The history of U.S. bicycle transportation and planning began with an explosion of technological innovation and popularity in the late 19th century that affected bicycle, motor vehicle, and pedestrian planning throughout the 20th century. During the first half of the century, bicycles were regarded as recreational for adults and toys for children but rarely as a serious transportation mode. Then the 1970s witnessed a second boom of interest in and sales of bicycles, just as conflicts emerged between “vehicular cyclists” and advocates for protected bicycle infrastructure, shaping subsequent bicycle planning debates and trends. This session explores this evolution and these conflicts with three insightful papers and time for discussion.
Between the Booms: Bicycle Planning in 20th-Century New York
Evan Friss, James Madison UniversityShow Abstract
This paper focuses on the period between two well known bicycle booms, one in the 1890s and another in the 1970s. In between is a long, and often neglected history of how cities, planners, advocates, and foes determined where and by what means bicycles would move within a landscape increasingly dominated by automobiles. To uncover those debates and to reveal the ways in which cities accommodated (or failed to accommodate) bicycles, this paper uses one city, New York, as a case study, focusing particularly on the role of the master builder, Robert Moses. While Moses is rightly remembered for reshaping New York with highways, his policies towards cycling have not been fully explored. As it turns out, he was once an ardent champion of building bicycle-friendly infrastructure, albeit in his own way and on his own terms.
Reconsidering the Victory Bike in World War II: Federal Transportation Policy, History, and Bicycle Commuting in America
James Longhurst, University of Wisconsin, La CrosseShow Abstract
The largest federal intervention in bicycle transportation policy in the 20 th century damaged the popularity and prospects of adult cycling in the United States. But in contemporaneous publications and in historical accounts, the World War II “Victory Bike” program has been described positively and fondly, even by bicycle advocates. Using the methodology of the discipline of history, this paper contrasts published literature on the Victory Bike against the unpublished, archival records of the federal government’s Revised Ration Order 7 of July, 1942. A first-ever close analysis of month-by-month rationing demonstrates the deeply restrictive nature of that program, which contradicts both early promises and later accounts. By the end of the war, civilian bicycle production and sales had halted completely, the industry had been decimated, and adult cycling was increasingly associated with wartime sacrifice and deprivation. Recovering this 20 th century policy history is a necessary part of understanding American bicycle culture in the 21st, partially explaining the comparative lack of adult bicycle commuting today.
A Historical Perspective on the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities and the Impact of the Vehicular Cycling Movement
William Schultheiss, Toole Design Group, LLCShow Abstract
Rebecca Sanders, Toole Design Group, LLC
Jennifer Toole, Toole Design Group, LLC
This paper draws from a literature review and interviews to show the impact of advocacy, research, and culture on guidance about bike lanes and separated (protected) bike lanes in the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Bicycle Guide content from 1974 to present. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a bicycle renaissance in America resulted in efforts at the local, state, and federal level to encourage bicycling. After Davis, California, became the first community in the United States to build a network of bike lanes, a new brand of bicycle advocacy – vehicular cycling (VC) – formed to oppose efforts to separate bicyclists from motorized traffic based on fears of losing the right to use public roads. Via positions of power and strong rhetoric, vehicular cyclists influenced design guidance for decades to come.
Through the 1980s, the VC philosophy comported with a federal view that bicyclists freeloaded from the gas tax – a position that led to diminished federal support for guidance and related research throughout the decade. However, the passing of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) led to increased bicycle networks and renewed interest in bicycle facility research. Although vehicular cyclists continued to oppose roadway designs that separated bicyclists from motor vehicle traffic during the early 2000s, recent research has documented the overwhelming desire for separated bike facilities and clarified the limitations of past safety research, which has been key to turning the tide and helping bicycling to a potentially robust future in U.S. cities.
Martin Wachs, University of California, Los Angeles