from some high-speed roads and has lead to designs of some medium-speed roads that do not consider the inclusion of slow-speed traffic, and bikeways that push cyclists aside to give motorists a clear path.

LAB must be constantly alert to oppose such reductions in our rights and in our ability to travel efficiently and safely.  The policy of LAB should be that cyclists are entitled to travel between any two points on the road system substantially as conveniently as are motorists.

4.  Social Relationships

The other motive for these anti-cyclist actions comes from anti-motoring groups.  The single most obvious competitor to the private car is the private bicycle.  Anti-motorists take great efforts to encourage bicycle transportation, which sounds as though it ought to be a good thing for cyclists.  However, the anti-motorists have insisted that motorists can be persuaded to transfer from motoring to bicycle transportation only if they never have to ride in motor traffic on normal roads.  Therefore, the anti-motorists have taken the lead in pressuring government to produce bikeways that push cyclists out of motorists’ way.  Ironically, anti-motorists have joined forces with the motorists in creating the anti-cyclist bikeway program.

5.  Industry Relationships

There is no shortage of bicycles or parts.  It is rather the reverse; the bicycle industry would like to sell more bicycles than it does today.  Furthermore, a very large part of the bicycle sales mix consists of bicycles that are attractive to persons who do not possess significant experience or interest in cycling.

The bicycle industry believes that most of its customers fit the general public pattern of believing that bicycles should best be operated on facilities without motor traffic.  Therefore, the bicycle industry has joined the motoring and anti-motoring forces in advocating bikeway production, thinking that this will produce more sales.

6.  ‘Fear from the Rear’ and the Bikeway Superstition

Many of society’s actions that have harmed cyclists have been based on the superstition that the greatest danger to cyclists is same-direction motor traffic, otherwise known as fear from the rear.  Not only is this not supported by crash statistics; the measures taken to separate bicycle traffic from same-direction motor traffic increase the probabilities of other, far more likely types of car-bike collision.

Bikeways have failed to fulfill the claims made for them.  They do not reduce the cyclist crash rate.  They have not made cycling safe for those without traffic skills.  They have not significantly reduced motoring.

Furthermore, the bikeway program has both pushed cyclists to the side of the road and has encouraged social disapproval of vehicular cycling.  The technical knowledge we have is unequivocal:  “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”  The League needs to base its policies and practices on this vehicular-cycling principle.

7.  Effect on the League

7.1  Effect of Bicycle Industry

The members of the bicycle industry have strong financial motives for participating in activities that, they believe, will increase their sales.  In the modern era, starting about 1970, the industry took effective control of LAB (then called LAW) in the belief that they could attain great increases in League membership simultaneous with great increases in sales.  That this failed to occur technically bankrupted the League, which had to be rescued by hardworking members.  Later, with the development of the governmental bikeway program, the members of the bicycle industry came to believe that bikeway production sold bicycles.  They therefore conspired to control the League because of its political influence as the voice of cyclists, and to use that voice to promote the governmental bikeway program that, they believe, will increase sales of bicycles.

7.2  Effect of Anti-motorists

As far as cycling is concerned, two different strategies may be advocated to oppose motoring: (1) improving and increasing the best practices of cycling, or (2) building bikeways.  Lawful, competent cycling is both the safest and the most effective way to travel by bicycle and costs least to implement.  Therefore, standard economic theory says that improving cycling knowledge is the best way for cycling to reduce motoring.  Those who know most about cycling recognize that this is the best strategy.  They also recognize the two limitations of this strategy.  First, lawful, competent cycling does not appeal to the non-cycling public.  Second, in our urban lifestyle, bicycle transportation can usefully replace only a small portion of motoring.  Knowledgeable cyclists recognize the practical view that improving and increasing their style of cycling will only marginally reduce motoring.

Those who advocate building bikeways to reduce motoring are not interested in cycling education, arguing that it is insufficiently popular to produce a great reduction in motoring.  Instead, they present two arguments: first, that bikeways make cycling safe, even for people who do not know how to ride properly; second, that this safety persuades many motorists to switch to cycling.  These arguments are based on the “Fear From the Rear” and hatred of motoring.  Both claims have been proved false by both theory and experience: bikeways do not reduce the cyclist crash rate; bikeways do not significantly reduce motoring.

