Planet Bike is the Official Sponsor of's 2008 National Bike Summit coverage.

Bikes according to the “establishment”

Posted by on March 5th, 2008 at 8:03 pm

This story is part of my ongoing coverage of the 2008 National Bike Summit. See the rest of my coverage here.

John Horsley, Executive
Director of AASHTO, looking
very establishment-ish.

This morning we heard from John Horsley, head of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Horsley came to “give context on where bikes fit in the national transportation picture.”

AASHTO calls themselves the “Voice of American Transportation” and League President Andy Clarke referred to them as the transportation “establishment”. Suffice it to say, AASHTO is a powerful organization and to many, what they say, goes.

AASHTO presentation-8.jpg

One the slides from Horsley’s presentation.

Their Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, has set influential standards for how states build bicycle infrastructure. And, even though many planners grumble that the standards are outdated, the book has been officially adopted as the bicycle facility design manual for many transportation departments around the country (including our very own ODOT).

So, when the head of AASHTO talks, people listen (whether they like it or not). And here’s what he said…

First, Horsely laid out the facts: In the last 50 years vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in America has increased five-fold. According to Horsely, “That’s just not sustainable,” and he added that AASHTO has set a goal to cut VMT by 50% in 50 years (by 2055).

Horsley wanted us to know that, after all these years AASHTO gets the bike thing. He announced two positive steps; they have plans to make a major update and revision to their 30 year-old bike guide by Fall of 2009 and he pointed out their renewed commitment to the U.S. Bicycle Route System (which they initiated over 20 years ago but have never really put into motion. More on that later).

For a few more interesting facts and figures, I’ve recreated Horsley’s slide presentation below.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

  • BURR March 5, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    good standards for bike facilities are really important. good standards would help eliminate all the bad bike lane designs. we are way behind the curve here. Portland has its own pedestrian design guidelines but no corresponding bicycle design guidelines. We should be leading the way, not following AASHTO. Too bad PDOT\’s engineers are too conservative and risk averse to step outside the box a bit more. For example, when is PDOT finally going to approve and use sharrows on arterials too narrow for bike lanes??? Is that too much to ask?

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  • 3-speeder March 5, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    You said that \”AASHTO has set a goal to cut VMT by 50% in 50 years\” – that sounded somewhat encouraging. But according to the corresponding slide, AASHTO wants to \”cut the rate of growth in VMT by 50%\”, so that VMT would increase from \”3 trillion today to 5 trillion, instead of 7 trillion by 2055\”. Math terminology matters – the distinction is obviously important. AASHTO\’s goal would have VMT increase by about 67% – this sadly is not so encouraging.

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  • BURR March 5, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    we don\’t need no stinkin\’ AASHTO

    seriously, they are a cars-first organization

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  • Antonio Gramsci March 5, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    AASHTO sets standards for roadway designs. But the problem is not in these standards. The problem lies with the expectations of motorists. Change the expectations, and the rest of the problems will take care of themselves.

    Example: speed limits. AASHTO creates roadway safety standards that make them safe for motorists travelling at high velocity — but dangerous for other roadway users. That is only a problem because motorists actually EXPECT to be able to travel at those high velocities. The solution?

    Simple. Leave the speed limits be, but enforce very tough sanctions against careless and reckless motorists. Enforce mandatory federal collision investigation standards in the event of serious injury and fatality collisions. ALMOST ALL MOTORISTS WILL SLOW DOWN when they find out that their cars get impounded for thorough safety inspections at their expense in the event that they are involved in a serious injury or fatality collision REGARDLESS OF WHO WAS \”AT FAULT\”.

    Once motorists have lost the expectation of travelling at the posted speed limits most of the time — except under ideal, low traffic conditions, the rest is easy.

    Once they\’ve slowed down \”voluntarily\” because of very tough and rigorous new enforcement measures, then it will be an easy matter to lower those speed limits. The political will to fight such a lowering will simply have been extinguished.

    In fact, at that point most motorists will then welcome such a move, since the reckless few who aren\’t driving so prudently will be raising the costs painfully for the majority who are.

    The same logic also applies to things like \”traffic calming.\” The majority of motorists will welcome \”traffic calming\” once they see it as being targetted at a minority of really reckless drivers who aren\’t prudent enough to change their behavior in the face of tough crackdowns.

