Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Onward to 1890!

Onward to 1890!

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
October 19, 2011

Onward to 1890!

Recently two arguments have been made regarding the need to block car traffic at Jefferson to help bikers . . . yes I don’t get it either.

One argument says we must provide for all types of transportation in our City.  The other argument says we must make way for progress because bikes are our future.  Our future?  Hmm.  What else is in our future?  Maybe horse drawn trolley cars or sedan chairs.  Chariots anyone?  I guess some people’s idea of progress is very different than those of us who watched the Jetsons and thought we would all have our own flying car by now.  For heaven sakes, even Fred Flintstone had a car and he lived in the stone age.

Progress is when something advances, usually technologically.  Something is made cheaper, safer, and more efficient.  Like when the "safety bicycle" was invented in 1876 with its chain-drive transmission.  It allowed for smaller wheels without a loss of speed.  Another piece of progress is when they invented the pneumatic bicycle tire making rides smooth and then paved roads to add to the smooth ride.  This all led to the Bicycle Craze of the 1890’s.  People bought bicycles in droves.

Even during the Craze however one could not say that the bike became the main mode of transportation for most Americans.  Horses, trolleys, walking, trains and boats made up the majority of transportation.

It is interesting to note that the biggest bicycle events of the 1890’s were about amusement, not commuting; like the “Bicycle Railroads” built in New Jersey, at Coney Island and for Chicago’s World Fair.

The bicycle did however promote something other traditional modes of transportation did not:  freedom.  You were no longer tied to the trolley, train or boat schedule.  You could go wherever and whenever you wanted.  In addition you were not limited by how far you could walk.  The bike opened up different parts of the city and ultimately the country to everyone.  Feminists and suffragists called them "freedom machines."  Susan B. Anthony said bicycling, "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

More progress happened in the 1890’s when someone applied an internal-combustion engine to a bicycle resulting in a motorcycle.  Soon after that an engine was applied to 4-wheel carriages resulting in the motor car.  They Era of the Bike as transportation was over; pretty much all of a decade.  And then it was 1900.

Americans were then given real freedom.  The bike’s limit of maybe 30 miles was extended to anywhere a road and gas could be found.  Weather became increasingly irrelevant as enclosed cars, heat and windshield wipers were invented.  The last piece to fall was price and when the first Ford rolled of the factory line, this freedom became democratic.

What about the bike?  What has happened to our safety bike since 1900.  One authority (okay Wikipedia) says, “[d]uring most of the 20th century in the USA, except for a brief period of popularity during the Great Depression of the 1930s, bicycles were relegated to the status of children's toys.”

Well children’s toys and adult toys for people with money and time, God bless them.

I have already listed in a previous entry as to why a bike is recreation and not transportation, see  I am still amazed when I hear people and politicians say that we have to make room for all transportation options in the City.  All?  Well I want to drive a monster truck.  Oh that’s a problem?  What about an elephant with a howdah?  Cruel you say?  Not appropriate for the weather?  Too much of a mess?  Well what about a mode of entertainment, exercise or transportation whose hayday ended 111 years ago, can’t be used in bad weather and only carries two people max?  One that is used by educated, upper class, public radio listening folk even if it will inconvenience everyone?

On a recent MPR piece on the Jefferson bikeway, a couple of married University of St. Thomas professors were cited as people who own no car and only use bicycles as transportation.  Only?  Well I hope they like St. Paul and Minneapolis because they must not get very far.  Like 1890’s cyclers their world must be about a 10 mile square area.  I doubt it.  How do they get a couch delivered to their house?  What do they do in the middle of a 20” snow storm?  How do they go to Menard’s and bring a 2x4 home?  Do they ever go up North?  The answer is yes and they do these things by taking advantage of a 100 year old piece of progress called the internal combustion engine.  Whether it’s a bus, a friend’s truck, the food delivered to their co-op or, God forbid, an ambulance or fire truck, the gas engine is a part of their life.  Their bikes are recreation and exercise.  Needless to say our eco-friendly dons must have no small children to get to hockey practice.

So while the rest of us are procreating and making sure Social Security survives, let us salute the internal combustion engine.  Let us promote the rights of car drivers.  If Susan B. Anthony thought the bike was a freedom machine, what would she have thought of the car?  TLC wants to make our new “freedom machines” less free.  I can’t wait until the flying car.  

No comments:

Post a Comment