In addition, anti-motorists recognize that any significant reduction of motoring also requires other policies such as high taxes on motoring, ubiquitous mass-transit, and rebuilding our cities into the model of 1910.  None of these is likely to be politically possible.

Bikeway-promoting anti-motorists can persist in a program that is so contrary to the facts only if their emotional motives are strong enough to overwhelm reality.  Such persons work very hard for their ideals, and frequently take the view that ideal ends are more important than ethical means. [3]  Therefore, such persons can attain undue influence in organizations.  Indeed, such bikeway-promoting anti-motorists have several times attained control of the League.

7.3  Control of the League

For most of the last thirty-five years the League has been controlled by one or the other, or by both, of these pressure groups.  Whether or not the bicycle industry representatives support the anti-motoring agenda does not much matter; they clearly believe that bikeways persuade people to buy bicycles, which is their concern.  This combination has changed the League from a membership organization operating for the benefit of its members into another Washington lobbying group advocating the governmental bikeway program that is inimical to the interests of the League’s core members.

These two pressure groups have seized control through control of the voting and information processes.  By their activism, they exert power disproportionate to their number.  The public acceptance and governmental implementation of the bikeway program enable them to argue that bikeways are “good for cycling”, relying on the ambiguity of the term, and that bikeways are the result of popular vote.  By control of the League’s publications, they prevent discussion of the issue.  Therefore, they argue that their control is the result of overwhelming agreement by the membership.  In fact, their control is exerted by keeping the relevant information from the members, relying on the general tendency to avoid rocking the boat.

7.4  The Fixed Board of Directors

Having gained control of the League, the directors representing industry and anti-motorists are determined to ensure that the League will continue to operate as a pressure group that serves their interests.  These directors reduced the number of directors who are elected by members replaced them by directors who are appointed by the already-existing directors, meaning themselves.  They justified this to the disenfranchised members by saying that this would contribute to greater stability in the League’s operations.  That is correct; the greater stability was produced by raising great difficulties in returning the League to control by its members.

The present Board structure consists of 7 elected directors and 6 appointed directors.  To outvote the appointed directors requires that they be opposed by all 7 elected directors.  So much for control by the membership.

7.5  The Fixed Voting

To make it more difficult for the members to take back their League, the directors ‘fixed’ the voting rules.  The first choice in nominating candidates for directors goes to the board’s nominating committee.  If someone who is not chosen by the nominating committee wants to run, he has thirty days to obtain the signatures of a portion of the electorate.  However, the old portion, 50 members (less than 2 percent), was feared to be too easy; the directors increased this to 10 percent for a regional seat or 5 percent of the entire membership for the at large seat.

The directors excused their action by saying it would “protect the majority of the membership … not just those [views] of a small but vocal interest group.”  (This is quoted directly from a statement on the League’s website, signed by then president Chris Kegel.)  In other words, now that they have taken control, nobody else can be allowed to compete.  The small but vocal interest group to whom they refer is obviously we who argue that the League should operate of, by, and for its members.

7.6  The Fixed Mission Statement
The directors’ failure to obey the League’s mission statement could get them into trouble.  So the directors fixed the mission statement. [4]  Now it states only: “to promote bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation, and to work through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America.”  The directors admit their guilt by saying “this is nothing really new; we’ve been doing it all along.”  (Again, quoted from the statement signed by then president Chris Kegel.)  Note that the statement says nothing at all about doing good for cyclists or protecting their interests.  It refers only to promoting “bicycling”, meaning the use, and selling, of bicycles, and promoting “a bicycle-friendly America”, which is a code phrase used for rewarding cities for building bikeways.  So now we can’t criticize the directors for not obeying the mission statement; but we can use the far more potent criticism that the mission statement written by the bicycle industry and anti-motorists is opposed to the interests of lawful, competent cyclists.