    The key to all these victories will be ENFORCEMENT.

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  • BURR March 5, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    that\’s a great goal but the majority of LEO\’s are motorists first and identify first and foremost with other motorists, not with \’vulnerable\’ road users like cyclists and pedestrians. without law enforcement on our side, the enforcement argument is less than worthless, and cyclists will continue to pay $242 tickets for running stop signs in low-risk Ladd\’s Addition, while continuing to get mowed down at other less safe intersections.

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  • wsbob March 6, 2008 at 12:02 am

    3-speeder, I was wondering the very same question that prompted you to do your math, before I saw your post. I wonder how many people think to ask Mr. Horsely about what his colleagues hope to do to accommodate this growth in motor vehicle use that reductions in VMT do not fully counter. Only so many beans fit in a can.

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  • Antonio Gramsci March 6, 2008 at 12:14 am

    LEOs are careerists FIRST, even before they are motorists. They want to protect their jobs and their income, so they can continue putting fuel in their cars and food on their families\’ plates.

    If the Feds set minimum state standards and make state highway funding conditional on their implementation, the cops will get into line. That is a HUGE gravy train, and you can rest assured that cops that aren\’t doing their jobs and thus jeopardize it, will find they\’ve made a painful career limiting move.

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  • Donald March 6, 2008 at 2:25 am

    I\’m totally for enforcement. Ticket bad drivers. Ticket bad riders.

    I do take exception to broadbrushing LEOs. They are a diverse community and should get the same respect we ask folks to give \”us\” (sorry, not trying to speak for the group but it\’s late and I\’m tired.)

    There are miscreant riders and miscreant officers…

    You know who really tuned me up on generalizing?


    Go figure, especially in this context.

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  • David Feldman March 6, 2008 at 7:33 am

    A good, very small start for whoever is our next President will be to reinstate the 55mph Interstate highway speed limit that Bill Clinton so stupidly eliminated.
    It should be reinstated and a method devised for proving a level of enforcement–then chain federal highway $ to it.

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  • SH March 6, 2008 at 8:03 am

    I say let cars go as fast as they want to on interstates where bikes aren\’t permitted anyway, but slow the speed limit way the hell down on narrow highways that bikes would use, 43 or 99 for example

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  • BURR March 6, 2008 at 8:10 am

    who cares what the speed limits are on interstate highways, which are limited access roads for motor vehicles? the key speed limits for cyclists are those on local streets of all types, from residential to arterial.

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  • Slick March 6, 2008 at 8:37 am

    What about the slide that says there\’s a reduction in highway spending. HIGHWAY SPENDING GOES UP A LOT IN THAT SLIDE. Maybe he was refering to his dream \”rate of growth\” and how it\’s not growing as fast as he wanted? This character isn\’t straight. He plays with numbers more than anyone Jonathan has shown. That presenation is a sugar coated version of a get more cars on the road strategy presented to a room full of bikers.

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  • Jeane Burke March 6, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Local street enforcement might be helped if there was the will to reduce the legal and civil rights of motor vehicle operators–we see the US and State constitutions violated for inhumane purposes constantly, why not ignore it for a humane, constructive, and reasonable purpose such as breaking the US\’ automobile culture?

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  • Mike March 6, 2008 at 8:49 am

    I am fine with more cars on the road(cars do have their purpose however limited it may be), I am fine with increased speed in CERTAIN PLACES(like I-5 PDX to Eugene, straight as an arrow, there is no reason for 55-65).

    BUT, if there are going to be more cars on the road cycling facilities must be improved and enforcement of traffic laws needs to increase exponentially. For both cyclists and motorists(although a sliding scale for fines would be cool, who can actually cause harm being the factor).

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  • wsbob March 6, 2008 at 9:37 am

    \”..straight as an arrow, there is no reason for 55-65).\” Mike

    Isn\’t there? I\’ve always heard that higher speeds equate to more gasoline burned, shorter life for tires, and higher incidence of serious collisions.

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  • k. March 6, 2008 at 10:19 am

    As a licensed engineer who\’s spent most of his career in roadway design and related functions, I\’m very familiar with AASHTO. The fact that they have made this realization regarding bicycles is very good news. They are a pretty conservative organization, as are most professional organizations that set design standards for any technical field. They have to be, as the industry needs some predictability in order to function effectively. Never mind the slides that contain projected highway spending and traffic increases. Those are just that, projections. They may have little basis in reality and depend largely on how the political pendulum (and reality) in this country swings. And that depends on how we vote and what direction citizens demand we take society. And I think we\’re all mostly on the same page regarding that.

