Walking advocate Robert Forester visited St. Paul last week to give a talk at the University of St. Thomas. He’s the youngest son of the late John Forester, a cycling advocate. Robert wrote the popular book Effective Walking that gave birth to the “Vehicular Walking Movement” in the early 2000s. He believes that pedestrians belong in the street with cars and not on sidewalks.
“Walking is a vehicle,” says Forester, “with all the rights and responsibilities of other vehicles.”
Forester became famous for opposing sidewalks in his hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., before rising to national acclaim in the 1990s with the publication of Effective Walking. He claims that sidewalks restrict his freedom to walk and are more dangerous than walking in the street.
“Most pedestrian crashes happen at intersections,” he says. “Sidewalks make pedestrians invisible to motorists until they have to cross intersections, and then they get hit. So they’re better off walking in the street where they’re visible.”
He claims to have conducted scientific studies that prove the safety of Vehicular Walking, though many have cast doubt on the validity of his studies.
Vehicular Walkers believe in walking education and teaching kids the correct way to walk in traffic. Pedestrian Certified Instructors (PCIs) teach kids how to “take the lane,” how to signal to motorists, and how to be visible and move with cars.
In many parts of India, Vehicular Walkers have been very successful at removing sidewalks. Some studies show that pedestrian injuries and deaths have increased but Vehicular Walkers claim these studies are bogus and point to their own studies, showing that walking in the street is safer.
A group of Forester acolytes in St. Paul are advocating for removing the sidewalks on Summit Avenue and giving pedestrians “in-street lanes” — an area of the street next to traffic. They call themselves “Safety of Pedestrians” or “SOP.” The group was responsible for bringing Forester to St. Thomas to speak. His lecture at O’Shaughnessy Education Center Auditorium drew a big crowd.
“Sidewalks are mandatory side path laws!” shouted one SOP member. “Sidewalks destroy Trees!” shouted another.
St. Paul city staff aren’t sure how to respond to the group. At a community forum last month, Public Works staff pointed out that it is difficult to walk in the street during the winter.
“What about being splashed with water and road debris by passing cars?” asked Public Works Director Sean Kershaw. “What about the noise and stress of cars speeding within a few feet of pedestrians? What about the fact that surveys show a majority of pedestrians prefer sidewalks?”
The Forester acolytes are undeterred. “Pedestrians are safest in the street,” they say. They accuse the city of lying and conspiring against them and have promised to launch lawsuits unless they get their way. It looks like the battle could go on for a long time.
For his part, Forester says it’s about freedom and respect for pedestrians. “If we’re on sidewalks, motorists don’t have to respect us. If we’re in the street, they do.”
And if you believe any of this, consider yourself pranked. April Fools!