Bike Cycle: Doomed to Repeat History?

Is the current bicycle boom simply part of a never-ending bike cycle, wherein the press rattles on and Americans ride a little more, but real progress is never made?

I’m contemplating this question after reading an article from 1941 in Click Magazine that I found at a book fair, entitled: “Bike Cycle?  How to Go Places Without Gasoline.”  At first glance, the article seemed to be a bit of vintage fun, like the preceding article, “Your hat in 1941 will show how you feel about the war.”  Step-through frames with baskets!  Women on bikes in skirts!  Men in suits riding to the train station!

However, as I read the article, I realized it was eerily similar to the issues presented today.  Take out the retrograde parts about “men” going to the office and “housewives,” and the piece could have been in the latest issue of Time. The writer seemed very excited about the future of transportation cycling in America, yet 70 years later there’s been no progress.  To me this is horrific in a Twilight Zone kind of way.

Below I present the article in its entirety (apologies to the original copyright holders).  I bolded and italicized the parts that struck me the most and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Bike Cycle? how to go places without gasoline

BIKE CYCLE?  HOW TO GO PLACES WITHOUT GASOLINE

Town and country have both witnessed the return of the bicycle as a pleasure vehicle.  During the Gay Nineties, heyday of cycling, only 10% of the bicycles sold were made for women.  Today women buy over 30% of the bicycles made.  College girls like those on the right helped bring back the bicycle’s popularity. In cities, bicycles must obey all traffic laws.  Bicycle fans want state registration and license tags just like automobiles.

When the phrase “they never come back” was muttered about the American bicycle, the mutterers were muttering too soon. True enough, bicycle sales in America dropped from a high of 1,089,000 in 1899 to 180,000 in 1932. But then the great comeback started. Last year, bicycle sales reached an all time American high – more than 1,300,000 were sold. Cycle paths were built in city parks, and women took the wheel in amazing numbers. As a fun vehicle, the bicycle’s comeback was complete.

"Today, women buy over 30% of the bicycles made."

Now, with gasoline shortages looming importantly on our horizon, the bicycle is making a serious bid for at least some of the jobs being performed by automobiles. It is no longer necessary to release pictures like the one above to make people bicycle-concious. Bike lovers see their two-wheelers usurping most of the duties of the family car – and they might be right.

Men who now use automobiles to drive to the railroad station while they commute from suburb to city daily may follow the lead of commuters like Norman Hill, who pedals two miles from his home to the Maplewood, N.J. station in ten minutes every morning. He parks his bike there all day.

The huge quantities of gasoline now being burned by the cheap second-hand cars many families maintain for children who go to rural and suburban schools can well be saved by sending them to school on bicycles. Bikes are healthier, often less dangerous than cars.

"Suburbanites find they can make two wheels do the work of four."

Housewives who now drive a mile or less to do their shopping may soon find themselves faced with the alternative of cycling or walking to the store. But many American women, like this suburban Pennsylvania matron, find that cycle shopping can be completely practical.

The pleasures of parking and touring the countryside are enjoyed by any bicycle owner who desires them. A pair of shorts are all this girl needs in the way of special cycling clothes. The growth of roadside youth hostels has paved the way for bicycle tours covering hundreds of enjoyable miles.

"...and get an amusing exercise program out of legwork that replaces gasoline."

With the private family car completely eliminated by the fortunes of World War II all over Europe, most people are finding bicycles to be their only form of private transportation.  Gadgets like this side car for Parisian youngsters are becoming more and more common in European city streets.

American schools and factories may soon have to erect bicycle garages like this one in Paris if gasoline shortages on this side of the Atlantic become even remotely as acute as they are in contemporary Europe.  Cycling enthusiasts say this will make for healthier Americans.

"Bicycles have already replaced automobiles in Europe"

Prominent Americans love bikes.  Bicycle enthusiasts take great pride in the prominent Americans who ride bikes.  Civilian Defense Director La Guardia must have seen this picture of Grover Whalen before he appointed him director of the gas-saver drive.

L to R: Lana Turner, Wendell Willkie, Ann Rutherford, Grover Whalen

Click Magazine, 1941

What do you think – Fun piece of vintage bike history or terrible sign of the status quo?  I’m afraid that in another 70 years another article like this will be written and nothing will have changed.

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101 thoughts on “Bike Cycle: Doomed to Repeat History?

  1. Maggie says:

    Eerie. If you hadn’t include the pages from the original article, I would have forgotten it was written in 1941.

  2. dukiebiddle says:

    There are some significant differences between the world we’re facing in 2010 compared to the one being faced by American readers of in 1941. Fuel was artificially inflated by the war effort and gas rationing. We are not currently suffering an international crisis beyond a sluggish economy. Gas prices, as much as we like to complain about them, are not really that horrible right now. Plus, American downtowns had not yet been destroyed by a post war housing shortage, poverty flight, suburbanization or the streetcar companies being bought and closed by the automobile industry. As America spread out and everyone middle class fleeing farther and farther from downtown for 50 years, with no infrastructure being built, transportation cycling simply HAD to be destroyed.

    Now, with more people living below the poverty line in the suburbs than in the cities, a trend that is not going away for the next 50 years, and with affluence and a stronger tax base returning downtown, all urban to suburban communities are left with no choice but to improve their pedestrian and cycling facilities. With the infrastructure in place, I cannot imagine what possible long-term fiscal trend would cause the poor to re-cluster downtown or the more affluent to again move farther out. Cars haven’t gotten any faster and there isn’t any land left to develop within an hour and a half of any medium or large American city.

