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Could’ve been peace in the Middle East if only they’d built the Great Arab Cycleway in 1901

In the July 1900 US edition of the mass-circulation Pearson’s Magazine, journalist W.L. Alden wrote of a grandiose plan to construct a long-distance “asphalt cycle track” between Damascus and a Red Sea port, possibly Aqaba.

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“An enterprising American engineer…proposes to lay out an asphalt cycle track from Damascus to a port on the Persian gulf, and not only to supply bicycles to all persons using the track, but also to charge a small toll.

“The construction of the cycle track would cost very little in comparison with building a railway, and the cost of operating the route by bicycles would be next to nothing, after the first cost of the machines had been defrayed.

“Cycling resorts would spring up all along the route, and the announcement that “tea, and soda and milk” could be had at all hours, would occupy the place once occupied by the gate of the Garden of Eden.
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“Tricycles, worked by Arabs, would be required for the transportation of babies, and invalids and luggage would be carried in the cycling vans which are now used by tradesmen for the delivery of goods.

“The cyclist would find a gentle descent all the way from Damascus to the Gulf…If this engineer carries out his plan, and furnishes a first-class cycling route across Mesopotamia, he will not only be a benefactor of his race, but he will make a fortune many times greater than that of any railroad millionaire.”

Naturally, the piece was a playful skit rather than a genuine plan – W.L. Alden was a humorist – but the editorial which followed from C. Arthur Pearson, the magazine publisher, was perfectly serious. The nine page editorial by British baronet Sir Cyril Arthur Pearson lobbied for further improvements to be made to America’s roads. His globally-respected magazine carried adverts for automobiles but he was in no doubt who, to date, had done the most to improve America’s roads:

In treating with this subject of good roads…It is the cyclists who are largely at the bottom of what has already been accomplished. In working for their own good, they have extended a benefit to the whole community, the magnitude of which could hardly be exaggerated.

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