Sound like Massachusetts today? It is . . . except that these events took place in the 1890s!
While the annual Bay State Bike Week celebrates the most recent resurgence in bicycling in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of the bicycling movement in America, dating to when the cycling craze first swept the country after the invention arrived from Europe – before Boston South Station opened.
Boston’s Albert Pope first glimpsed the bicycle at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, and by the following year he had opened bicycle importer and maker Pope Manufacturing Company at 45 High Street in Boston. Two years later, Pope introduced the first American made bicycle, the Columbia. Dozens of Columbia models would follow over the next 20 years, many built at the company’s plant in Westfield and sold through the Pope showroom at 211 Columbus Avenue.
One of Pope’s rivals, A.H. Overman of Chicopee and the Victor bicycle line, is credited with the advancement that really boosted cycling’s popularity. In 1885 he created and patented the “safety” bicycle, which positioned the seat on the frame in the middle of two nearly equal-sized wheels. That design attracted many new riders who were leery of riding early “penny-farthing” bicycles with their huge front wheel and small rear wheel.
Massachusetts took to bicycling for its practical, recreational, and social benefits. The Boston Bicycling Club, the first in the country, was founded in 1878; the next year, Harvard became the first American college to host a bicycling club.
Pope, a leading promoter of the bicycling industry and also the effort to improve America’s roads, co-founded the Massachusetts Bicycling Club in 1879 and helped launch the national League of American Wheelmen in 1880. In 1882, the Springfield Bicycle Club began holding an annual bicycle meet, highlighted by a 25-mile amateur bicycle race.
As were the social norms of the day, participation in bicycling clubs often was segregated by race, class, gender, and ethnic lines. Lorenz J. Finison explores many of the societal elements of bicycling in this era in his book, “Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900.” For example, in 1893, the Riverside Cycling Club became the first black cycling group, with members largely from Boston and Cambridge who were excluded from other clubs. Finison also profiles Kittie Knox, a biracial seamstress known for her prize-winning cycling costumes, who challenged the League of American Wheelmen’s “color bar,” and others who rebuffed challenges in a time of segregation, increased immigration, and debates about the rights of women.
By 1896, the Boston Herald estimated the city’s bicycling population at more than 100,000, nearly one-fourth of its residents. In 1899, a new law required Boston cyclists to carry a light when riding at night. That same year, Boston South Station opened, and among the “minor conveniences” included in the description of the gleaming train terminal were “ample bike racks.”
More than a century later, improving conditions and opportunities for bicycling is central to MassDOT’s transportation vision. Through its GreenDOT framework, MassDOT is working on a wide range of initiatives to triple the share of non-automobile trips – including those by bicycle – throughout the Commonwealth by 2030.
By then, perhaps Massachusetts can claim the title bestowed on Boston in an 1883 article in the journal Outing: “Bicycling paradise of America.”
Do you have ideas about bicycling and walking in the South Station area? Share your thoughts online at: www.fluidsurveys.com/s/SouthStation.
MassDOT Reminder: Safe Winter Driving Tips! posted on Feb 4
With snow in the forecast, MassDOT reminds motorists to plan ahead, avoid travel during the snow event when possible, and be prepared for Winter Travel! Be sure to Prepare Your Vehicle For Winter Driving and bring Winter Car Supplies. Use Common Sense While Driving Near …Continue Reading MassDOT Reminder: Safe Winter Driving Tips!
MassDOT Innovation & Tech Transfer Exchange: March 8-9 posted on Feb 3
You are invited to share and learn the newest ideas in transportation technology by attending MassDOT’s Innovation & Tech Transfer Exchange for 2016, scheduled for March 8 & 9, at the DCU Center in Worcester. Are you wondering how to improve both the efficiency and …Continue Reading MassDOT Innovation & Tech Transfer Exchange: March 8-9
Baker-Polito Administration Launches Complete Streets Funding Program posted on Feb 1
The Baker-Polito Administration and Massachusetts Department of Transportation today announced a $12.5 million Complete Streets Funding Program and online program portal in an effort to encourage cities and towns in the Commonwealth to design and construct projects to make street networks safer and more efficient …Continue Reading Baker-Polito Administration Launches Complete Streets Funding Program