    • Dottie says:

      This makes sense. One crucial factor you left out, though, is the inevitable production of the long-promised flying cars, at which point all bets are off ;)

      • dukiebiddle says:

        Well, when the flying cars come I’m totally throwing away my bicycle. Duh! Flying cars are almost as awesome as sedan chairs being flown by winged monkeys.

  3. That’s the million dollar question! Very interesting post. See also Patents, Profits, & Perceptions about how tubular tyres almost killed the US bike industry right up until… 1933. When a man named Schwinn inroduced a bike with clincher tyres. Story via CleverCycles and BicycleFixation’s twitter feeds.

    Dare I add… will the US be able to afford maintenance on that enourmous road network purpose-built for cars? Without raising taxes?

    • Dottie says:

      Interesting link.

      Maintaining all these roads is such a waste of money that could go to more worthy projects. I read somewhere that all of the cycling infrastructure put into place in Portland cost the same amount as building one highway interchange.

      • Traci says:

        I read that also Dottie! It’s probably in more than one book, but the one I read it in was Pedaling Revolution, which I thought was a great book. The same book also described how even in Copenhagen, which currently has wonderful bicycle infrastructure, people weren’t too keen on the idea of a bike/pedestrian oriented environment initially. Their thoughts were “We are Danes, not Italians – we won’t come out” which I thought was hilarious. But the total opposite has been true and they have continued eliminating auto use, and promoting biking, as much as possible inside the city. Just goes to show that even if people protest and think they won’t like something, it often makes their lives much better and then they would never want to go back to the former way of life. After all, Denmark is supposed to be the happiest country – and I can definitely see why :)

  4. Rachel says:

    In the 1940s, there was actually a ton of oil left on the earth, despite what this article says about shortages which were, as a previous poster mentioned, due more to political reasons than any actual lack of oil. When you look at where we are currently going to get oil and how much oil it is costing us to drill in those locations, you can clearly see that we are approaching, or possibly past Peak Oil.

    My point is that, yes, historically bike trends have been linked to oil shortages, but those were different kinds of shortages. In my estimation (based on what much more educated people have to say on the topic), we are not heading for a future where everyone goes back to consuming as much gasoline as they like with no immediate consequences because its so cheap and available. Whether that means cycling will become the transportation method of choice, who can say?

    • Dottie says:

      I wonder how much oil we actually have left. I imagine there will be brutal and drawn-out wars to claim the last of the oil when it gets to that point. I mean, we’ve already started…

      • Rachel says:

        Well, if your interested in the topic, and have the clarity of mind to distinguish some really good facts from paranoia, check out the movie “Collapse”. It gives a good picture of just how much oil goes into making everything we rely on, and what the indicators are that we’re starting to run out.

    • Dottie's Gram Bev says:

      l first set foot in a college classroom as a student in the fall 1972 and one of my professors and his wife lived exactly as the couple in the article do – the ones who got rid of most of their belongings. He was a teacher of environmental science and preached about saving the planet in the same way that a recent vice – president won awards for doing. Saving the environment was then a cause but then the cause faded and of course things in the environment only worsened. Dottie, you and Mr. Dottie are much like the couple in the article here and my long ago professor and his wife. Now if only some of those clutter busters who swoop down on the hoarders would swoop down here to my apartment and whittle down my collections of dolls, stuffed toys, photo albums, books and younameitIgotit to only a total of 100 ; )
      ( Well, I DO own a bicycle instead of a car and only live in two rooms, sigh )

  5. Saint Bif says:

    The magazine article is interesting. Thanks for posting it.

    You said, “I’m afraid that in another 70 years another article like this will be written and nothing will have changed.”

    That’s unlikely. The suburbanization of the American landscape that occurred between WWII and 2008 was a one-time deal fed by a very cheap and plentiful energy source, in the form of oil. Cheap oil made the personal automobile, suburbia, and an enormous roadway infrastructure possible. This may turn out to be the largest mis-investment in human history as we used most of our fossil fuel endowment to build a living arrangement so elaborate, consumptive and costly that we cannot afford to take care of it going forward. Tragically we’ll probably squander much of the remaining fossil fuel in the futility of trying our darndest to do that. Its a shame because we could use oil for so many things that are more beneficial than all this motoring about.

    Liquid fuels are going to become less readily available and expensive as we, China, India and a growing population around the world race to place dibs on remaining petroleum reserves and the other essential raw materials for powering modern life. Renewables will be important for our future of course but they won’t scale to gratify the current automobile lifestyle and living arrangement. There are presently 250 million registered automobiles and light trucks in the U.S. This isn’t going to be swapped out for an electrified fleet of personal vehicles, and the masses won’t be running around town in $45K electric cars powered by hundreds of new nuke plants and great armies of wind turbines anytime soon or ever. Nor can we afford to take care of all these roads and automobile infrastructure. At some point we’ll have to let go of this grandiose wishful thinking, and there will have to be some changes in both living arrangements and transportation, whether we like it or not.

    Who can say what the future will look like, and making predictions about it is of course folly, but I believe transportation is about to become an enormous challenge for us, and the solutions are going to be more humble than we presently want to accept. Trains and transit may make a big comeback, and over the next couple decades bicycles will surely be seen less as toys and sporting goods and more as transportation. It’s possible that bicycles as transportation will become enormously important as we go through transition and transformation regarding neccessity of new living arrangements.

    So, my view is your concern that “nothing will have changed” will be short lived, and that things might get very interesting indeed. Your bike may indeed be your friend, and perhaps more so than we can presently imagine.

    • Curly Suze says:

      My oh my, what a topic.

