Roads Were Not Built For Cars has 170,000 words spread liberally over fifteen finely-argued chapters. There’s also a stonking great appendix detailing the 65 car marques that had bicycling beginnings, a 21-page index (print book only) and a roads history timeline. The notes and references – all 90,000 words of them – are online.
PEDAL POWER: In the 1890s, American cyclists were a force to be reckoned with. They voted for candidates in favour of Good Roads, and could decide local and national elections. Behind the scenes, officials from the League of American Wheelmen were cogs in the Federal government machine.
FROM KING OF THE ROAD TO CYCLE CHIC: Cyclists of the 1880s and 1890s were transport progressives. Many later morphed into motorists. When bicycles became affordable to the masses the social cachet of cyclists became but a memory. By the 1920s cycling was “poor man’s transport” and in the 1960s it was thought that everybody would soon own a car, and that bicycles would become extinct.
WITHOUT BICYCLES MOTORING MIGHT NOT EXIST: The first automobiles contained more cycle DNA than horse-drawn carriage DNA. In the 1890s there was a seamless transfer of technology, personnel, and finance between bicycle and motor car companies. Pioneer racing drivers, motoring journalists and automobile event organisers tended to have cut their teeth in the world of cycling.
MOTORING’S BICYCLING BEGINNINGS: The motorists and cyclists of the 1890s and early 1900s were not from different sections of society – they were frequently the exact same people. Motoring pioneers originally celebrated their cycling credentials. By the end of the 1920s, with the development of its proletarian image, cycling’s vital contribution to the development of motoring was deliberately suppressed.
AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN TRANSPORT NETWORK: For a few brief years, the intense interest in cycling from American progressives led to the creation of the world’s best facilities for what was felt to be the urban transport mode of the future.
GOOD ROADS FOR AMERICA: The push to pave America was started in the 1880s by cyclists who wanted smooth roads. The “Goods Roads” movement snowballed before the introduction of motor cars.
“THE MECCA OF ALL GOOD CYCLISTS”: For the final 30 years of the 19th century, Ripley in Surrey was the go-to destination for the smart set of the day. The 10 miles between the Angel Inn at Thames Ditton and the Anchor Hotel at Ripley were world-famous, and busy with cyclists on all manner of machines. Many of those who would go on to become influential motor magnates cycled along the “Ripley Road” and, years later, would gather for nostalgic reunions.
“WHAT THE BICYCLIST DID FOR ROADS”: In 1886, ten years before the arrival of motor cars, a group of well-heeled individuals created an influential organisation that lobbied for better road surfaces, and pushed for the nationalisation of Britain’s neglected highways. The trailblazing Roads Improvement Association eventually became the cornerstone of the “motor lobby” but it was founded, funded and originally run by cyclists.
HARDTOP HISTORY: Asphalt is a bitumen-and-aggregate carpeting that’s so ubiquitous it’s invisible. Blacktop has a long history but there was no inevitability about its mainstream adoption. It took many years of trial and error before the modern recipe was settled upon. In the meantime, many roads were capped with granite setts, dusty macadam and forgiving rubber. London’s roads, like that of many other cities, were surfaced with Australian hardwoods.
WIDTH: Many roads have been wide for hundreds of years. They were widened not for motor cars but to reduce congestion, to create better vistas, to prevent insurrection or to create healthier, wealthier streets.