8.  The Route to Restoring the League

The League must return to its two proper missions: encouraging the enjoyment of cycling and protecting the interests of lawful, competent cyclists.  To do so, the present management by the combined bicycle industry and anti-motorists must be beaten at the elections for directors, until a majority of directors can direct the League upon its proper course.
8.1  Winning Elections
Winning directorial elections requires the previous development of directorial candidates in each region, from whom the most promising can be selected for nomination.  In short, the LAB Restoration Movement must operate like a political party.
8.2  When in the Minority

Reform directors will be in the minority until all of the elected directors support reform because seven of thirteen directors are appointed and thus not accountable to members.  During this time, the restoration directors need to maintain visibility by arguing for and by promoting restoring acts, both in meetings of the board and in other cycling events.  They need to make it clear that a substantial portion of the membership supports return to the proper purposes of the League, which are supporting the activities and interests of lawful, competent cyclists and abandoning the programs of the anti-motorists and the bicycle industry, because these latter are not compatible with the interests of knowledgeable cyclists.  Members must maintain pressure on all directors to act in members’ interests.

There must be none of the “loyalty oath” business by which current management extracts promises to always support its policies.  The reasons are clear.  The management fears that if politicians and private foundation donors learn of dissension within the League, the League’s political power in advocating bikeways would diminish.  Well, that’s exactly what we want; if the League had little political power to advocate bikeways, both the anti-motorists and the bicycle industry would have just that much less incentive to try to control the League.

8.3  A Restored League

The Board of Directors must plan for a League that is devoted to the interests of lawful, competent cyclists, rather than to other organizations that, in following their own interests, cause the League to harm us.  That means a League that can operate on the income provided primarily by the members rather than outside interests.  But it also means a League that is not encumbered by the expenses of full-time political lobbying; no need for K-Street offices and lobbyists.

National political matters occasionally arise that significantly affect cyclists.  In 1979, the League chose to move to Baltimore because that city had low-cost space that was still within reach of Washington, DC when the need arose to meet with national politicians and bureaucrats.  A similar location would again become the best choice.

The Directors must commit the League to the size and operating policies appropriate to the community of lawful, competent cyclists.  Every time that the League has sought to expand beyond that small community, the result has been either, or both, financial disaster or surrender to outside forces.  The Board must control the natural tendency of employed managers to justify increases in their salaries by recruiting other types of persons as members.  Rather, the Board must consider that its prime duty regarding the size of the League is to increase the number of knowledgeable cyclists from whom its membership is drawn.

The personnel, both employees and volunteers, must be chosen for familiarity, agreement, and practice with vehicular cycling.  This is important because knowledge of vehicular cycling is very rare in the public and even rare enough among cyclists.  Failure to understand and support vehicular cycling has been a major cause of the repeated League disasters.

The League’s magazine must concentrate on matters relevant to lawful, competent cyclists.  That is, to their enjoyment of cycling and to the improvement of individual skills and knowledge that increase their enjoyment.  The magazine must consistently convey support for this core concept, both as done by its members and as the criterion for considering how society, government, and traffic laws treat cyclists.

The League must consider that it is the focus for a national system of clubs of lawful, competent cyclists.  It must provide information and facilities by which such clubs can improve their individual operations and coordinate their events and such other operations as need coordination.

The League must resurrect its Effective Cycling Program as a combination of enjoyment and instruction: enjoyment to attract participants and instruction to improve their skills.  But it must be technically accurate in presenting the vehicular-cycling skills, the reasons why they exist, and the justification for using them, all in a comprehensive presentation of bicycle transportation.

9.  Conclusion

The program described above provides the route for restoring the League from a servant of the anti-motorists and the bicycle industry into an organization of, by, and for lawful, competent cyclists.


1.  Effective Cycling, MIT Press, 1993 is available from MIT Press or any good bookstore.

2.  Bicycle Transportation, MIT Press, 1994 is available from MIT Press or any good bookstore.

3.  For examples of “ends justify the means” bikeways advocacy, see articles about Misplaced Advocacy.

4.  Update:  Thanks to sustained pressure from our “small but vocal interest group” the “mission statement” (actually a statement of purpose) was substantially restored to its former meaning in 2006.  However many of the advocacy activities of the League — particularly the “Bicycle Friendly Communities” program are contrary to this statement and to members’ interests.  In addition, the other changes mentioned above, which took control of the League away from members, are still in place.  We need to continually press for our rights.

Please join us and help restore the BikeLeague to members.

Seriƶse Casinos ohne Lizenz Deutschland

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