      Have not got the ref handy (saw the newslink on an urban transport blog) but already the trends of growing-suburbs vs shrinking-cities are reversing, and in some places the cities are once again outgrowing their hinterlands.

      Saint Bif, you are correct, the gutting of America’s cities in conjunction with the destruction of much of our finest eastern-US farmland for shopping malls & suburbia happened only because of an unusual conjunction of events: we had enormous quantities of very-high-EROEI oil in domestic locations, our manufacturing facilities were undamaged by WW2 while much the rest of the industrialized got bombed to pieces, and during/after the war we parlayed those advantages into becoming the world’s largest manufacturer, the world’s leading supplier of oil, and the world’s leading creditor. We could afford to use liquid fossil fuels for almost everything, so that’s exactly what we did. The folly of this malinvestment remains in the form of our addiction to the largest personal SUVs we can afford, the huge number of miles most people drive per year, the length of time people spend in their cars, the distances they commute, etc.

      Agreed on predictions being folly. The simple facts are that 90% of the automobile trips in this country are 5 miles or less; we’ve got record levels of obesity in the US; we’re burning through 375 million gallons of gasoline per day, and most of it comes from places that don’t like us very much (probably because we keep “bringing democracy” to them? **).

      According to a study done in the Netherlands, commuting to work by bicycle has got some serious health benefits. Found this on the Commuter Orlando blog a ways back:

      All-Cause Mortality Associated With Physical Activity During Leisure Time, Work, Sports, and Cycling to Work

      They found a 38% mortality rate difference between those who did and those who didn’t.

      Err, can we afford /not/ to ride to work?

      ** Newbie here .. please forgive & advise if something like that is too political, ok?

      • Dottie says:

        Too political? No way :)

        Our “relationship” with the Middle East makes me very nervous and as long as we are so dependent on oil, I think we will be at war there and the war will only get worse as the oil supplies diminish. When I was in 6th grade and my Army dad was away fighting in Desert Storm, no one on the news or real life gave me a decent reason to justify it and the same is true now with “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Control of oil is the true reason for all this war. How’s that for political? But the problem is in both parties and this is beyond politics.

      • Curly Suze says:

        Dottie, thanks. BTW love your blog. It was here that I found the review for the Batavus Entrada Spirit (which happened to be the one Dutch bike that Fourth Floor had in stock in my size) and that sold me on the bike. I’m not exactly a Cycle Chic rider due to the way my metabolism runs so hot .. jeez, if it’s above 60F outside, I need to ride in shorts and a very minimal top. No wearing nice clothing for riding until it gets cooler out :(

        Yesterday I finally had to take the car to work because of a function right after work .. it was a ways away and I needed to be dressed up. In the morning the car got tanked up, and it turned out to have used only $8 in gasoline for the whole month of July. Oh well, am not car-free yet but working on it. Might need to move to a real city environment (like Chicago) for that someday ~ out here it’s just plain old exurbia, with nothing nearby and nary a bike rack within 15 miles.

    • Dottie says:

      This reasoning makes me feel…somewhat optimistic. I think the general public assumes someone somewhere will come up with a replacement for oil that will allow them to continue their lives and driving as if nothing happened.

  6. Jim says:

    What strikes me is the simplicity in the photos… fewer gears, suspension, helmets, lycra.

    Have we made it more complicated, less enjoyable (practical)? Maybe we should repeat history.

    Thanks for bringing the article to the digital age, Dottie. Enjoyed reading it.

    • Dottie says:

      That’s true. The helmet and normal clothes stood out to me the most. So Americans have known for generations that cycling in a skirt is perfectly normal, yet here we are still having to write how-to posts about it.

      • Rosa says:

        It’s gotten so much better, though, just the last ten years – I rode ’60s and earlier stepthroughs all through the ’90s (one was labeled ‘manufactured in the Republic of China’) partly because it was such a pain to get a decent new stepthrough – now there are comfort bikes everywhere.

  7. Trisha says:

    Interesting how much is the same, though for slightly different reasons, as others have noted. Maybe the third time’s the charm for bicycles. :) I do wonder, though, how long it is going to take us to face the changing realities.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Honestly, I think we already are. Although I differ from many commenters here in that I don’t believe that oil prices and availability are what is fueling this. Nor do I believe that it’s a fashion trend. It’s the cities and the suburbs themselves that are changing. Urban planners, to their credit, have been changing the facilities to accommodate the changes their models show will be necessary in the future.

      Great 8 minute PBS video on the subject:

      http://video.pbs.org/video/1550369887

      • Streetsblog reports today that a senate committee has okayed an Obama initiative to work for liveable communities. Apparently the departments for Transportation, Housing & Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency are going to collaborate on this. Livable Communities Act Clears Senate Committee

        • dukiebiddle says:

          Let us hope that when the next party shift happens that all the current initiatives aren’t killed due to reactionary partisanship.

          http://www.denverpost.com/election2010/ci_15673894

          • Hey, interesting angle in that article :) Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood writes on his blog that walking and cycling have steadily taken a larger share of federal transportation money since 1993. This is despite the shifts in party control since then.

            And modal share for walking and cycling has gone up since then too.

            New report shows biking and walking gains

          • dukiebiddle says:

            I’m personally not partisan. The Bush Administration was fairly pro-bicycle too in it’s own way. But, *if* a populist Tea Party revolution takes over the House they’re going to go after and attack every spending initiative of the current administration on ideological grounds with little regard for practical realities or consequences. That’s just partisan populism, and doesn’t really have much to do with either Republican or Democratic policies.

