Good Roads Movement

Background Reading


1904 editorial cartoon by E. A. Bushnell, urging that funds be appropriated for the goals of the Good Roads Movement

1904 editorial cartoon by E. A. Bushnell, urging that funds be appropriated for the goals of the Good Roads Movement


Almost a century after the fact some bicyclists want to take credit for bringing paved roads into being in these United States.

Wikipedia explains the aftermath:

At the turn of the twentieth century, interest in the bicycle began to wane in the face of increasing interest in automobiles. Other groups took the lead in the road lobby. As the automobile was developed and gained momentum, organizations developed such cross-county projects as the coast-to-coast east–west Lincoln Highway 1913, headed by auto parts and auto racing magnate Carl G. Fisher, and later his north–south Dixie Highway 1915, which extended from Canada to Miami, Florida.

1904 editorial cartoon by E. A. Bushnell, urging that funds be appropriated for the goals of the Good Roads Movement

1904 editorial cartoon by E. A. Bushnell, urging that funds be appropriated for the goals of the Good Roads Movement

The movement gained national prominence when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 on July 11, 1916. In that year, the Buffalo Steam Roller Company of Buffalo, New York, and the Kelly-Springfield Company of Springfield, Ohio, merged to form the Buffalo-Springfield Company, which became the leader in the American compaction industry. Buffalo-Springfield enabled America to embark on a truly national highway construction campaign that continued into the 1920s.

Horatio Earle is known as the “Father of Good Roads.” Quoting from Earle’s 1929 autobiography: “I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country.” “The League fought for the privilege of building bicycle paths along the side of public highways.” “The League fought for equal privileges with horse-drawn vehicles. All these battles were won and the bicyclist was accorded equal rights with other users of highways and streets.”

What We Know About Bicycles versus Automobiles

Prior to the struggle of the Good Roads Movement the primary users of roads in towns were pulling buggies or wagons by horse. It made little sense to these folks to willingly tax themselves for something that only two-wheeled conveyances could benefit from.

In fact once the roads were finally paved it was not the signaling of the Great Adoption of the bicycle. Nope it was the automobile that gained traction (both literally and figuratively). Why is that?

Well the automobile is just the right sort of thing to have if you want to:

  • prevent the cruelty to animals that often ensued from horse-drawn conveyances
  • enjoy the enclosed travel that automobiles eventually provided

And to this day these two reasons are among the most coveted by people of conscience. We do not like to see animals pulling people along when a perfectly good alternative exists. And unless you were gullible enough to purchase a Diesel from Germany you have little to complain about with respect to the mileage and convenience of automobile travel.

What is going to happen here just as it did 100 years ago is that bicycles will be once again marginalized. The current mythology is that somehow installing enough bicycle infrastructure will make all the difference. But what makes the bicycle great is summer! You can ride a bicycle in warm weather and enjoy the out-of-doors.

Once the weather turns nasty then these folks on bicycle start griping about snow in the bike lane and that there are gravel and glass under it. What they need to understand is that the ordinary bicycle is something that should not be used on a year-round basis. Instead find yourself something with fat tires!

But the tires are never going to take the place of the warm, dry cabinet of a motor vehicle. You can turn a knob and get instant heat, another knob brings you music or weather or even the news. Bicycles cannot compete with this. They are by comparison toys! And if you were to actually build bicycles to the level of durability needed to sustain Basic Transportation it would need some changes to its definition.

Wheels on these bicycles would need fenders and disc or drum brakes. In addition you would need an electrical source to power headlights and taillights and presumably turn signals. And I cannot imagine a really useful piece of basic transportation that did not include a motor.

In fact I am seeing all over DuPage County people in caravans of three or more gasoline and electric powered bicycles. What makes them safer is the fact that they reduce the speed differential between their riders and the surrounding automobiles.

What the all lack are the creature comforts. But if you are daring enough to venture out in subzero weather and have the clothing and the stamina to endure you can get by with an E-bike.

Licensing Is Going To Happen!

Most of the kooks who mouth the notion that licensing is verboten for bicycles are unaware of the source of that notion. It lies in the fact that some do not wish for undocumented aliens to have to get licensed and thus be uncovered as being with documentation. But if that is your reason, then say it aloud. Stop mouthing something you do not understand.

Nevertheless, licensing is going to happen. Motor scooters and motorcycles are already licensed. And given the fact that Chicago is now growing its own breed of ‘bicycle drive-by shooters‘ the police if nobody else are going to need a way to distinguish the good guys from the bad. Presumably someone riding around without a license and older than 8-years of age is probably up to no good.

So get ready to fight the battle to avoid having to pay for all those miles of infrastructure and the right to use them. You will be paying your fair share for the right to have something currently enjoyed by less than 1% of the population.

And when places like Chicago start totaling the costs to keep the bike lanes cleared of snow and ice and then doing the tedious job of actually counting the number of folks out in that snow and ice all winter long, it is going to dawn on somebody in that giant ‘fustercluck‘ known as CDOT that this is crazy!

So boys and girls, get those thumbs out of your rectums. You will be paying for the privilege of using the bike lanes. And no it isn’t going to thwart the growth of cycling any more than the bad behavior that we seem to have to live with in our midst.

This kind of crap is what will thwart cycling. And nothing will hasten that effect more than ‘normal people‘ sitting idly by and saying nothing or otherwise making excuses for that behavior. Nothing will turn away the curious faster than the notion that somehow the local bicycle community is a bit like a motorcycle gang (without the chains).