New Book: The Cycling City

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Are you interested in the historical relationship between bicycles and the city? Then you might want to check out Evan Friss’s “The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s” (Chicago University Press, 2015).

Here are a few fun facts from the book:

– In 1897, Chicago’s mayoral race was won by Carter Harrison, who “began his election bid by riding a ‘century’ (a hundred mile ride) to prove his loyalty to the city’s wheelmen.” He also had campaign posters with the slogan, “Not the Champion Cyclist but the Cyclists’ Champion.”

– Every member of the first Massachusetts State Highway Commission was a member of the League of American Wheelmen.

– In 1899, American factories produced more than 1,000,000 bicycles.

– In NYC, there was a serious proposal to ban commercial and heavy vehicles from a 3-mile section of road popular with cyclists, to keep the corridor safe for cycling.

And here is a blurb about the book from the publisher:

Cycling has experienced a renaissance in the United States, as cities around the country promote the bicycle as an alternative means of transportation. In the process, debates about the nature of bicycles—where they belong, how they should be ridden, how cities should or should not accommodate them—have played out in the media, on city streets, and in city halls. Very few people recognize, however, that these questions are more than a century old.

The Cycling City is a sharp history of the bicycle’s rise and fall in the late nineteenth century. In the 1890s, American cities were home to more cyclists, more cycling infrastructure, more bicycle friendly legislation, and a richer cycling culture than anywhere else in the world.  Evan Friss unearths the hidden history of the cycling city, demonstrating that diverse groups of cyclists managed to remap cities with new roads, paths, and laws, challenge social conventions, and even dream up a new urban ideal inspired by the bicycle. When cities were chaotic and filthy, bicycle advocates imagined an improved landscape in which pollution was negligible, transportation was silent and rapid, leisure spaces were democratic, and the divisions between city and country were blurred. Friss argues that when the utopian vision of a cycling city faded by the turn of the century, its death paved the way for today’s car-centric cities—and ended the prospect of a true American cycling city ever being built.

~Thanks to Asha W. Agrawal for this post

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