Cycling in the 19th Century

The invention of the bicycle redefined how city streets were used. The cyclist could ride alongside the city elite in his horse-drawn carriage. Bicycles were more affordable and maintainable than horse drawn wagons, but they were not a liberatory invention for the working class. The worker was still stuck to his cable-car commute (Smith 112). A bicycle in 1884 cost around 150 dollars, almost half of a working man’s yearly salary (Smith, 111). They were therefore more of an item among both upper class men and women. However, they did allow for individual movement across wide city VS bike

The first paved roads in Chicago were built in large part to appease bicycle coalitions (Smith, 208). However, cyclists had to fight long and hard for equal rights to the road. At the end of the 1800s rural roads were primarily the responsibility of farmers to maintain (Smith 208-212). City roads on the other hand were shared by wagons, horses and cyclists. Roads at this time became the official responsibility of local and national governments. Lobbying groups formed on both the horse side and cycle side of the road issue. Cyclists preferred smooth, paved streets to traditional dirt roads filled with wagon wheel ruts. However, horseshoes were incompatible with asphalt surfaces and when riding across the surface both the shoes were damaged and the road surface (Smith, 211).

Tensions between cyclists and carriage dwellers were manifested in the 1880s in public policies that protected horses from being frightened by bicycles (See Figure ?). A fleeting Ohio law in 1893 required cyclists to dismount their vehicles when a carriage driver signaled his horse was becoming frightened (Smith, 184). A law was proposed in Illinois in 1891 that would have also required cyclists to dismount when approaching horses. ‘Good Roads Associations’ sprang up in many states serving as cycling lobbying groups directed at improving roads so they were conducive to cycling. The practice of riding bicycles pushed the form that city streets eventually took by directing city planning. This infrastructure was easily converted to accommodate automobiles in the early 20th century. Early automobiles even had wheels based on bicycle wheels. These bicycle associations were quite influential in the construction of new roads. Chicago cycling activists were successful in 1897 at persuading the city to designate Jackson Street a boulevard, thus preventing wagon and truck traffic (212). However, this victory for Chicago cyclists was not yet represented on the 1898 Bicycle Map published by Polish business man and cycling advocate A.V. Askevold (See Figure 1).

This map does, however, illustrate the public distinction between transportation routes meant to be used for the circulation of individuals on bicycles, roads meant for wagons and those routes meant for circulation of mass quantities of goods via the railroad. The inclusion of railroad information on this cycling map makes the map a useful representation of the city’s transportation network in addition to its primary purpose as a map showing where good and fair cycling streets exist in the city. Non-local circulation of commodities was primarily concentrated in the transportation veins not of streets but instead through railways and waterways. Therefore, cyclists had more of an impact on the formation of roads, in part because the space was designed more for the transportation of individuals than the large-scale transportation of goods and capital. Of course wagons in the 19th century served the same purpose as delivery trucks today. However, wagons were not as involved in mass transit of goods as big rigs are today.


The Bicycle as a Resource and Circulatory Cure
Automobiles eventually took over these spaces because they were more desirable to the masses and also offered more potential for economic progress than cycling in those public spaces. Haussmannnisation and efficient infrastructures facilitated the subsequent Fordist Production strategies that dominated the capitalist sphere from the 1920s until the 1970s. Graham and Marvin define Fordism as “the interconnected social, technological, cultural and political construction through which mass production, distribution and consumption societies were elaborated in Western countries between the 1920s and 1970s” (2001: 425).

The wide acceptance of the automobile transformed the logic of the transportation system on the individual and economic level. Urban planning and city projects centered around the innovations that brought most immediate financial prosperity to the industrial city (Burnham 18). The invention of credit, the rise of the American service sector, and decline of the American factory due to relocation of production facilities abroad has decreased the financial importance of roads as the medium for the distribution of capital American cities. The Department of Transportation is still important in this role, but information technology has quickly replaced transportation as the prime concern for circulation of capital. (D’Escoto Oct 7, 2002; O’Brien, September 30, 2002: Chicago City Club Meetings). The city’s Business and Information Services Department is now the strategic focus for attracting and keeping businesses in Chicago, and maintaining efficient communication and electrical economic systems. According to Chicago’s Chief Information Officer Chris O’Brien, the city is working to attract new businesses by building a high-tech communications infrastructure (City Club, September 39, 2002). The transportation network is still integral to the economic health of the city. And, goods still need roadways to circulate on the local level.

Also, over the 50 years, the number of automobiles used by individuals for transportation has increased. So while the roadway system may be less important for the direct circulation of capital in the American economy, our population has become more dependant on roadways for personal transport. The increase in personal usage reduces the efficiency of circulation in cities, reducing the flows of goods. According to Miguel D’Escoto, the head of Chicago’s Department of Transportation, Chicago streets today are gridlocked in large part because of society’s dependence on the automobile for personal transportation (D’Escoto, Oct. 7, 2002). At the City Club meeting he promoted bicycling and using public transit to commute as solutions to breaking the gridlock. Under the logic of Burnham, the arteries of our Chicago’s roadways systems are clogged.

Planners of today are developing innovative ways to break the gridlock. Symbiotic solutions have surfaced in many cities. Cycling is one such solution. The practice of cycling for transport merges traditional recreational spaces with transportation spaces. Critical Mass is a social movement that promotes such symbiotic solutions to circulatory urban ills. One way in which planners and local governments across the country, including Chicago, are combating the circulation problem in urban areas is by promoting the use of the bicycle as a viable means of transportation.

