Did you know that arguments about bikes, and bike paths, go back more than 100 years?


For a brief moment at the end of the 1890s bicycle boom, a “sidepath” movement imagined cities and towns connected not only by roads but also by a separate, bicycle-specific network of improved paths. But within a few years, most cyclists abandoned sidepaths and instead gave their enthusiastic support to the “Good Roads” movement, initially led by the League of American Wheelmen. The American Automobile Association was founded in 1901. The League of American Wheelman basically closed its doors the next year.


On the newly paved “Good Roads” bicycles were defined as vehicles with a legal right to ride on them. But as the automobile grew in popularity and speed, and roads were continually re-designed for their use, automobiles eventually began to crowd out bicycles. Meanwhile, the earlier sidepaths were more-or-less completely forgotten after they had been paved over as part of widened roads.


The sidepath movement was a path not taken in America. At the invitation of Wilmington Wheels and Walks, historian and author Professor James Longhurst, whose book “Bike Battles” describes this almost completely forgotten history (as well as a a of other forgotten parts of the history of the bicycle in America), spoke at the Brandywine Hundred Library on Monday. He also drew his own lessons from this history. His #1 lesson? The importance of dedicated funding for cycling.


About Professor James Longhurst


James Longhurst is a historian of urban and environmental policy, and the author of Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road (2015). He is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, with a Ph.D. in history and policy from Carnegie Mellon University. His first book, Citizen Environmentalists (2010), described the rise of local environmental organizing in Pittsburgh and the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. He is a local bicycle advocate and a road cyclist, bike commuter, amateur mechanic, social rider, and lapsed recreational triathlete.

Did you know that arguments about bikes, and bike paths, go back more than 100 years?

For a brief moment at the end of the 1890s bicycle boom, a “sidepath” movement imagined cities and towns connected not only by roads but also by a separate, bicycle-specific network of improved paths. But within a few years, most cyclists abandoned sidepaths and instead gave their enthusiastic support to the “Good Roads” movement, initially led by the League of American Wheelmen. The American Automobile Association was founded in 1901. The League of American Wheelman basically closed its doors the next year.

On the newly paved “Good Roads” bicycles were defined as vehicles with a legal right to ride on them. But as the automobile grew in popularity and speed, and roads were continually re-designed for their use, automobiles eventually began to crowd out bicycles. Meanwhile, the earlier sidepaths were more-or-less completely forgotten after they had been paved over as part of widened roads.

The sidepath movement was a path not taken in America. At the invitation of Wilmington Wheels and Walks, historian and author Professor James Longhurst, whose book “Bike Battles” describes this almost completely forgotten history (as well as a a of other forgotten parts of the history of the bicycle in America), spoke at the Brandywine Hundred Library on Monday. He also drew his own lessons from this history. His #1 lesson? The importance of dedicated funding for cycling.

About Professor James Longhurst

James Longhurst is a historian of urban and environmental policy, and the author of Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road (2015). He is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, with a Ph.D. in history and policy from Carnegie Mellon University. His first book, Citizen Environmentalists (2010), described the rise of local environmental organizing in Pittsburgh and the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. He is a local bicycle advocate and a road cyclist, bike commuter, amateur mechanic, social rider, and lapsed recreational triathlete.