In 1900, Los Angeles Had a Bike Highway — and the US Was a World Leader in Bike Lanes

Categories: Mobility

The Coney Island Cycle Path

n the mid-1890s, America's bike craze took off in earnest. And in 1894, the Coney Island Cycle Path became one of the world's first bike-specific routes. The 5.5-mile, crushed limestone route was laid in the median of the existing Ocean Parkway, connecting Brooklyn's Prospect Park to Coney Island.

"Opened in mid-summer, the Coney Island Cycle Path was an instant success. So successful, in fact, that the path’s crushed limestone surface had to be repaired within a month of opening, and the pressure of numbers caused the path to be widened," writes Carlton Reid, author of the fascinating book Roads Were Not Built for Cars.

The path was mostly used for recreation and brought crowds of cyclists out to Coney Island during the summer months. Controversy eventually struck when so-called "scorchers" — daredevil cyclists who rode at high speeds — began to hit crossing pedestrians, leading to a 12 mph speed limit, enforced by police.

Still, the path remained popular, and unlike the other projects on this list, it's still largely intact — though it's now paved with asphalt:

The sidepaths of Rochester, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles

The success of the Coney Island Cycle Path spurred cyclists in Upstate New York to push for local governments to build similar bike-specific routes that would run alongside roads, funded by tolls.

The idea was that by building these relatively smooth, sometimes paved paths — often called "sidepaths" — next to rutted country roads, cyclists would demonstrate the benefits of road investment to teamsters and farmers, who'd then support the campaign for paved roads in general.

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