          • dukiebiddle says:

            Oops. “it’s” meant to be its. Pet peeve.

  8. Traci says:

    Wow, this article strikes me as both amusing and disturbing at the same time! I suppose the old saying about history repeating itself is true – this story does remind me of many others I’ve read recently.

    It seems to me that the U.S. especially is never proactive, with people only reacting to current issues. Not sure how many blog readers may have been affected by this, but people may remember the gas “crisis” in the Southeast just a few years ago in 2008. The issue was apparently with several hurricanes preventing the gas trucks from delivering enough fuel to meet the usual demands. Gas stations jacked up the prices to almost $5/gal, there were long lines at the few stations that had gas, and they even began rationing. Atlanta was hit really hard as you can imagine since probably about 95% of the population drives well over 50 miles per day. People were in a complete panic over how they were going to get to where they needed (or wanted) to go and sales of hybrid vehicles immediately went though the roof. Even the numbers of public transportation riders skyrocketed, which is VERY unusual for Atlanta with it’s crappy system.

    But the most ridiculous thing is that rather than learn from this and become proactive (it’s only a matter of time until we have some other “crisis”), people seem to have completely forgotten about it now and have gone back to their usual ways of doing things. Public transportation cuts are rampant, traffic continues to get worse, and people continue driving everywhere.

    • Jeff says:

      I remember the long lines at gas stations and high prices during the OPEC embargo of 1974. What did we do about it?

      1) 1977 – President Carter “…called energy the nation’s top priority and set an ambitious goal for “energy independence” (eliminating reliance on foreign oil by 1980, no less).”

      2) 1980 – Reagan elected, Republicans control presidency for 20 out of the next 28 years. No progress whatsoever (actually, regression) re. energy independence.

      3) 2006 – “President Bush used his State of the Union speech…to propose weaning the United States from its “addiction” to imported oil…”

      Why did it take GWB and the party of Reagan 30 years to figure out what Jimmy Carter already knew? Please, America, let’s not be so stupid in the future…

    • Dottie says:

      Yes, that’s a big problem. Some call it “resilience” but at the end of the day, it’s not helping.

  9. Annalisa says:

    Wow. Very interesting. And that is the million dollar question, isn’t it? I am hoping that as we, as a nation, start to examine our lives a bit, there is a return to city neighborhoods or nearby suburbs, instead of the growing sprawl of the last 20 years. I think the motivator isn’t entirely environmental cost, but quality of life cost. What are we working for? How many hours do we have to work in jobs we don’t like in order to afford that 3500 sq ft house with the huge mortgage?

    And I agree with Jim. I think that over the last few years, we are starting to see a return to simplicity in cycling, which is really nice. Cycling as transportation in addition to recreation. Fixed gear bikes. Fewer gears. And simplicity makes cycling seem much more accessible to people of different body types and athletic ability. And that is wonderful.

    Thanks for the great article, Dottie!

    • Dottie says:

      “How many hours do we have to work in jobs we don’t like in order to afford that 3500 sq ft house with the huge mortgage?”

      Amen! This is what’s become of the American Dream.

  10. Great research and awesome idea for a post. Yeah, the bike is timeless isn’t it? Two wheels on a frame started it all, and it continues today.

    Thanks for providing us with a beautiful post.

    Darryl

  11. Jessica says:

    I do think the technological changes of the bicycle may help us out this time. Not so much in the more-gears more-speed side, although, in all seriousness, I do think that helps. How much was the car helped in its rise by the fantasy of race cars? Rather, I think there are some enormous pragmatic gains since 1941. Look at those pictures–every one of those bikes is just a standard bike with a basket, except for the “novelty” European bike. You can do a lot with a standard bike and a basket, but you can’t even begin to do everything. Americans now have access to things like bikes designed to carry cargo (I’m thinking of the widely available Surly Big Dummy bike, but others certainly exist), easily usable bike trailers, and safer child seats. Those remove some very real checks against the average family’s ability to replace a car with a bike.

    I also think a tremendous help will come as people learn to blend their cars and their bikes. Thanks to the cost of living in our area, I live in a suburb. Doing everything I need to do by bike is virtually impossible. Until such time as we can move to a more bike-able community, we’ve learned to compromise. I take my bike on every errand that I can, and my range is gradually getting longer. My husband commutes by bike in most weather. We save our car for things that really need it, and then try to be as efficient as possible. The infrastructure doesn’t exist, and probably never will exist, for suburbanites to do everything by bike. We’re going to have to accept that, as a culture, and focus on changing what we can. But every car off the road, even for just one trip, is an improvement.

  12. Cherilyn says:

    The pinup character of this article is definitely in line with the cycle chic vibe today!

    I don’t want to be cynical, but given the current political climate, I wonder if America lacks the will to pull away from Big Oil and make the changes needed to gracefully handle the changes that will be required of us in the coming decades. We can hope and be the change we know can happen.

  13. Miss Sarah says:

    Don’t even say those words to me… because they may be true. Based on my research the future of cycling and dependance on oil looks like it will be much the same until people are forced to re-evaluate how they view transportation.

    Every time I sit down to work on my paper I get depressed.

    Transportation (cars versus active transportation) is inherently linked one’s sense of identity. It’s not just about infrastructure (though, that is a start) and safety. The whole way North Americans think about transportation is framed around the motor vehicle.

    I could go on and on but suffice to say, though things may not drastically change in my lifetime, if people didn’t say something or participate in the conversation at all I suppose nothing would ever change.