After a complete review of Chicago area maps in the University of Chicago Maps collection, cycling does not resurface on the spatial representations of Chicago either in terms of recreation of transportation again until the early 1970’s. Historically this makes sense in terms of the oil crisis of that decade. Under the Carter administration cycling was officially put back on the transportation planning radar in the US Department of Transportation report Bicycle Transportation For Energy Conservation (1980).

In 1980 as a result of a study conducted under the National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1978, the US DOT revised its policy on bicycle transportation to provide for ‘the consideration of bicycle use in all DOT-funded transportation projects” (1980, 36). In 1998 the US Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century, which ‘requires’ planners to consider bicycle and pedestrian needs as well as increasing funding opportunities for bicycle and pedestrian projects (US Department of Transportation, 2002). Therefore, the DOT policy has been encouraging policy makers to consider cycling for the past several decades. During this period statistics have also shown that the number of people using their bicycle as a form of transportation has also grown substantially. According to US Department of Transportation statistics, in 1975 approximately 450,000 Americans used a bicycle to commute to work (DOT 1980). By the mid 1990’s the number of people who regularly used a bicycle for more than recreational trips, including biking to work, grew to 9.3 million (Chicago Bike 2000 Plan).

In April of 1980, the US Department of Transportation published a document promoting the use of the bicycle for everyday transportation purposes. In this document the USDOT makes a goal of increasing the number of bike commuters from 470,000 in 1975 to 1.5-2.5 million bike commuters by 1985. The authors estimate this increase in bike commuting would save 7.9-15 million barrels of oil per day (DOT 1980:3). In this report, the department determined that the bicycle had not reached its potential as a transportation mode. This study was conducted for Section 682 of the National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1978, which required the DOT examine the energy conservation potential of bicycle transportation. Part A of this Act states:
“The Congress recognizes that bicycles are the most efficient means of transportation, represent a viable commuting alternative to many people, offer mobility at speeds as fast as that of cars in urban areas, provide health benefits through daily exercise, reduce noise and air pollution, are relatively inexpensive, and deserve consideration in a comprehensive national energy plan” (Section 682: National Energy Conservation Act of 1978).

The subsequent findings by the DOT pinpoint both personal and institutional obstacles to daily bike commuting in US urban areas. Personal obstacles include lack of awareness of cycling as a transportation option, inefficiency and dangers associated with biking on existing infrastructure, lack of infrastructure and lack of knowledge of bike routes. Institutional obstacles included likewise, lack of awareness about bike transportation, as well as inadequate funds and lack of communication and coordination (DOT 1980:2)

The guidelines in this report provided the paradigm for the Bike Plans that emerged in Chicago over the next two decades. According to the DOT Bicycle Policy, the local level of government is most responsible for directly affecting cycling practice. The federal government “has a more direct impact on programs that enhance bicycle transportation than on bicyclists themselves” (US DOT 1980: 33). The Federal government instead will establish programs and guidelines for local governments to follow, increase available funding, conduct research, train for and develop public information programs and cycling education programs. The local governments are then responsible for identifying and planning for needs of cyclists, enacting and enforcing cycling ordinances, improving and maintaining roadways for cyclists, constructing bike facilities and conducting bike training and educational programs (US DOT 1980: 33-36).
The development of Chicago’s cycling program in the 1990’s under the Daley administration follows these guidelines. Like the USDOT cycling policy written in 1980, Chicago’s Bike 2000 Plan is also centered on conservation issues. The major governmental policy cited as impetus for the plan is the Clean Air Act of 1990, which required Chicago to reduce emissions by 15% by the year 1996.
“To achieve this goal the region must implement transportation control measures which limit auto travel. One of several ways to reduce auto travel is to convert a percentage of auto trips to bicycle trips” (Bike 2000 Plan).

Also, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act would provide funding to local governments for the development of bikeways as a means of improving air quality, reducing energy costs and reducing congestion on existing roadways.
In 1991 Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced the formation of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council to establish Bike-related improvements. The council then developed the Bike 2000 Plan. The plan had goals applying to individual practice as well as improving Chicago’s economic viability.

The plan then develops strategies to implement through educational programs, events and publications, including the publication of a City Bicycle Map. The plan also describes a strategy to encourage public agencies and private organizations to help implement bike friendly policies and infrastructure including bike parking. It also outlines a strategy to develop a network of 300 miles of bikeways that would encourage and support safe bicycle use between neighborhoods to the central business district and to suburban areas. Also underneath the engineering section of the bike plan, the city sets out to adopt and study engineering standards to restructure city streets designs in new construction projects.

The efforts of the city over the last decade have paralleled an increase in the frequency of cycling in Chicago. City efforts were rewarded in 2001 when Bicycling Magazine named Chicago the best city with a population over one million in the US for cycling (second place in North America after Montreal). In 1999 the magazine did not differentiate between large and small cities and Chicago was ranked number ten behind cities including San Francisco, Madison WI and Seattle. Cycling is now on the forefront of Chicago Transportation plans and is no longer only being ‘considered’ in construction. The Regional Transportation Plan for 2020 considers cycling in the transportation network as fact and in regards to cycle plans is able to focus attention more toward specific strategies including education and actual infrastructural problems relating to safely adding cycling infrastructure to existing roads. The city along with other planning groups in the city has held at least 6 public meetings about the cycling infrastructure in Chicago. The Bike 2002 meeting in May of 2002 was attended by approximately 100 citizens, many of whom are active Critical Mass participants. Many of these participants signed CCM as the organization they were representing at the meeting.


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