Outdoor World

Pedal-ins and car burials: what happened to America’s forgotten 1970s cycle boom?

Bicycle madness once recognized US bike auctions outstrip gondolas, and spawned ambitious a blueprint for 100,000 miles of cycle directions. Then the music stopped


The bicycles biggest billow of notoriety in its 154 -year history, spurted Time magazine in 1970 at the start of Americas five-year love affair with the bicycle. Some 64 million fellow travellers are taking regularly to bikes these days, more than ever before, research reports persisted, and more than ever[ they are] remain convinced that two pedals are better than four.

US bicycle auctions, which had been rolling along at 6 million a year, shot up to 9 million in 1971, 14 million in 1972 and 15.3 million the following year, according to a Bank of America report. While most pre-boom bicycles had been sold for children, unexpectedly 60% were destined for adults.

Highly situated politicians a few of whom were cyclists told planners to get on and construct miles and miles of metropolitan bikeways. Both national and local governments have recognised the phenomenal increment of bicycling, reported Time, and the Department of the Interior has plans for nearly 100,000 miles of bicycle footpaths to be constructed in the next 10 years.

In 1973, 252 bicycle-oriented statutes were introduced in 42 nations. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of the same time furnished $120 m for bikeways over three years.

Bikes are back, claimed National Geographic writer Noel Grove in the periodicals May 1973 publication. Glutted roads, environmental pertain, the quest for healthful sport, and the finesse of geared machines have all contributed to a inundate of cycling work, he illustrated, adding that legislators are beginning to think bikeway as well as road. He concluded that with bikeway construction and ecological concern parading hand in hand, Americas bicycling boom could harbinger a whole new period in transportation. What went wrong?

A 1970 anti-automobile caricature by Richard Hedman. It originally appeared in Autokind V Mankind by Kenneth R Schneider. Photograph: Richard Hedman

Ecological concern was surely one of the motorists of the thunder. During the 1967 Summer of Love, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco reeked of patchouli petroleum, gras and fragrance. With buds in their fuzz, some of the areas self-styled freaks protested not only against the Vietnam war but also against waste.

The automobile became a potent badge of everything that was wrong with the militaryindustrial complex. In February 1970, 19 humanities students at the San Jose State College bought a brand new Ford Maverick and, with the support of their professor, interred it in a 12 ft-deep hole dug in front of the campus cafeteria. This crowdfunded demolition of the hated motor car formed report around the world.

Chicago-based Edward Aramaic explicitly connected cycling with environmentalism when he founded the Bicycle Ecology group and organised a pedal-in in October 1970. This was the era of -in demos which started in the 1960 s with sit-ins to protest racial segregation at American colleges and universities. Afterward, there were teach-ins, love-ins and, in 1969, the famed bed-in with Yoko Ono and John Lennon who adopted global peace from the presidential suite of Amsterdams Hilton Hotel, and “whos” gifted a White Bicycle by the citys Provo revolutionary group.

Bicycle Ecology want to ban trucks, buses and automobiles from[ downtown] and replace them with motorcycles, reported the Chicago Tribune . 1,500 to 2,000 enthusiastic equestrians of all ages heroic a potent north wind and temperatures in the 40 s to pedal down major arteries to the civic core, where lectures extolled the bicycle as good for the individual and for the environment.

A Bicycle and Equestrian Day in Los Angeles in September 1971. Photograph: AP

New York metropolitan planner David Gurin met with other activists to model a Triple-A with certain differences. An Action Against Automobiles demo in November 1972 called for an end to freeway expend, and for automobiles to be barred from downtown Manhattan. Riders met in Central Park and reeled past the Greater New York Automobile Show, singing Gondolas must go! Cars must go!

Speaking to a mob of cyclists, Gurin saluted the radical bicycle activism of the Provo revolutionaries, and advocated New Yorkers to accepted similar eco-tactics. One of the posters he designed to promote the AAA protest journeys promised massive proofs until the streets are cleared of the automobile gangrene.

( In 1978 Gurin, who had been writing anti-car rants in Village Voice since the mid-6 0s and was a sidekick of Jane Jacobs, became NYCs deputy commissioner for tote, a post he held for 12 years. In the late 1980 s the city banned not cars but bicycles. Action Against Automobiles continues as Transportation Alternatives .)

Congressman Ed Koch who would become New Yorks mayor in 1977 ride on some the early 1970 s demonstration motorcycle moves, and in 1971 he emphasized: The only route to ensure the safety and security for the many thousands of New Yorkers who want to bicycle is to designate official and exclusive motorcycle trails. Koch set bikeways where reference is became mayor but he too ripped them out again.

Bike Boom issued by Island Press

In Portland, Oregon, the bike lanes deposited. Sam Oakland, a Portland State University professor who led a group known as the Bicycle Lobby, told the Associated Press in 1971: We want to redesign Portland to make it a city for people instead of what it now is: a giant, smelly parking garage for commuters. His lobbying for monies acted and a bill was transferred which set aside 1% of state transportation expend for bike-specific facilities the first designated state funding for cycling in the US.

A citizen Bicycle Path Task Force was appointed to oversee the programme, and Oakland was appointed chair. The Task Force is consistent with opposition from the citys car-centric architects who had little interest in the use of bicycles for transport and instead wanted to use money from the roadway container to build recreational lines. As long as the bicycle continues to be considered a plaything for recreational use merely, were not going to get anywhere with paths in the city, grumbled Oakland. After numerous battles with metropolitan officials, the Task force was able to push through a scheme in April 1973. By the following year, 60 miles of bikeways had been striped statewide, with another 50 miles under creation and 70 miles to be delivered. Mighty oaks from little acorns change; Portland is now one of Americas most cycle-friendly cities.