    :(

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I completely agree on the oil thing, which is why I believe fuel prices have only a minimal influence on the cycling boom. We’re decades away from people being forced to abandon their cars for alternatives. It’s a matter of the alternatives being more or less realistically practical to a significant percentage of the population. Most cities have completed their infrastructure feasibility studies, and it’s a matter paying for and implementing their long term plans.

      As for the identity thing, hasn’t there been some study recently that showed teenagers are something like 40% less likely to get a driver’s license before they turn 18, because they just don’t seem to care as much as previous generations? Or something… I can’t remember where I read that, but that seems to indicate to me some sort of paradigm shift.

      • I agree gas prices aren’t the only issue. People need to see cycling as a realistic alternative if there is to be a big shift. Even today, the multi-car lifestyle is pretty expensive.

        I think this is the article you’re thinking of:

        Is Digital Revolution Driving Decline in U.S. Car Culture? – Advertising Age

        • dukiebiddle says:

          I love how that article puts a negative spin on fewer people driving fewer cars. It all that darned texting ruining the automobile insurance industry. *GASP!* Hey, if kids are less interesting in driving because of their texting or iPhone addictions that’s a hell of a lot better than all the 20 and 30somethings that keep texting and driving at the same time.

      • Miss Sarah says:

        Yeah, it’s really pessimistic, but I honestly think the HUGE shift in transportation culture will occur when people no longer have the choice to drive. The congestion will become unbearable (and I’m thinking people are willing to put up with a lot of car-congestion, despite their complaining) or else people will simply not be able to afford it.

        And I can see a lot of people sacrificing other things in their life first, before getting rid of their car.

        Sad, but I don’t think I’m wrong.

        Of course, this is generally speaking of a “typical” North American municipality. One with some semblance of an urban core but an ever-expanding sprawl.

        • katie says:

          Very true, Miss Sarah! And anyways, since between 1941 and the present we have been building more and more roads specifically for the car (as opposed to car + bicycle), I don’t expect to see any sort of huge culture changes until we all HAVE to. It’s going to be interesting, seeing when/how exactly this tipping point will occur… what would drive us all to give up our cars?

          You’re right in that many people will sacrifice other things in their life before their car. I live in the southeast US… all summer long its been 100 degrees with (what feels like) near 100% humidity! Are people going to give up their air conditioned cars just to hop on a bike and get all sweaty? Nope!

  14. eva says:

    This was a very interesting read. I can not even begin to tell you how many times I have overheard people around town talk about “how much more the rode bikes when gas was $4.50/gal” and how “$3.00/gal isn’t that bad”.

    It disgusts me how that is the mindset. Is it bad that I secretly wish that prices would spike to $10/gal and NEVER come down? I mean, big oil is practically easing us in that direction anyway!

    I’d like to also comment on @dukiebiddle’s comment about teenagers waiting to get their drivers licenses. both my brothers and a solid handful of their friends never got their licenses. They are now in their early 20’s and go by bike or by skateboard everywhere. Keep in mind I live in Orange County, Ca [SUV capitol of the world!] Only a few of their friends drive and when a car is needed to go outside the city they arrange carpools/ride shares.

    • Dottie says:

      Ha, I wish the same thing about gas prices. Unfortunate that it would affect the poor the most, but at that price everyone but the rich would have to scale way back on driving.

  15. Dottie's Gram Bev says:

    No cars were manufactured in the US during WWII and gas was rationed. My big brother Garry – your great uncle – told me about our Dad using a horse and wagon to visit friends and family going between Claremont, NH – where I was born – to Beverly, MA and back. He also delivered milk in a horse and milk wagon for a dairy in Lynn, Ma after we moved there. I wish I remembered those times but I was a baby then.

    • Annalisa says:

      Dottie’s Gram – I was just in Beverly, MA last weekend. It’s amazing how rural parts of Cape Ann feel even today. No horses and buggies though. I bet it was a lot different back then though!

      • Dottie's Gram Bev says:

        A lot of downtown Beverly is the same as it was when I was a kid and it feels like stepping back in time to go there. Both of my grandparents houses are still there and haven’t changed very much.

    • Dottie says:

      That’s awesome, Gram! I would’ve loved to see how everything was back then, too.

      • Dottie's Gram Bev says:

        We were so poor that my sister and I had to share a bicycle and she always hogged it except for the times when I’d get up at the crack of dawn and sneak out with it. ; )

  16. Dottie's Gram Bev says:

    …. continued; I imagine a lot of people rode bicycles in those days.

  17. anna says:

    Really nice stuff you came around here. I think there is a circle, simply because people have to gather their own memories. Aparently, some things humankind just does not pass on to the next generation…

    • Dottie says:

      That is something worth contemplating. Like when my gram has told me about the bicycling boom of the ’60’s, led by the hippies and the new environmentalism, I think – really? I never would have known there was that push during the ’60’s and what the heck happened to derail it so completely?

  18. Matt says:

    This article seems to me is directly advocating for the bike as an adaptation to a war economy – one where fuel is rationed and most of it goes to getting a war machine across two oceans. People also recycled like crazy during WW2 and grew a good portion of their own food. There were many good habits abandoned in the post-war period. Not just cycling.

    • Dottie says:

      Good point. So maybe now the push toward cycling is more grass roots, not government/war propaganda, and therefore has a better chance of sustainability.

  19. Stephen says:

    I think one has to be very careful about extrapolating the history of national wartime policy on the basis of one article. Who wrote the article? Who paid for its publication? Who was the intended audience? How large was this audience?

    It’s pretty obvious that wartime policy and expected shortages of gasoline drove the thinking behind this article. It was deliberate national manufacturing policy to make cars and build roads, and presenting an alternative to that in the early 1940s was probably a deliberate policy decision from someone. But that obviously got swept aside when we resumed industrialization following WWII.

