A History of Sharing the American Road
- PUBLISHED: July 2017
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / American History, Environmental Studies, Sports
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 306 Pages, 5.5 x 8.5 in, 32 illus.
- ISBN: 9780295742663
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
Americans have been riding bikes for more than a century now. So why are most American cities still so ill-prepared to handle cyclists? James Longhurst, a historian and avid cyclist, tackles that question by tracing the contentious debates between American bike riders, motorists, and pedestrians over the shared road.
Bike Battles explores the different ways that Americans have thought about the bicycle through popular songs, merit badge pamphlets, advertising, films, newspapers and sitcoms. Those associations shaped the actions of government and the courts when they intervened in bike policy through lawsuits, traffic control, road building, taxation, rationing, import tariffs, safety education and bike lanes from the 1870s to the 1970s.
Today, cycling in American urban centers remains a challenge as city planners, political pundits, and residents continue to argue over bike lanes, bike-share programs, law enforcement, sustainability, and public safety. Combining fascinating new research from a wide range of sources with a true passion for the topic, Longhurst shows us that these battles are nothing new; in fact they’re simply a continuation of the original battle over who is - and isn’t - welcome on our roads.
Watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNleJ0tDvqg
Authors & Contributors
James Longhurst is associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse and author of Citizen Environmentalists.
1. Get Out of the Road!
2. The Right Sort of People
3. The Rules of the Road
4. Victory Bike Battles
5. 1950's Syndrome
6. Bikes Are Beautiful
Note on Citations and Sources
Bike Battles is an enjoyable read that highlights important historical conflicts that shaped our current roadways. It is accessible and appropriate for any undergraduate class or person interested in bicycling.- Lindsay Parks Pieper, Sports in American History
A measure of any book is whether it makes you think beyond its pages, and Bike Battles did just that for me. My dad used to tell me that if I got only one thing out of a book — an interesting fact, a point of view I hadn’t previously considered, something helpful to my life or just entertainment — the book was worth its cover price. By that standard Bike Battles is a bargain. It allowed me to see the last 150 years of riding in America like a mosaic on the wall. I won’t look at parked cars the same way again. The book ought to give today’s bicycle advocates a sense of their place in history and make them proud to continue the battle.- Grant Petersen, Wall Street Journal
These colorful references, coupled with Longhurst's light and natural writing style, make Bike Battles easy to read.- Amy Goetzman, MinnPost
In six chapters, [Longhurst] traces the history of what is essentially road-sharing: first horses and carts mixed with pedestrians; then trolleys and buses; then, after WWII, an overwhelming shift, funded by federal highway dollars, to the primacy of the car.- Joe Garvin, City Living Seattle
An excellent, enlightening new book.- Knute Berger, Seattle Magazine
Longhurst tackles this debate between bike riders, motorists, and pedestrians by exploring the different mediums Americans have used to create opinions on the bicycle, such as: popular songs, advertising, films, newspapers, and television.- Momentum Magazine (2015 Best New Bike Book)
Longhurst has provided an accessible and highly readable story of the bicycle. . . . [He] has taken us on a legal and cultural ramble on the American road as well as given us a useful model of engaged and responsible urban history scholarship.- Joshua Lupkin, Journal of American History
Reading Bike Battles is like riding down a smooth path with some unexpected sightseeing along the way. The writing is accessible and fun to read. . . . Especially relevant to a generation of students who are more likely to consider forms of transportation beyond the car, this book is a promising addition to a history, urban planning, or environmental studies class.- Margot Higgins, Environmental History
Bike Battles provides a well-researched foundation into many of the issues of bicycle planning today, and is especially valuable by framing the battles as more than just legal rights.- Peter Furth, Transport Reviews
