The Good Roads Movement, or: Don’t mess with the LAW (League of American Wheelmen)

Next time you feel your blood pressure rise at some peloton of cyclists blocking your lane, acting like they own the road, consider this: “The Good Roads movement, started by bicyclists in the 1880s, first developed broad momentum during the final decade of the nineteenth century, before a single automobile had been assembled in the United States.  The nation’s roads were in a pathetic state: muddy, rutted, overgrown, and often washed out, causing enormous difficulties for the growing ranks of Americans trying to use bicycles as a basic mode of personal transportation.  Consequently, bicyclists organized the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) to better promote roads.” (Gutfreund, Owen D.  20th-Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape, Oxford University Press, 2004 , p. 9 [recently donated by Library member Bob Vitz]).  Gutfreund goes on to elucidate the temporary accord between the players: the railroad barons, who hadn’t as yet realized that roads would be a threat, Albert Pope, the Mass. bicycle manufacturer who bankrolled LAW, the “persistent clamor” of which could not be brushed off by elected officials.  Gutfreund goes on to note that this model of corporate interests masquerading as citizen advocacy would later be copied by automotive manufacturers.    -Ed Scripsi

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 3:00 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Good stuff — would that we cyclists were such a lobbying force these days…maybe after $5/gal…

    And not to pick nits, but that lane is (legally) no more the property of auto driver than it is of the cyclist. Granted, force of weight, horsepower, and blood pressure render this legal debate moot much of the time.

    Thanks for posting this, Ed.

  2. Physics, common sense, and the excess of (essential?) motor vehicles have squeezed us (bicyclists) to the right [or to the left if one has the distinct privilege of being in one of those great countries!], if we are allowed upon the road at all. Yes, the pedacycle has a right to the road, which I use all the time. That said, I will readily give way to a motor vehicle because I don’t want to be “dead right”. The most serious problem for any vehicle upon the road is distraction from the all-important task of maintaining 100% attention to the road. Much too much are we (motorists), among a multitude of other non-driving activities, drinking (non-alcoholic?!), finding that perfect radio station, consulting a map, talking on a cell phone, and, worst of worst, sending receiving text messages on that cell phone. Regretfully, use of the cell phone has extended to bike riders–I’ve nearly collided with such a rider while out pedaling! ALL users of the roads MUST follow the rules of the road at all times. Otherwise, the potential for collision with possible injury or death becomes the dominant factor on the road. I continually bring this message to the El Paso public with letters to the editor, radio talk KHRO, bicycle safety presentations, and the MPO. You can view a video clip from my last MPO presentation at my website: or my facebook page:

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