    The future I think will be brighter for bicycling, regardless of whether fuel expenses and/or shortages drives it or not. The cost of owning a car is not going down, and it’s just a matter of time before insurance becomes as expensive as it is in Europe. But this isn’t going to happen overnight.

    The other difference between then and now is that bicycling advocacy and use is still very much a grassroots activity. We are only seeing the start of a national policy, and it is still very modest. LaHood has also only been in office for not even two years, and the political pendulum will swing again. But more of us will be riding, and more of us will be doing it for everyday transportation, even if it’s just because it’s fun and that driving is expensive and nightmarish.

    • Dottie says:

      LaHood makes me very optimistic, as long as everything he does is not undone by the next administration.

      • Miss Sarah says:

        The more Don and I deal with the political climate around active transportation, the more hopeless it seems that change is going to occur top-down. On a daily basis it feels as though I’m part of an active community, but then I realize I life in a tiny bubble in the city, let alone this province. The people I may bump into on a daily basis and the people I hang out with are not indicative of the greater population.

        It’s amazing how many people are satisfied with the status quo. Just don’t raise their taxes!

        I hate to be so negative. I do believe in the grassroots origins of bicycle advocacy today. I just don’t think we’re going to see real results for some time and I think people need to be realistic about how dire the situation really is.

        And like you said, the most unfortunate thing is it will be people in poorer countries all over the world who feel effects of this unsustainable living first.

        • Dottie says:

          I’ve had that same thought about the bubble I live in. I spend so much time thinking and writing about bicycling (and doing it) that it’s sometimes hard to digest the fact that about 99% of the population couldn’t care less.

  20. Michael says:

    Very interesting find. The pace of change that has been occurring in society is so rapid over the past 2 or 3 generations, and the pace that it likely occur in the next couple, makes predicting what will happen over the course of another 70 years difficult. In general though, I think there is more being done now (as noted in other comments), politically and socially, that future progress will be less cyclical and instead follow a pattern of steady growth. We need to continue to press the belief that cycling is a viable transportation option so that infrastructure continues to be built and people can feel reasonably safe riding If basics are put in place now people will not have to go through the same battles again somewhere down the line.

    • Dottie says:

      True, so much has changed in just the last 10 years, maybe in 70 more we’ll all be teleporting – you know, beam me up :)

      • Stephen says:

        That might be fun in concept, but imagine all the invasive plants and animals instantly transported. I can’t even imagine what tourists would do to places that have sustained precisely because they’re expensive and/or difficult to get to. Ayyyy!

  21. Matt says:

    Another example of shaping public opinion in WW2:

    “Should Brave Men Die So You Can Drive?”

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I don’t even understand the reasoning behind that propaganda. That to be a consumer and to facilitate trade makes you responsible for all acts of war targeting the merchant marine? During the war the government controlled oil imports, not consumer demand.

      • Jeff says:

        I would say rationing was a pretty effective way that the government did put an upper limit on consumer demand for strategic and/or imported materials (rubber, sugar, etc.).

        Early in the war, German U-boats sunk a lot of shipping along the Atlantic coast. Some of these ships were tankers carrying oil from producing regions (e.g., Houston) to consuming regions (e.g., New York). Driving less would put fewer seaman in danger. I believe that during the war, oil imports were not an issue, since the US was a net exporter.

  22. What an excellent post, thank you for the reading material!

    On the one hand, I agree with those commenters who have pointed out the differences between the 1940’s and today. But on the other hand, I feel that some of the similarities extend outside of that scope.

    At the heart of this all, my feeling (as usual) is that we cannot rely on environmental concerns, money-saving concerns, concerns over oil shortages, and what not, to change the cultural landscape. That’s just fear and guilt, and a cultural trend based on that will not last. Only when bicycles are perceived as cool and interesting in their own right will people actually *want* to own them in a way that out-lasts these concerns.

    • Curly Suze says:

      LB wrote: “Only when bicycles are perceived as cool and interesting in their own right will people actually *want* to own them in a way that out-lasts these concerns.”

      Not so sure about this. In Germany it’s so common that there isn’t even a word/phrase for the bicycle commuter. I doubt that a Dutchman/woman would make a big deal out of the fact of bicycling to work either – it’s just a sensible, practical, unremarkable mode of transport in both those places.

      Not meaning to be contentious, sorry, just questioning this coolness-vs-practicality thing. BTW love your blog! :)

      • I think what you describe is simply the next step of what I describe. Normalisation can only result from lasting trends, not fleeting ones.

      • tschitschi says:

        I agree, biking has to become the easier, faster, more convenvient thing to do – then will join in.

      • Curly Suze says:

        Guess we’ll get to see what happens next. Here in the land of Business As Usual, with the many “no billionaire left behind” corporate welfare policies to ensure that the makers of SUVs, military hardware, toxic mortgages & their derivatives, oil, sub- & exurban SFRs, etc, one could reasonably be a little pessimistic that them profiting the most would ever be willing to let go of the wolf’s ears, so to speak.

        Consider one little thing, zoning .. who ever heard of such a thing as making the zoning considerations such that the emphasis is on the preservation of local farmlands (essential for reducing that farm-to-table distance) instead of some out-of-town developer who bulldozes the family farms flat and puts up an ugly development full of nasty split-levels, with the streets named after his kids’ pets? This isn’t one of those commie places like Europe, right?