Longhurst provides general readers with a sprightly history of the political and legal battles over cycling from the late nineteenth century to the present . . . The bicyclists currently navigating traffic-choked streets, inhaling exhaust and darting between behemoth SUVs, like many other aspects of the contemporary urban landscape, Longhurst asserts, represent the legal and institutional legacy of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.- Bruce J. Schulman, Reviews in American History
You should absolutely buy and hold [Bike Battles] up as a righteous rebuke the next time someone complains that ‘the war on cars is real.’ Longhurst maps out the perfect storm of American consumer trends, policy decisions, and historical events that led to that car cutting you off downtown just now.- Megan Burbank, Portland Mercury
Tells the fascinating story of the legal and political battles over bicycles on the road. . . . Longhurst’s timely study shows that the arguments over bikes and road space are not new and also holds lessons for present-day bicycle advocates who would be wise to avoid the mistakes that scuttled earlier efforts to build bike infrastructure in US cities . . . will be of great interest to anyone interested in the history of bike policy and roads in the US.- John Lloyd, Boy on a Bike! blog
Intelligent, relevant and enlightening, Bike Battles is what all history should be. The reader needn’t be a policy wonk or a cycling enthusiast to appreciate the lessons, and its array of old photographs and sketches (bike commuters in 1902, “high riders” in Boston in 1880) are delightful. All in all, it’s a worthy ride.- Jennifer Graham, The Hippo
His book, while academically rigorous, is easily accessible to the general public. In fact, I found it a page-turner as would any one who rides a bike on the streets of any American city or rural place.- Dave Cieslewicz, Isthmus
Carefully researched, thoroughly documented, and very engaging, this is a book that everyone who travels needs to read and understand.- Choice
The book provides in scholarly and very readable style an analysis of cycling as it serves as a locus of conflict over the use and ownership of public commons. . . . Although bikes are the primary material theme of the book, they are a means to illustrate larger social, cultural, and political processes.- Peter Cox, Journal of Transport History
Longhurst’s accounts build on a truly innovative use of multiple sources, from legal texts, design manuals, and newspaper articles to sitcoms and traffic education films. These chapters are pleasant reads and convincing narratives. . . . In going beyond the present, this book helps us understand why motorists so often consider the road as their birthright. It is not because of an oft-claimed American love affair with the car, Longhurst asserts, but because of those multiple lost bike battles during the past hundred years.- Martin Emanuel, Transfers
James Longhurst gives us a whole range of new ways to look at those moments of confusion, uncertainty, and rage experienced by anyone who has spent much time on roads shared by cars and bicycles. Bike Battles is academically rigorous but easy and fun to read. This is really my kind of nerdiness. I recommend it for anyone who feels stuck in polarized conversations about how we use our roads.- Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics
Bike Battles is a thoroughly fascinating history of the competing claims and conflict between cyclists and motorists for space on our public roads. Spanning the fields of law, politics, public policy, and pop culture, Bike Battles is essential reading for everybody from cyclists, advocates, and lawyers, to urbanists, students, researchers, planners, and policy and decision-makers, and is destined to become a classic in the field.- Bob Mionske, author of Bicycling & the Law
James Longhurst documents the century-long story of a common, indeed ubiquitous device, the bicycle, which has never been satisfied to stay between the lines of modernist culture. First too fast, now too slow, once too elite, now too plebian, it has always been the square peg in the round hole of urban social order. The ‘battle’ in Bike Battles isn't between cars and bikes; it's between individuals and the infrastructure state.- Bruce Epperson, author of Bicycles in American Highway Planning
Bike Battles is masterly in its treatment of public policy toward the ‘roads as commons,’ and has given new depth to our understanding of cycling in America. I envy the light and easy style of the author.- Glen Norcliffe, author of Ride to Modernity
Bike Battles offers a significant contribution to both the growing literature on the history of American bicycling and the immense, well-established literature on urban policymaking. It is scholarship written by a sophisticated historian who draws on sources ranging from the traditional to the wonderfully unusual in order to shed light on the changing history of bicycling’s place in American cities.- Christopher Wells, author of Car Country