Meanwhile, the 800+ footnotes for the book are already online.
Monday, 8th May 2017
For immediate publication.
A historian has used the spin-off from an American military mapping project to discover nearly 300 miles of “lost” British cycleways. These cycleways were installed beside British roads between 1934 and 1940, but were abandoned after the Second World War. Many were surfaced with red concrete, protected cyclists with kerbs and extended for many miles. They were commissioned by the Ministry of Transport and were built on both sides of the arterial roads constructed in the 1930s.
Author and historian Carlton Reid used archive sources to identify the likely locations for the cycleways, and then confirmed their existence not with field walks or even bike rides, but with Google Streetview.
“From the comfort of my desk I’ve been able to back-up my hunches by zooming in to the images provided by the Streetview cameras,” said Reid, who is funding further researches with a crowd-funding campaign.
“Some of the 1930s-era cycleways I’ve identified are either fully or partially buried, but most are above ground, in full view but they are not recognised for what they are, which is innovative-for-the-time cycle-specific infrastructure that’s more than 80-years-old,” said Reid.
“The cycleways have been wide and often kerb-protected since they were built, but it was quickly forgotten when and who they were built for,” he added.
“I’ve visited some of these cycleways in-the-flesh but the advent of open-access online imagery has meant it’s quicker and cheaper to discover them from my desk.”
Google Streetview is an off-shoot from Google Earth, the descendant of EarthViewer, a CIA-funded project that was used by the US military in war zones from the late 1990s onwards. Google acquired EarthViewer in 2004 and rebranded it as Google Earth in 2005. Archeologists often use Google Earth – and other open-access satellite-imagery services – to find hidden hill-forts and even buried treasure, but this is the first time the satellite and street-level imagery has been used to discover hidden-in-plain-sight 1930s-era cycleways.
Reid has partnered with an urban planner to bring back to life perhaps hundreds of miles of these forgotten cycleways. John Dales of Urban Movement will take Reid’s historical research and use it to show local and national authorities that there’s often plenty of space for cycling – because the space was allocated many years ago.
Cycle advocacy organisations often campaign for Dutch-style cycleways and what Reid’s project is showing is that the British Ministry of Transport worked with its Dutch equivalent in the 1930s to create just such a Dutch-style system. Reid discovered the extent of the 1930s-era cycleway network during the research for a cycle history book to be published next month. “Bike Boom” (Island Press, Washington, DC, June 2017) contains information on the 1930s-era cycleways with the Kickstarter campaign enabling him to continue his research work.
Environmental geographer Robin Lovelace said the project was a “fantastic fusion of historical knowledge with digital tech.” Lovelace, a Leeds University academic who works for the Institute for Transport Studies, added that reviving the 1930s cycleways could lead to a “more sustainable transport future.”
Gold-medal-winning Olympian Chris Boardman of British Cycling has described Reid’s Kickstarter campaign as a “marvelous proposal” adding that it “could recover some of our lost past and give normal people the opportunity to change the way they travel, in safety.”
Some of the cycleways Reid has digitally uncovered extend for a few miles either side of the suburban arterial roads built in the 1930s, but he has also identified residential cycleways (they are often now treated as “private roads” with cars parked on them). Archive maps show that the 18-mile Southend Arterial Road from Gallows Corner in Romford to Southend once had cycleways along its full length (they were known as “cycle tracks” at the time) and this cycleway linked in to others in the area.
“Let’s rescue Britain’s forgotten 1930s protected cycleways” was launched on Kickstarter on 25th April and exceeded its £7,000 target within three days. 356 backers have so far pledged £10,227. The campaign ends on 25th May. Backers get behind-the-scenes access to reports that will be provided to local authorities, Highways England and the Department for Transport.
Reid is the Newcastle-based executive editor of trade magazine BikeBiz.com and author of “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” (Island Press, Washington, DC, 2015).
CONTACT: Carlton Reid
Landline: 0191 265 2062
Mobile Tel: 07795 633 571
The front cover of Bike Boom can be seen above, but here’s the back cover, too. It contains the all-important blurbs. Text too small to read? Click for a larger version or read the full text is below.
The book majors on the bike booms of the 1930s in the UK and the 1970s in the USA. Between 1934 and 1939 Britain’s Ministry of Transport paid local authorities to install cycle tracks. Seventy or so schemes were built, resulting in perhaps as many as 280 miles of cycle tracks, some of them protected with curbs. The great majority were built – 9-ft wide and both sides of the roads – next to the new bypasses of the era; a few were built on “trunk roads” through residential areas, such as in Sunderland and Oxford. The Kickstarter for this project is now LIVE.