        In darker moments I’m convinced that what we call ‘the American Way of Life’ is merely a system for extracting the most wealth from the largest numbers of people. When folks live in modest apartments in the city, don’t own cars, don’t use credit cards, buy food from the local farmers markets, sew their own clothing, etc, certain powerful interests here just don’t earn that much money per head. Thankfully, we can still vote with our purchasing money, and choose not to enrich them outside our local communities, at least if that’s the way our interests run.

        I’m not car-free yet, but hope to be someday. It may be necessary to move to a city environment where more stuff is closer. Presently I live in the hinterlands 40-50 miles west of Boston. It’s SUV land out here, with nary a bike rack to be seen.

        • Curly Suze, I totally agree about zoning. In most urban communities, it’s illegal to build housing or commercial space without car parking. This is often called parking minimums and makes buildings more expensive to build, especially if you build a garage.

          Montreal Gazette: There is no free parking

          • dukiebiddle says:

            Unfortunately, in the suburbs the lack of parking minimums would translate into government subsidized free street parking, which would translate into the impossibility of bicycle lanes, etc…. With 80-90% of suburban dwellers owning cars, there is no viable alternative.

          • dukiebiddle, I don’t think single-dwelling houses (suburbs) are directly affected by the parking minimums, because most people want their own parking next to the house anyway.

            The big deal is multi-family dwellings and commercial space. These become a lot more expensive due to parking requirements. Swedish planning offices calculate that the total construction, maintenance and capital cost of parking garages is $200 per month per spot and up. Give consumers a choice, and many will spend their money on other things instead.

            Finally I doubt there is enough street parking for everyone in urban areas. The prices will go up and alternatives will become more popular.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “we cannot rely on environmental concerns,… and what not,”

      That’s pretty much in line with my view that mustering the forces of our better angles is not sustainable policy. Sustainable energy will eclipse fossil fuel energy the moment sustainable energy becomes more affordable than fossil fuel, and not a minute earlier. That will happen eventually. That doesn’t even bother me personally. It’s too reasonable.

      Of course I’m not even looking, or hoping, to see the day that the bicycle eclipses the motor vehicle. I’m not going to live to see 10% modal share. 5%, which would require infrastructure good enough to make cycling as transportation viable for independent riders between 7 and 67, which would eliminate the abuse, is what I’m hoping to see. And I think that’s a fairly achievable goal.

      Despite what others are saying here, about it possibly being some trend or ALL ABOUT THE OIL, I really don’t see it that way. On the urban landscape the shift away from the car, in my environment, is already changing. When I moved to Baltimore 12 years ago, living inside the city without a car was next to impossible. Suburban shopping had destroyed all city markets and retail within the city. In a gridded city of 640,000 there were only 2 grocery stores, 2 movie theaters, no clothing stores larger than a boutique, no Best Buys, no Targets, no hardware stores. There were symphony orchestras, museums, operas, art galleries and all that stuff close by, but none of everyday comforts or necessities. EVERYONE, rich or poor, had to do all of their shopping 10 or 15 miles outside the city. Now we have all that stuff in spades. I have 8 major grocery stores within a 3 mile radius, and 2 within a mile, multiple theaters, the box stores are all addressing the car-free urban markets, etc. Free city circulators are starting. I can now function without a car without any sense of deprivation on any level, which would have been impossible 10 years ago. That isn’t a hypothetical or an unattainable vision of the future, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with girls in cute clothes either, although there is plenty more of that too. It’s change that’s already on the ground, and there’s nothing particularly visionary about where I live. This isn’t urban planning taking fruit. This is about for profit businesses addressing a market that they see as profitable that they were ignoring a decade ago. That’s change that’s already here.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        grrr. “angles” meant to be angels.

      • Jeff says:

        The time frame for sustainable energy sources to eclipse fossil fuels depends strongly on how we as a society choose to subsidize each (which in turn depends strongly on the political climate). Many of the costs of fossil fuels are hidden or shifted. For example, a very large part the the 400 billion dollars we taxpayers spend (or more accurately, borrow)every year to support our military establishment is used to directly or indirectly secure the flow of oil from the Middle East to world markets. Also, the environmental and health effects of fossil fuels are hidden/shifted as well; i.e., – you drive an SUV and I get asthma, Ohio burns coal and New Hampshire gets acid rain…

        • Dottie says:

          Such a good point about subsidies. There’s a reason nasty corn syrup and other corn derivatives end up in pretty much any American food product at the grocery store.

  23. Karen says:

    I think a large segment of the consumer public assumes the Great Recession is just another bump in the economic road. I think our country’s leadership (at all levels) is hoping that is the case and everything will return to normal and that soon we’ll all be buying electric cars or some other alternative energy savior that will return us to a culture of convenience and speed. I think our leadership is largly unwilling to discuss the inevitability of lifestyle change, even when that change will ultimately benefit most of us. We’re either going to have that discussion, one that includes bicycles and significant investment in public transit, pedestrian infrastructure, and overall greater social equity or we’re all going to have to get used to continual economic insecurity. My choice to bike commute has nothing to do with what is in the pages of Town and Country and everything to do living more economically. My goal is to be car free not as a social statement but to unburden me and my husband from the high costs of car ownership. I have accepted the fact that things are not going to return to the way they were before, and to be quite honest, I don’t really want them to.

    • Dottie says:

      “Alternative energy savior” – great way to put it. I agree that most of the population is putting their heads in the sand and waiting for something to come along and save their way of life. You know, Edison, Graham Bell, Whitney – we’re an industrious country, we’ll come up with something.

  24. LC says:

    Interesting post and I always love finding interesting articles from the past, so thank you!

