New York City traffic, circa 1890. (Associated Press)
It’s a great time to be a bike advocate—so go ahead and party like it’s 1899.
By Bob Mionske
Fifty years ago, there was no national bicycling advocacy organization. This hadn’t always been the case. Our nation’s first paved roads were developed expressly for cyclists—through the lobbying efforts of the League of American Wheelmen, which had 102,000 members in 1898. But new technology—the automobile—ended cyclists’ dominance, and the League disbanded in 1902. (It was eventually revived, and is now known as the League of American Bicyclists.)
During the 1950s and ’60s, car culture flourished, as did suburban living. Transportation planners designed streets to accommodate these trends, and by 1970, few people believed the roads were for anything but cars. Then, something unexpected happened: College-age baby boomers rediscovered the bicycle. Americans were riding bikes again.
Today, advocacy groups exist in every state, and many cities employ bicycle coordinators whose duties include developing cycling infrastructure. The bipartisan Congressional Bike Caucus has more than 160 members in 43 states. And riders now have a variety of tools at their disposal—including social media, GPS devices, and camera-equipped cell phones—that will no doubt play an increasingly pivotal role in the fight for cyclists’ rights. Here’s how they’ve already made bike advocacy more effective—and how you can get involved:
Everyone Is More Accountable
In 2008, authorities dropped charges of resisting arrest against a New York City cyclist after YouTube footage revealed that an officer had shoved him off his bike. Also in New York, the group Transportation Alternatives created an online tracker that shows when cyclists get ticketed.
Streets Are Safer
Some cities host websites where riders can report hazards, thefts, and aggressive drivers.
It’s Easier Than Ever To Mobilize
Find an advocacy group at peoplepoweredmovement.org. Sign up online for Clif Bar’s 2-Mile Challenge to raise funds for cycling nonprofits with every mile you pedal.
Cyclists have made great strides since the 1960s, but we still have work to do. Studies show that bike-friendly streets get more people riding and improve safety for everyone. It’s up to us to make it happen.
Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.
This article, Back to the Future, was originally published on Bicycling on October 10, 2011.