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History of cycling infrastructure

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Title: History of cycling infrastructure  
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Subject: History of cycling, Cycling infrastructure, History of road transport, Bicycle helmet laws by country, Cycling advocacy
Collection: Cycling Infrastructure, History of Cycling, History of Road Transport
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History of cycling infrastructure

The history of cycling infrastructure starts from shortly after the so-called "bike boom" of the 1880s when the first short stretches of dedicated bicycle infrastructure were built, through to the rise of the automobile from the mid-20th century onwards and the concomitant decline of cycling as a means of transport, to cycling's comeback from the 1970s onwards.


  • Timeline 1
    • Pre-motorisation 1.1
    • Pre World War II 1.2
      • United Kingdom 1.2.1
    • Post World War II 1.3
    • 1970s 1.4
      • United Kingdom 1.4.1
      • The Netherlands 1.4.2
      • United States 1.4.3
    • 1980s to present 1.5
  • See also 2
  • References 3



The California Cycle-Way, 1900

By the end of the 19th century, cycling was growing from a hobby to an established form of transport. Cyclists campaigned to improve the existing, often poorly surfaced, roads and tracks. A US group was the Good Roads Movement.[1][2] The UK equivalent was the Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC), which distributed a treatise entitled Roads:Their construction and maintenance.[3]

The first bicycle paths were built around this time. In the Netherlands the bicycle was introduced in 1870 and by the 1920s was the most popular mode of transportation (at about 75%). The first bicycle path was a 1.4 km stretch built in 1899 with two paved bicycle paths alongside the Breda-Tilburg cobblestone road.[4]

In 1896 the first bikeway in the United States was created by splitting the pedestrian way of Ocean Parkway (Brooklyn). Following this successful installation numerous bicycle paths separate from the roadway were constructed by "bicycle path associations". In the United States the first was the nine-mile dedicated Cycle-Way built in 1897 to connect Pasadena, California to Los Angeles. Its right of way followed the stream bed of the Arroyo Seco and required 1,250,000 board feet (2,950 m3) of pine to construct. The roundtrip toll was 15¢ US and it was lit with electric lights along its entire length. The route did not succeed, and the right of way later became the route for the Arroyo Seco Parkway, an automobile freeway opened in 1940.[5] In Germany, concerns arose regarding conflicts between cyclists, horse traffic and pedestrians. The first cycle tracks were constructed in Bremen in 1897, Hanover in 1989 and there were extensive plans for Hamburg as early as 1899.[6]

Pre World War II

With the advent of the motor car, conflict arose between the increasingly powerful car lobby and bicycle users.[3] By the 1920s and 1930s the German car lobbies initiated efforts to have cyclists removed from the roads so as to improve the convenience of motoring.[7] In the UK, the cycling lobby was attempting to remove motor vehicles from the roads by calling for the building of special "motor roads" to accommodate them.[8] This idea was opposed by the Motorists' Union, who feared that it would lead to motorists' losing the freedom to use public roads.[8]

United Kingdom

In 1926 the CTC discussed an unsuccessful motion calling for cycle tracks to be built on each side of roads for "the exclusive use of cyclists", and that cyclists could be taxed, providing the revenue was used for the provision of such tracks.[9] Since the 1930s, the established cycling lobby in the UK and Ireland has taken a critical and measured view of the utility and value of segregating cyclists.[10] In 1947, in response to official suggestions that cyclists should use cycle-tracks, the CTC adopted a motion expressing determined opposition to cycle paths alongside public roads.[3]

The first (and one of the very few) dedicated roadside optional cycle tracks was built, as an experiment for the Ministry of Transport, beside Western Avenue between Hanger Lane and Greenford Road in 1934.[11] It was thought that "the prospect of cycling in comfort as well as safety would be appreciated by most cyclists themselves".[11] However, the idea ran into trenchant opposition from cycling groups, with the CTC distributing pamphlets warning against the threat of cycle paths.[3][12]

Local CTC branches organised mass meetings to reject the use of cycle tracks and any suggestion that cyclists should be forced to use such devices.[13] In 1935, a packed general meeting of the CTC adopted a motion rejecting ministerial plans for cycle path construction.[3] The CTC were listened to, and the use of cycle tracks largely fell out of favour in the UK until the early 1970s.

Post World War II

Makeshift bike racks in Slovenia (1956)

In the UK, little use of separate cycle track systems took place except in the so-called "new towns" such as Stevenage and Harlow. From the end of the 1960s in Nordic countries, the Swedish SCAFT guidelines on urban planning were highly influential and argued that non-motorised traffic must be segregated from motorised traffic wherever possible. Under the influence of these guidelines cyclists and pedestrians were treated as a homogeneous group to be catered for using similar facilities.

The guidelines strongly influenced cities such as Helsinki and Västerås to build large cycle path networks. By the late 1960s and 1970s, with the cyclists mainly gone, many German towns began removing cycle tracks so as to accommodate more car parking. Increasing traffic congestion and the 1970s oil shocks contributed to a resurgence in cycling in some countries, notably the Netherlands and Denmark. Outside of SCAFT-inspired developments in Nordic countries, the use of segregated cycle facilities was mainly confined to university towns with established populations of bicycle users. For example in 1966, a 'Bicycle Lane' group in the City of Davis, California were elected to the City Council promising to push for bike lanes in the state of California, achieving them early in Davis.[14]


United Kingdom

In 1970 in the United Kingdom, the Milton Keynes Development Corporation produced the "Master Plan for Milton Keynes".[15] One of the important elements of this plan, and of its subsequent implementation, was the Milton Keynes redway system of segregated cycle/pedestrian paths. These are fully separated from the road system, only occasionally running alongside it. One of the aims of the redways was to make travel for pedestrians and cyclists convenient, safe, pleasant and accident free, but a study suggests that the system has only partially met these expectations.[16]