    The only thing I can add, and rehiterate as others have already written, as being part of the built environment profession is that nowadays cities are being designed and/or remodelled without the car being the primary objective, which was the case back in the 50s and 60s and so on (to be honest, things have started changing seriously only since the late 80s/90s). Traffic-calming measures, the issue of traffic congestion and an understanding that cities are to be enjoyed at human scale not at car scale is filtering through and through in the design process, from the local authorities right down the design firms. There’s a long long way to go but it’s people’s mind/attitude/perception which are changing and those are the foundations for people’s behaviour too! So although slowly, changes are happening so I don’t think we can compare the vintage article to nowadays as directly like-to-like… plus one’s got to be positive otherwise we won’t even try!!!

    Worse thing of our generation/our time is apathy!!

    • Dottie says:

      Thanks for that spot of optimism! I agree that new projects are doing pretty good at considering future sustainability. For example, Chicago now has a complete streets law, whereby every new road or rehab of an old road must include provisions for pedestrians and cyclists. The biggest hurdle is retrofitting all the old infrastructure.

      • Traci says:

        That’s great that Chicago has a complete streets policy. I’m happy that more and more places are finally seeming to think about sustainability and even in Atlanta, developers have done several projects that they label as “live/work/play” environments. However, then they go and put big box stores like IKEA, Target, etc. in them, so obviously everyone drives to get there and it just makes traffic worse! More so than plopping down a ton of these new developments, I wish they would begin to look at infill development and ways to actually CONNECT places together. Apparently that’s a foreign concept in Atlanta though, or more realistically, not a financially lucrative concept. Developers only make the big money when they build another one of these communities, totally separate from the rest of the city.

  25. Curly Suze says:

    No to insult them by comparing auto companies to drug dealers .. but .. don’t drug dealers always offer the first few hits for free in order to get the victim addicted to a lifetime of using their product?

    Ford hopes free drivers education in Vietnam leads to sales

    HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — The cars idle at the starting line of an empty airfield that seems primed for racing. The engines start. And one by one, they take off — but with a steady glide rather than a screech of tires.

    This is not an adrenaline-pumping driving school. But it’s how Ford Motor is hoping to turn a nation of bikers and walkers into safe drivers.

    /end quote

    For them who think it’s cool or nifty somehow to drive instead of walk or bicycle, the full costs of automobile use are not always apparent up front: pollution, poor health, a landscape that will resemble Los Angeles if this car craze is pursued vigorously enough, and more.

  26. Curly Suze says:

    Apparently Cycle Chic is not universally liked ..

    Bike agenda spins cities toward UN control, Maes warns

    Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes is warning voters that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s policies, particularly his efforts to boost bike riding, are “converting Denver into a United Nations community.”

    “This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed,” Maes told about 50 supporters who showed up at a campaign rally last week in Centennial.

    Maes said in a later interview that he once thought the mayor’s efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. Now he realizes “that’s exactly the attitude they want you to have.”

    “This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms,” Maes said.

    /end quote

    Oh dear. Is the gubernatorial candidate convinced that this is some commie plot to reduce SUV transport mode share? Or is this Onion material released into the wild?

  27. Doohickie says:

    I personally have no problem with being one of a small number of cyclists in my area. I don’t care whether cycling becomes mainstream or not. I ride because I like to, not because it’s popular.

    On the other hand, local bike culture is growing by leaps and bounds. There are numerous social rides taking place all the time (like the one I did last night). One thing I like about the local bike scene is its melting pot nature. Most bike events are open to all, from rat rods to roadies and everything in between.

  28. Herzog says:

    Demographics is a crucial issue that can’t be omitted in this discussion. Many car dependent suburbs were built by Baby Boomers who will become to old to drive around 2020. This will leave many stranded and unhappy and I predict that in 15 or so years, they will become an outspoken group that really fucking hates automobiles.

  29. The New York Times has an article about improving life by having fewer things. It says Americans are saving more. “But Will It Make You Happy?” http://nyti.ms/9QYOIy

    But who knows… maybe that will be forgotten in ten years too.

    • Annalisa says:

      I like Tammy’s blog a lot, and I think that simplification is really the key to a happy life. The fewer things you have, the more freedom you have.

      I’ve been writing about that a lot on my own blog, and am in the process of selling many of my things on eBay and Craigslist. It is amazing what you can part with, once you box it up and it’s out of sight/out of mind for a while.

      Biking is part of simplification, in a way, but honestly one of the things I like best about it is that it is FUN. So while it may take longer to get somewhere on my bike than it does driving or riding the T (in Boston), I enjoy it more and I feel a sense of… I don’t know.. excitement but also calmness after riding. I feel that sense of freedom, in a way, that I feel when living a more simple life, if that makes sense.

  30. Dottie's Gram Bev says:

    How do I get my avatar on here???

  31. […] for transportation is a hip new trend. Think again says Dottie of Let’s Go Ride a Bike. Dottie talks about a 1941 Click magazine piece titled “Bike Cycle?  How to Go Places Without Gaso… Full of great shots from the […]

  32. scott t says:

    Is the current bicycle boom simply part of a never-ending bike cycle, wherein the press rattles on and Americans ride a little more, but real progress is never made?

    if there is a boom. i guess bicycle sales vary from year to year. the press i dont about.

    but i do believe that there a numerous parts of cities across the us that could probably benefit from portions being bicyclized somewhat more. areas that could see a little less car congestion and greater bicycle numbers.

    if they can throw millions into sports arenas i think better bicyling infrastrucutre could benefit places as much or more.

    maybe when that happens bicycle/parts sales will see sustained gains.?

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