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I find I knew my father well, in the double sense that I had been often with him observing who he was, and, listening to his stories of his life, times, knowledge, and opinions, had developed a clear understanding of his character. Yet since his death, information has come to me that indicates that what I knew was illusion, and what I understood was false.

--John Forester

John Forester - image

John Forester Biography

John Forester (1929 - ) is an American industrial engineer and a noted cycling activist known as "the father of vehicular cycling" and for coining the term Effective Cycling.

Early life

Born in East Dulwich, London, England, Forester is the elder son of the writer and novelist C. S. Forester and his wife Kathleen. He moved with his family to Berkeley, California, in March 1940 and attended public schools there until after his parents' divorce, when he finished high school at an east coast preparatory school. Thereafter, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in 1951. Following a brief stint in the U.S. Navy, Forester eventually settled in California to become, as he describes, "an industrial engineer, a senior research engineer, a professor, and, of all things, an expert in the science of bicycling".

In April 1966, Forester's father died. The unexpectedly large estate, its contents, and its disposition proved to Forester that his father, whom he had loved and admired, had consistently lied to him for years, and strongly suggested evidence of another secret life. That discovery was a traumatic experience, and led to his biography of his father, Novelist and Story-Teller: The Life of C. S. Forester.

John Forester

Cycling advocacy

From early childhood, Forester had been a passionate cyclist. Following his father's death, his attention increasingly focused on cycling, racing and brevet touring. In the 1960s, he and his wife divorced, and he met Dorris L. Taylor, a visiting cyclist from Minneapolis. Taylor and her daughters moved in with Forester the following year and joined him in his pursuit of cycling. In 1973 Forester dedicated himself to full-time cycle advocacy.

Forester first involved himself locally, arguing against the installation of segregated bicycle facilities in the city of Palo Alto, facilities that were based on Netherlands designs adapted for American use and had been recommended to the California Department of Transportation by two researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles. His first published article appeared in the January/February 1973 issue of Bike World, a regional Northern California bimonthly magazine.

In May 1973, his focus broadened as the Food and Drug Administration (later the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC) issued extensive product safety regulations for bicycles. Originally intended only for children's bicycles, the regulations were soon expanded to include all bicycles except for track bikes and custom-assembled bicycles.

In October of that year, Forester published an article in Bike World denouncing both the California Department of Transportation and the CPSC. He targeted the new CPSC regulations, especially the "eight reflector" system, which required front, rear, wheel and pedal reflectors. The front reflector is placed at the location for a bicycle headlight, which it replaces. However, motor vehicle drivers who are about to cross the path of the cyclist would not see the approaching cyclist because the headlights of their motor vehicle do not shine onto the front reflector of the bicycle, often resulting in a crash. (If the bicycle is directly in front of the car and headed the wrong way, the car's headlights will illuminate the bicycle's front reflector, until the inevitable head-on crash.)

After the rules were finalized, Forester sued the CPSC. Acting as his own lawyer, Forester did not understand that United States federal law did not grant jurisdiction to the appeals court to review the technical merit of the rules (a so-called "de novo" review) unless the procedure used to create the rules was flawed. The CPSC argued that a challenger must prove the process was "arbitrary and capricious." The judge ordered a de novo review of the rules; threw out four of them, but left the "eight reflector" standard untouched. Forester, emboldened by this partial success, proceeded to launch further challenges to administrative rules in court, but did not duplicate that early success.

In addition to legal advocacy, Forester is known for his theories regarding cycling safety. His Effective Cycling educational program, developed subsequent to his research demonstrating that integrating motorists and educated cyclists reduces accidents more than creating separate bicycle lanes, was implemented by the League of American Bicyclists (formerly, the League of American Wheelmen) until Forester withdrew his permission for that organization to use the name.

Statistical decision theory

Because teaching statistical decision theory from the texts of Robert O. Schlaifer was so difficult for the students to understand, Forester decided to prepare his own text, Statistical Selection of Business Strategies. In the course of preparing this book, Forester determined several characteristics of this aspect of statistics. All the problems, treated in rather different ways by mathematics that looked complicated, were capable of solution only if they had one common structure. This common structure could be solved by one purely arithmetical algorithm. While the mathematical solutions were mathematically accurate, the error in finding a formulation that best fit the empiric data was as great as the error introduced by treating the empiric data directly by arithmetical methods. Forester determined that Schlaifer, when describing his simplified method usable when all the data were normal, used the common normal table that gives areas of the two portions of the normal curve, when what was needed for Schlaifer's calculation method was a table showing the center of mass of each portion. Forester prepared such a table. The Forester method was so suited to digital calculation that once desk-top computers became available, problems that had required several hours of slide-rule and adding machine computation were solved almost as fast as the data could be entered.