More recent statistical data shows that the accident rate for pedestrians in Milton Keynes is just 46% of the average for England and the rate for cyclists is 87%.[17] However, the secluded semi-rural nature of many redways that make them pleasant by day can make some people feel unsafe to use them after dark.[17]

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, bicycle use declined from the post-war period up to about 1975 as automobile use increased and commuting distances increased. Bicycle traffic policy was almost completely excluded from the national government vision. Things began to turn around in about 1972 with not just the oil crisis, but also the all-time peak in traffic deaths - especially among children, the most vulnerable of road users - leading to the mass Stop de Kindermoord ('Stop the Child Murder') protest. Local and national policy began to pay more attention to cycling. Bicycle use, which had been dropping dramatically, stabilized and even rose over the next two decades.[18] Amsterdam's traffic circulation plan of 1978 gave priority to bicycle facilities, in particular separated cycle tracks, which also meant taking some road space away from motor vehicles. The national government soon followed with subsidies for constructing bike paths alongside secondary and minor roads so that "lost ground could be made up".[4] Another famous traffic circulation plan that gave priority to the bicyclist is effective in Groningen.[19]

United States

In 1971 in the United States, the California state government contracted with John Forester, a cyclist representative, became a member he concluded that the real motivation for moving cyclists aside was the convenience of motorists, although the stated reason was the safety of cyclists.[23]

When serious safety issues were identified with the proposed designs, the resulting cyclist opposition discredited the designs and prevented enactment of a mandatory side-path law. This forced the state to start over with new bikeway design standards in 1976. Those designs were subsequently adapted by the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to form the first edition of the AASHTO Guide for Bicycle Facilities, which is widely followed in the USA.[21]

1980s to present

Center lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue looking toward the U.S. Capitol

The 1980s saw the start of experimental cycle route projects in Danish towns such as Århus, Odense and Herning, and the beginning of a large programme of cycle facilities construction as part of a "bicycle masterplan" in the Netherlands. Following the "bicycle boom" of the early 1980s, German towns began revisiting the concept.[24]

The use of segregated cycle facilities is promoted by a large segment of the cycling community, for example lane and path cyclists, and also by many organisations associated with the environmental movement. The rise of the "Green" movement in the 1990s has been accompanied by requests for the construction of cycle networks in many countries. This has led to various high-profile cycle network projects, in Montreal, Dublin, Portland, New York, Boston,[25] and many other cities.

See also


  1. ^ "League of American Wheelman 1896 Ride". League of Illinois Bicyclists. Retrieved 29 August 2007. 
  2. ^ "Lincoln Highway: Photos: From Wyoming Tales and Trails". Retrieved 29 August 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Oakley, William (1977). Winged Wheel: The History of the First Hundred Years of the Cyclists' Touring Club. Cyclists Touring Club.  
  4. ^ a b Directorate General for Passenger Transport (9 March 1991). "The Dutch Bicycle Master Plan 1999" (PDF). Het Masterplan Fiets. Minister of Public Transport, Public Works and Water Management. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  5. ^ T. D. Denham. "California's Great Cycle-Way". Infrastructure. U.S. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved 21 October 2007. 
  6. ^ Burkhard Horn (translated by Shane Foran) (9 March 1991). "The decline of a means of mass transport to the history of urban cycle planning". Bicycle Research Report 136. Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad Club/European Cyclists Federation (on the Galway Cycling Campaign website). Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 29 August 2007. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Robert Davis (1992). Death on the Streets: Cars and the mythology of road safety. Leading Edge Press.  
  9. ^ "The Cyclists' Touring Club: Proposal for Special Cycle Tracks Defeated". The Times. 12 April 1926. 
  10. ^ Getting rid of the Cyclists: Frank Urry and the 1938 DoT Advisory Committee by Jeremy Parker, (accessed 27 January 2007)
  11. ^ a b "Roadside Cycle Tracks: An Experiment At Greenford". The Times. 7 June 1934. 
  12. ^ The Perils of the Cycle Path, Cyclists Touring Club, 1935
  13. ^ Notes from history and the Hull mass cyclist demonstration of 1935 by Howard Peel, The Bike Zone, The Thinking Cyclist, accessed 23 January 2007
  14. ^ Skinner, Pelz will recount Davis bike lanes’ history – the Davis Enterprise, 11 April 2012
  15. ^ Modern Milton Keynes: the master plan MK Web
  16. ^ , July/August 1999Traffic Engineering + Control" by John Franklin, Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes"
  17. ^ a b MKi Observatory: Quality of life indicators – Community safety. 2003/2004 data.
  18. ^ Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat, Fietsberaad (2009). "Cycling in the Netherlands" (PDF). Cycling in the Netherlands. Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ UCLA School of Engineering and Applied Science; Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering (April 1972). "Bikeway Planning Criteria and Guidelines" ( 
  21. ^ a b  
  22. ^ Ullrich, Howard. "SCR 47 Statewide Bicycle Committee" (PDF). Final Report. Retrieved 22 January 2008. 
  23. ^  
  24. ^ Maddox, Heath (2001). "Another look at Germany's bicycle boom: implications for local transportation policy & planning strategy in the USA" (PDF). World Transport Policy & Practice 7 (3): 44–8. 
  25. ^ Freedman, Nicole, "Boston Bike Czar calls city 'bike-friendly,' says 'ridership has doubled in three years'", The Boston Globe, 27 January 2011
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