If you ride a bicycle or care about the design of modern cities — or even if you hate bike lanes — you should care about the life’s work of John Forester. After all, probably no individual in American history has had a greater impact on how US cyclists experience riding on the road.
On a Sunday near the end of June, I drove down to the San Diego area from my home in Los Angeles. In a modest cottage in the city of Lemon Grove, I sat down with a man named John Forester. He wore suspenders and sandals and his living room was jam-packed with hobby and craft supplies. We talked for a good two hours.
Forester is a pivotal and controversial figure to many people who are involved in bike advocacy. He’s become known as the father of vehicular cycling, a small but passionate and influential group who believe the bicycles should be operated like any other vehicle — ridden in the same lanes and manner as cars and trucks rather than in bike lanes or separated infrastructure. His positions shaped policy and street design in the US for decades.
I wanted to talk to Forester, now 89, about many things — his early riding life, the circumstances in the 1970s that turned him into an activist and policymaker, and the ways his unyielding philosophies have made him so controversial and sometimes despised by bike advocates in the modern era.
Forester was at first reluctant to participate in an interview because he’s felt burned in the past — by writers who ultimately wanted to take aim at his positions or character. In the end, he agreed to this interview after I offered to publish it as a long-form Q&A, without involving other sources or a creating narrative beyond our conversation.
As someone who has followed John for years, well aware of his long-held positions and his age and his approach to discourse, I decided going in that I wasn’t out to stage or win a debate — I was interested in a genuine conversation about his life and point of view. I still disagree with John on some important topics — namely the battle to carve out a safe place for American cyclists on the road — but I came away with some respect for how he’s spent decades fighting for the rights of cyclists based on his own life experiences.