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  • Pete March 6, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Enforcement shouldn\’t be overlooked. An article in an Oregonian this week discussed the shortage of Law Enforcement Officers due to demographic shifts, so we can\’t expect them to do more with less. That\’s precisely what we have to do, though, and I think an emphasis on bike & ped safety in LEO education may help.

    A few weeks ago I was at Performance Bike on Hall Street and we watched Beaverton bike cops in training. It was quite comical, and according to the employees a common sight, as several of these folks looked like they\’d never ridden before. On top of that they couldn\’t figure out whether to be on the road or sidewalk, as both narrow and there are jersey barriers at that point (by the Round). It left me with the hope that these people will be educated, not frustrated with the experience, and open their eyes to the plight of cyclists after they get squeezed, brushed, right-hooked, etc, a few times.

    Maybe there are/should be programs requiring all cops to go through this sort of training? Can you lend insight PoPo? Sorry to have strayed off AASHTO topic…

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  • Cøyøte March 6, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Freeway speeds are entirely relevant.

    Higher freeway speeds:

    …requires more expensive engineering, which reduces total available funding for other modes.

    …cause increased highway wear and increased highway maintenance costs, again reducing available funding.

    …result in increased vehicle wear and either higher maintenance costs or decreased safety of the vehicles.

    …results in higher fuel usage which means that we fight more oil wars and loose more citizens that could be cyclists, (or friends, or family too).

    …promote the idea that sprawl is sustainable.

    …result in more pollution of the land, air and water.

    I could go on, but I won\’t. There is no upside to increased automobile speeds or VMT on any road anywhere in the world. Promoting cars use was a mistake that will make the Inquisition look like a reasonable social response.

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  • BURR March 6, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    The single most important thing Oregon could do to balance its transportation budget would be to ban studded tires. Studded tires cause millions of dollars in unnecessary premature wear and damage to Oregon\’s roads each and every year.

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  • Donald March 6, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Plus one for the ban on studs!

    When I\’ve got the Golf toed in for autocross, the ruts on the way to PIR make for some crazy wheelplay.


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  • SkidMark March 6, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Reinstate the 55 mph speed limit? WHY? So you are on the road longer, being more traffic? The cars that were designed to get better gas mileage at 55 mph are not even on the road anymore. Most new small cars get better mileage between 65 and 70 mph. Cars make their most emissions at IDLE, not at cruising speed. Driving fast (where it is safe and appropriate) also sharpens your reaction time and fast decison-making skills, which is why Portlanders are such road zombies. I hate driving here because you can\’t get anywhere fast. The upside of this is it is why I am riding a bicycle again.

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  • Scott Mizée March 6, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    SkidMark… I love your comments. Couldn\’t agree more.

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  • wsbob March 6, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    \”Most new small cars get better mileage between 65 and 70 mph.\” SkidMark

    Better than at 55mph? Do they? I\’ve never heard that. I suppose it\’s possible, though I\’d imagine it takes more fuel to get a car to drive 65-75 mph than it would to get it to drive 55 mph. What engine runs at idle speed when the car is moving at 55 mph?

    Traffic congestion is a result of too many cars on the road and an infrastructure that is incapable of sustaining them without congestion. Many, many years ago here in the Willamette Valley, high speeds weren\’t such a problem. Traffic congestion wasn\’t either, but that wasn\’t because cars could go faster. It was because there were less cars on the road.

    The thing about motor vehicle speed on the highway, is that whatever the speed limit is, it\’s never fast enough for many of the people on the highway. That\’s because desired motor vehicle speed is relative to that of other motor vehicles on the highway. I guess it\’s just psychological that many people feel compelled to move 10-15 mph faster than other cars on the road. These faster drivers really add to the congestion because they oblige other drivers to slow down in order to avoid collision conditions that the faster drivers create.