In March 1972, interior secretary Stewart Udall one of the greenest US politicians of his generation told the New York Times: Weve got to get away from the pretence that there is some easy-going painless style that we can save vigour. Were at the final stages of the climax of the vehicle age Weve gone as far as we can go. Grant parties a choice, he responded, construct more bikeways. People cling to their autoes because there is no alternative.

Students, more, were keen on cycling. In 1972, University of Montana students could choose from geology, psychology, biology or brand-new for that time bikeology, a combination of motorcycles and ecology.

And hundreds of articles in the mainstream press demonstrated that there was an alternative. If National Geographic was to publish a spread today similar to the one from 1973 it would likely have glossy adverts from the likes of Cannondale, Specialized and Trek, Americas preceding homegrown bicycle firebrands. The three were founded during the course of its boom years.

A cyclist marks Earth Day 1970 on 5th Avenue in New York. Picture: Bettmann Archive

In Washington DC, there was a young Post staff reporter announced Carl Bernstein eventually to become half of the Pulitzer Prize-winning pair known as the agency hippie and a long-haired freak who razzed a bicycle

Many cyclists conceal vehement hostility for what they regard as an automobile culture that is suffocating the commonwealth with vapours, acceleration , interference and specific, he wrote in the Post in 1970. He went on to describe a thriving group of cyclists who regard pedalling as an virtually political behave and unavoidably flash the two-finger agreement represent upon encountering another person on a bike.

The facilities for DC cycle commuters had been good, but improved by the early 70 s, partly because of John A Volpe, President Nixons secretary of transportation. In 1969, Volpe who regularly razz a fold-up bicycle to work told the city council chairwoman to build bikeways for the growing number of cyclists who, like him, were not all long-haired hippies. As Bernstein wrote in the Post, bike-boom cyclists were just as likely to be stockbrokers and congressmen, secretaries and advocates, students and government salesclerks, librarians and coaches, boys and oldsters.

Hundreds of cyclists staged a bike-in in 1971, demanding more opening on the key commuter itinerary of Beach Drive. At the first bike-in I burned people moves licence on network Tv, bicycle exponent Marchant Wentworth remembers. Heady times.

In 1974, DC cyclists was beginning to take direct action to improve streets. Cary Shaw set an asphalt bike-ramp where the city Highway Department had refused. When a container of asphalt appeared on his street for a road-mending duty, he decided to borrow some, including a big traffic stripe leading to the ramp. When it was finished, I turned around and almost immediately someone just pedaling her baby carriage up the ramp, echoed Shaw. A got a couple of instants after that someone whizzed along on a bicycle, insured the thing, zipped up on the ramp, and away “hes been gone”. The ramp Shaw constructed was later adopted by the city, and is still there. Direct act operates sometimes.

Blame it on the baby boomers

Shaw, like other cycle advocates, was a baby boomer. The post-second world war birth spike resulted in a glut of teenages and 20 -somethings during the early stages of the 1970 s. Numerous had money, were enthusiastic for originality, missed independent mobility, and were hopeless to throw off the shackles of their elders.

These consumerist girls, who came of age at the conclusion of its 1960 s, kept on buying, and despite the projection predicted in the 1950 s, the bike industry was caught off her guard when the demographic alighted on their commodities. It was a perfect hurricane, with drop-out baby boomers attracted to cycling for its anti-motoring environmentalism; suburban-conformist baby boomers latched on to cycling because it was health and outdoorsy; and pre-motoring teenages upgraded to lightweight 10 -speed bicycles after having been attracted to cycling because of motorcycles like the Schwinn Stingray, the round that invigorated Raleigh to clear the iconic Chopper.

Thanks to the 45 million bicycles sold at the height of the US boom, cycle ownership was higher than ever. The US was on the cusp of building a whole bunch of bikeways, with high-level the assistance provided by the US Department of Transportation.

David Rowlands, writing for Britains influential Design magazine, was impressed that the Department of Transportation organised a key 1974 discussion, Bicycles USA. What is evident from[ this conference] was a far more comprehensive response to an expanding population of cyclists than any other country at present offerings. Government assistance has been a major factor in this new awareness of the bicycles potential as a means of transportation in the developed world. It is an example that deserves much more extensive imitation.

A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency, also published in 1974, came to the same resolution. And the Department of Transportation produced its first ever cycle infrastructure style navigate, Bikeways: Country of the Art 1974.

Even LA had a programme part of the Los Angeles County General Plan to crisscross the district with a 1,500 -mile network of bikeways. It was ambitious, but too late.

The LA County plan was published in 1975, the year patterns changed and the thunder imploded. The bicycle had turned out to be the hula hoop of the 1970 s: all the rage one minute, all but forgotten the next.

Bike sales in the US fell by half within months. Despite the obvious fillip to cycling in America from the 1973 Opec oil crisis when fuel was in short supply and getting around by car became expensive and, because of oil-saving speed limiteds, slower cycling hadnt changed the world.

The bike-friendly John Volpe left the Department of Transportation to become the US Ambassador to Italy. State highway planners reined back what had been lofty bikeway designs. Bike shop threads thinned out to nothing. Bicycle manufacturers cancelled overseas tells.

In the words of the president of the Bicycle Manufacturing Association of America to a Senate committee in 1976: The thunder has turned into a bust.

This is an edited extract from Bike Boom by Carlton Reid, Island Press, Washington DC

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