Journalist Carlton Reid sets out to discover what we can learn from the history of bike “booms” in this entertaining and thought-provoking book.
Advance Praise for Bike Boom
“Bike Boom is full of heroes fighting for safe places for bikes, up against the goliath of mass motorization. Carlton deftly tells the stories of the major battles over bikes in Europe and the U.S. from the 30s through the 70s. Not much has changed: we are still facing the same forces today, with the same arguments for and against. The book is a loving testament to yesterday’s scrappy champions with lessons for all who persist today.” —Martha Roskowski, Vice President of Local Innovation, PeopleForBikes
“Carlton Reid brings an essential—and often forgotten—historical depth to ongoing debates about cycling and cycling infrastructure. In Bike Boom, he maps the deeply political struggles that are hidden behind seemingly technical, or even banal, issues. Indispensable reading for those trying to grasp cycling, but even more so for those who are fighting the continuous fight for its place in contemporary cities and societies.” —Marco te Brömmelstroet, Academic Director, Urban Cycling Institute; Associate Professor in Urban Planning, University of Amsterdam
“Carlton Reid is one of the most well respected authors in the cycling world today, and with good reason. He is renowned for his political insight and meticulous research. Building on his earlier works—which delve into the history of this multi-purpose machine—Bike Boom is a beautifully fluid account of contemporary cycling and raises Carlton’s reputation as a leading cycling aficionado to new heights.” —Chris Boardman, Senior Policy Advisor at British Cycling and Co-founder of Boardman Bikes
CARLTON REID is the executive editor of BikeBiz magazine, a publication for the bicycle trade based in the UK. He is author of Roads Were Not Built for Cars.
Riding a bicycle is life-affirming, but I never thought writing a history book about cycling could have the sort of impact I’m about to relate.
Montreal in Quebec, Canada, was a hot-bed of cycle advocacy in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the key reasons that city now has hundreds of miles of cycleways, including a two-mile curb-protected cycleway smack-bang in the Central Business District.
Montreal became bicycle-friendly because of people power. Bicycle-advocacy group Le Monde à Bicyclette was founded in April 1975, and many of the campaign tactics it employed – such as die-ins – are still used by advocacy groups around the world.
The anti-automobile activism group was cofounded by Claire Morissette and Robert “Bicycle Bob” Silverman. The curb-protected cycleway in the Central Business District was built in 2007, replaced a car lane, and was named for Morissette, who had died from cancer earlier in the same year.
To research Bike Boom I visited Montreal, and hung out with some of the 1970s members of Le Monde à Bicyclette. This is my pic of Robert on the Piste Claire-Morissette (I ferried him around in a Christiana cargo trike):
Bike Boom is dedicated to him:
For Robert “Bicycle Bob” Silverman and all of the other 1970s cycle advocates who tended cycling’s flame when planners and politicians were trying to snuff it out.
Last week I sent Robert a proof of the designed pages. His reply took me by surprise:
“Thank you for dedicating the book to me. Reading it actually saved my life. I’m going blind with macular degeneration which started a few years ago, which was combined in early October with a stroke. Life has been very hard; so bad that I cannot ride a bicycle any more, cook, or do other very simple tasks. I was prepared to take my own life, but changed my idea after reading your dedication.
“This is true, not an exaggeration. In Quebec, dying with dignity is legal … But since receiving your dedication [my mind has] changed.
“When I became a bicycle advocate [in the 1970s], for the first time I had a reason to live. I would ride a bike, and that in itself was revolutionary … I have dedicated my life to making the world a better place via a simple solution: the bike!”
I was very touched by Robert’s candour, and asked his permission to tell this particularly sensitive tale.
Wonderfully, Robert is now working with local advocates to produce an in-depth history of Le Monde à Bicyclette and will also be dictating a number of hard-hitting bicycle blog-postings. Bike power!
In May 1935, a Divisional Road Engineer in the Ministry of Transport wrote to the Chief Engineer in London giving the latest traffic counts:
“The cycle traffic on the Wolverton Road [near Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire] represents in numbers 54 percent of the traffic on the road throughout the day. At rush hours it reaches 80 percent of the total traffic using the road … At Magdalen Bridge in Oxford, 12,500 cyclists pass in the sixteen hours of the normal census day. They represent in numbers 50 percent of the total traffic. At a point in Bedford cyclists represent in numbers 80 percent of the total daily traffic …”
And check out this pic of cycling to work in Chatham Docks, 1939.
More such info in Bike Boom, published in May. Sign up for updates on the right.
Newcastle upon Tyne
+44 191 2652062