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  • Dave March 6, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    If anyone can truly defend higher freeway speeds, maybe it\’s proof that speeding fines are much, much too low.
    Lowering Interstate speed limits, as much as they don\’t directly affect pedestrians and cyclists, sets a tone for civil driving. The speed addiction and aggressive behavior of most American drivers needs to be broken by the harshest possible law enforcement.
    A ticket for exceeding a speed limit by more than single digits should be fined enough to be a significant financial hardship–a percentage of the speeder\’s net worth, for instance.

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  • SkidMark March 6, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    I am not defending speeding, I am defending high(er) speed limits on the freeway.. People drive 70 mph+ all over the world, legally, Dave. In Japan, Germany, the UK, the EU…Cars have changed a lot in the 30 year since the 55mph limit, Almost every car has disc brakes these days, so stopping from a higher speed is easier and safer. It\’s driving skill that hasn\’t kept up, everyone is too busy selecting their music and talking on the phone to drive well.

    I agree with you that traffic tickets should be based on income, because 242 bucks is a weeks pay to someone making minimum wage but it is p1ss in a bucket to a rich man. maybe then rich people would know what it is like to be profiled by the Police!

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  • SkidMark March 6, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    wsbob. obviously no car is at idle at 55mph. What I am getting at is that if you want to reduce auto emissions slowing cars down, and making them sit in traffic is not the way to go. It would be more effective to reduce pollution by getting them where they need to be faster.

    It depends on the car wsbob. For some cars with 5 speeds or an overdrive driving at 55 put the engine at too low of an rpm to be in top gear. If you are in top gear and doing 70 the engine is at the same rpm that it would be if the car were in 4th, but you are covering more ground.

    I\’m sure you haven\’t \”heard that\”. You\’ve only heard the antiquated idea that cars get optimum mileage at 55mph. Why would Japan and Europe make cars that get their best mileage at a speed at least 10 mph slower that their freeway speed limits? It\’s the same as how car people think road bikes only have ten speeds or how bicycle are just toys. Just old ideas that are best left forgotten.

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  • a.O March 6, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    SkidMark, traffic modeling shows that, at the highest traffic times, restricting speeds to between 45 and 55 mph provides for the best flow of traffic on interstate highways and so actually reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

    Additionally, the favored approach to reducing motor vehicle emissions is to reduce private car trips, rather changing speed limits.

    I\’ve followed this stuff closely since living in Seattle.

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  • BURR March 6, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    the whole discussion of freeway speeds is a marginally related tangent to making local streets safer for cyclists, and y\’all are wasting bandwidth arguing about it.

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  • Wes Robinson March 6, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    A vehicle traveling at 65 MPH instead of 55 MPH trades an 18% increase in speed for a 40% increase in drag. A car that can achieve a higher MPG at the higher speed will do so either at the cost of efficiency at lower speeds or added mechanical complexity (e.g. CVTs).

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  • wsbob March 6, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    \”Why would Japan and Europe make cars that get their best mileage at a speed at least 10 mph slower that their freeway speed limits?\” SkidMark

    Do you know for a fact that Japan and Europe design their cars to get better gas mileage at 70mph than they do at 55mph? Does this actually happen? Do those cars really get better gas mileage at 70mph than they do at 55mph?

    My pickup has a 5 speed. I can\’t tell you right off the top of my head, exactly what the engine\’s rpm\’s in 5th gear are, but they\’re definitely not idle speeds. Somewhere close to 1800 rpm\’s is probably what it is.

    There\’s no disputing that many people want to driver faster on highways, despite valid concerns raised by others that it\’s less safe and less energy efficient. I remember this issue somewhat from when the 55 mph limit was removed Oregon for some roads. I believe the original reason the limit was imposed for awhile, had to do with one of the original gas crises(One of those \’old ideas\’.).

    Then that went away for awhile and some people clamored that there was no need for the limit anymore, because gas supply was secure again (the alaska pipeline or whatever). Well, I seem to be hearing that there\’s a shortage of oil today. Peak oil? SkidMark, maybe you can tell us if that\’s another of those \’old ideas\’. It\’s one I sure do wish would go away.

    About highway design and flow efficiency relative to posted mph speed limit, a.O touches on that in post #27. If speed were the answer to eliminating highway congestion, why stop at 70mph? Why not make the speed limit 100mph, or 125 mph? There are cars today that can do that. If so, make it mandatory, to eliminate slow downs. And, no passing at higher speeds allowed. Everyone has to drive 100 mph on the highway, slowing down just to safely space themselves from cars ahead and behind.

