Here is an article posted today by John Forester on the BTI-list (a VC advocacy forum) on the topic of the history of freeways and cyclist prohibition, and how that relates to cyclist prohibition on non-freeway roadways. The main point of the article, I think, is in the middle:
If you ever run into a local movement to prohibit cyclists on some non-freeway roadway, remember this argument. It's powerful, and right on. No road that allows other slow vehicles, has driveways, allows parking, lacks a physical division between sides of the road, has at grade intersections, etc., can support the kind of high speed travel that would justify cyclists (as well as other drivers of slow vehicles).Originally Posted by John Forester
Anyway, to me, this article is quintessential bicycling advocacy, and exemplifies why I admire Forester's contributions to our cause.
From: John Forester <forester@...>
Date: Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:47 pm
Subject: Freeway history and characteristics
Peter Rosenfeld is another of those who are concerned that if
cyclists admit to the rationale for the prohibition of cyclists from
urban freeways, they are opening themselves to being prohibited,
according to the same argument, from normal roads and streets.
Peter specifies his concern with the following question: "Are
bicyclists banned from limited access freeways for safety reasons,
motorist convenience or both? And why do these reasons not apply to
surface roads? Is it a matter of quality ( the nature of the design)
or quantity ( speed differentials crossing some threshold, perhaps)?"
Nobody can answer the reason why cyclists are prohibited from
freeways, which in this context are defined as divided highways
without intersections at grade. Nobody can provide an answer because
the reason was never properly given at the time of the enactment of
the prohibition. However, the objective being sought was the design
and construction of highways that permitted continuous travel at high
speeds, and the prohibition of slow traffic was part of the concept.
It just happens that bicycle traffic is part of the slow traffic that
was, and still is, prohibited. The two highway design features that
enable continuous travel at high speeds are physical separation of
the opposite directions of travel and absence of traffic on
conflicting paths, as at intersections at grade and at driveways.
These considerations dictated the basic design: divided highway, with
all intersections being grade separated, and without driveways.
It was recognized at the time that construction of a new highway, and
more particularly the conversion of an existing highway to a freeway,
would destroy the value of the land that abutted to it, by denying
the owners of that land highway access to the rest of the world.
Therefore, one provision of the law was that a freeway could not be
built unless the owners of the adjacent land had given up their right
to enter the freeway through driveways. Basically, they gave up their
right of direct access to the freeway in return for being given
access to a local road that connected to the freeway at a
grade-separated intersection. That law got turned around to say that
slow traffic could be prohibited from a highway only when the owners
of the adjacent land had no right of access to the highway. Whether
that turn around of purpose was carelessness or nastiness is
Anyway, whatever the past history, the kind of road design that
evolved as providing service to only fast traffic (except for traffic
congestion, snow storms, fog, and the like) does not permit the
admixture of slow traffic to it. Slow traffic probably could have
been accommodated by the provision of separate "fly-over" bridges for
the slow traffic; this would have been a very large expense relative
to the small volume of slow traffic to be expected on such trips,
and, in any case, the pre-existing roads provided for that slow traffic.
There is absolutely no doubt about the purpose of all of this. The
purpose, clear, obvious, indubitable, frequently stated, etc., etc.,
was to provide for safe travel at the completely unprecedented
highway speeds that automobiles made possible. All the other
characteristics are the result of this purpose, and have produced the
high-linear-cost, widely-spaced system that we recognize.
The concern that admitting the validity of the freeway system, with
its prohibition of slow traffic, somehow weakens our ability to
respond to prohibitions on other roads is not only unjustified, but
in fact that admission protects our ability to respond to other
prohibitions. Freeways have the design characteristics required for
continuous high-speed travel, which characteristics justify
prohibiting slow traffic. No other roads have those characteristics.
Therefore, there is no justification for prohibiting slow traffic,
which includes bicycle traffic, on any roads but genuine freeways. It
is that simple, completely logical, legal, and in accordance with the
Furthermore, there is one valid exception to the prohibition, based
on engineering facts. The highway system can have developed so that a
freeway is the only reasonable connection between points that are
otherwise on the highway system. This occurs when there is no
development of the adjacent land (or water), and therefore no local
roads. In this case, bicycle traffic can use the shoulder of the
freeway between adjacent intersections without crossing motor
traffic, and should, under this particular circumstance, be allowed
to do so, even if, say, horse-drawn wagons are not permitted because
of their greater width and, shall we say, lack of demand by
wagon-drivers for this service. If there are a few intersecting roads
in this largely undeveloped area, they are very likely to carry only
low volumes of traffic, and hence bicycle traffic may be allowed to
cross the off-ramps and on-ramps with little concern. Otherwise, the
bicycle traffic must cross the intersecting road at grade, which
might involve installing a demand-controlled signal for this very low
Contrariwise to this discussion is Ken's proposed policy that all
freeways should be open to bicycle traffic for all movements. Ken's
proposed policy is based on opposition to the ability of motor
traffic to travel fast. No other conclusion is reasonable about his
proposed policy. And I say that the consequences of such a policy
will be to arouse all the opposition to bicycle traffic that it is
possible for motorists to create, for no benefit to anyone. By
admitting to the justice of the freeway system when properly
administered, we are strengthening our principle that cyclists ought
to act and be treated as drivers of vehicles on all the roads on
which slow traffic is permitted. That is a great benefit to us.
John Forester, MS, PE
Bicycle Transportation Engineer
7585 Church St.
Lemon Grove, CA 91945-2306