Bikes vs. Cars: The Hundred Years’ War

Danielle Zimmerman looks back at bike protests in the 19th century.

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“I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country,” said Horatio Earle in his 1929 autobiography, The Autobiography of “By Gum” Earle.

Known as the “Father of Good Roads,” Horatio Earle led the movement for better roads throughout the country as Chief Counsul of the League of American Wheelmen. The national group organized the Good Roads Movement from 1880 to 1916, which urged government to improve roads for bicyclists.

On July 25, 1896, cyclist groups like the League of American Wheelmen organized The Great Bicycle Protest of San Francisco. The protest was in response to a campaign that endorsed a City Charter that would leave abandoned rail tracks in place on Market Street. The tracks had been damaging wheels and making it risky for bicyclists to use the street. Thousands of protesters armed with their bikes rode along the streets of San Francisco to make a point of their frustration. The results of the protest were in favor of the cyclists, as the tracks were eventually removed, but it wasn’t long before their achievements were overshadowed as the popularity of Ford’s Model T began to rise.

American bicyclists today still find themselves overshadowed by motorized vehicles, despite a number of leaps and bounds in certain areas. Hope is to be found in cities like Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis, which were recently named among Travel and Leisure’s World’s Top Biking Cities compared with the likes of cycling utopias Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Even if you don’t live in one of the top cities, the bicycle continues to become a serious presence in most communities. U.S. sales on bicycles have gone up over 20% in the past ten years and the numbers are still rising. Now, you can even design your own hip fixed gear on the Urban Outfitters website. Whether or not that’s a good thing is debatable, but the undeniable fact is that the bicycle is going mainstream.

However, we have quite a long way before most cities go from here to there.

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Tags: san franciscobuilt environmentbikingportland

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