    Traffic jams still occur for various reasons, but infrastructure is the big limitation. Eventually those 100mph cars barreling down the highway want to turn off into the surrounding infrastructure, the feeder streets that go through business districts and neighborhoods.

    Such a great volume of cars, possible because of greater speed, enabling them to theoretically spend less time on the highway, can back up quickly at the exits from the highway, because the infrastructure is not designed and maybe cannot be designed to adequately unload such a great number of fast moving cars from the highway.

    The Vista Tunnel (you know about the Vista Tunnel, right SkidMark?)is kind of an example of this. People in their motor vehicles on highway 26 come cruising east down the long hill starting at the Sylvan overpass, easily at speeds of 65 mph if there aren\’t many cars on the road. Unfortunately, most hours of the day, there\’s a lot of cars on that section of road, and during that time, traffic often comes to a standstill. Some days person on foot could get to town in about the same amount of time it takes for a car to get there.

    Cars on that section of road aren\’t backed up because they aren\’t allowed to drive 70 mph rather than 55 mph. They\’re backed up because the right lane, exiting cars to the south, and the center lane, exiting cars directly into SW Downtown Portland are not designed to adequately unload the volume of cars accessing them from Highway 26.

    It\’s not just those lanes that can\’t handle the volume of cars entering onto it so quickly. It\’s Downtown itself, and the highway system itself accessed by the right lane of Hwy 26. No doubt there are traffic engineers that would love to hear from you if you can prove that this problem would be solved by raising the speed limit on that section of road to 70 mph.

    Reducing vehicle trips would help a lot, and for that, better bike infrastructure, could be really valuable key to help accomplish this.

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  • Antonio Gramsci March 7, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I think the most valuable key to reducing vehicle trips, aside from higher fuel prices, will be much tougher safety enforcement, with drastically higher penalties for violations, implemented via federal mandates tying highway funds to state adoption of the tougher standards and enhanced penalties.

    Anecdotally I\’ve observed that people, especially as they get older, seem to avoid driving more because of the stress and risk factors inherent in this activity. If the consequences of making mistakes on the roads that lead to injury or death of others were drastically increased, this would create another powerful incentive to reduce personal motor vehicle use and seek other modes when possible.

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  • John March 8, 2008 at 3:22 am

    AASHTO\’s target to increase VMT by only 67% is way off target according to a report from Australia:

    The researchers estimate that Australia will have to reduce VMT by 80% if we have any hope of avoiding \”dangerous\” climate change

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  • Todd Boulanger March 8, 2008 at 6:00 am

    John Horsley this is better news from AASHTO…

    contact me if you want some help reaching your new objectives…

    I would suggest going back to having separate a city and suburban/ rural manuals…

    …as I have long struggled with the limitations of its manuals (and worse the self imposed limitations of many of the engineers who use them as the only guidence) as compared to the excellent manuals by CROW and practical experience…especialy in retrofit situations for urban areas in city centers.

    The bike as a design vehicle and man as a engine is pretty standard in either the Netherlands or the US…so why not borrow liberally from better manuals in a place where bikes are successful? (Vs. having to retest everything here before adoption…as long as we are operating in low to moderate speed facilities.)

    The US manual needs a lot of work on intersections, work zones, and bike parking. It is at best 15 years behind the Dutch manual.

    Todd Boulanger
    Senior Transportation Planner
    City of Vancouver

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  • Atbman March 9, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Skidmark, if I understand you correctly, I can accelerate (in 5th gear)from 55 to 70 (UK motorway limit), by putting my foot down on the accelerator, and, in spite of me then having to hold my foot down to provide more fuel for the carburettor, I will use less fuel.

    And this, in spite of aerodynamic drag increasing exponentially, not arithmetically.

    Please run that by me (or a car designer) again, please?

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    • El Biciclero April 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm

      It’s not that you’ll be using less fuel after accelerating; you’ll be using more fuel, but also covering more miles. Are you now operating more or less efficiently? Who knows–efficiency is discovered by comparing the increase in fuel usage to the increase in miles covered using that fuel, call it “marginal mileage”. I think for most motor vehicles, MPG is a modified bell curve with a peak at some particular gear and speed. At some point you are right; diminishing returns are realized due to pushing too much air out of the way.

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