Friday Fun: A Los Angeles cycling highway?
A four-legged passenger enjoys the CycLAvia bike event in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Melissa Wall.

A four-legged passenger enjoys the CycLAvia bike event in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Melissa Wall.

“The South California towns, Los Angeles and Pasadena, are now connected by the strangest and most interesting of links-a magnificent, elevated cycle-way, with a smooth surface of wood, running for nine miles through beautiful country, flanked by green hills, and affording views at every point of the snow-clad Sierras.”

–T.D. Denham

A reporter named T.D. Denham wrote that Southern California, ought to one day become, “a cyclist’s paradise,” with its “delightful climate and beautiful country, verdant and radiant with wild flowers in the midst of winter.” Denham wistfully lamented that the entire nation, in his opinion, should be connected by cycling roads, following southern California’s example.

The example that he is referring to was the California Cycleway, and T.D. Denham was writing in 1897.

The California Cycleway, 1900. Photo by Pasadena Digital History Collaboration.

The city of Los Angeles, in the U.S. state of California, is home to nearly 4 million people nowadays. Of that number, it is estimated that only 0.9% of the population — approximately 16,011 residents — commute to work by bicycle. Rewind 116 years to 1897, and you will find that a full 6% of Los Angeles, California’s 500,000 residents were cyclists — nearly twice as many as today!

“On this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling.”

Pasadena resident Horace Dobbins bankrolled the construction of the Cycleway, after receiving approval from the state legislature, which was against the idea until a former governor and friend of Mr. Dobbins threw his weight in with the project. The Cycleway was to be a privately-owned elevated wooden boardwalk, connecting Pasadena with downtown Los Angeles, and upon which cyclists would pay $0.10 one-way, or $0.15 for a roundtrip journey.

California Cycleway and Pasadena Grand Opera House, 1902. Photo by the Pasadena Digital History Collaboration.

The first mile and a quarter were actually constructed! But then technology intervened in the form of the automobile, which quickly led to the project being abandoned and sections of the route turned into a motorway, which would eventually become the Arroyo Seco Parkway, connecting Los Angeles with Pasadena, along the Arroyo Seco River.

“From the engineer’s point of view, the road is a triumph,” wrote Denham, because (of course), “there are no horses to avoid, no trains or trolley-cars, no stray dogs or wandering children.”

The idea might not be so abandoned after all…check out this example from the Netherlands and a concept video from Great Britain:

Thanks to Benoit Colin for providing the inspiration for this post!

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