When California almost built a bicycle superhighway

A portion of the California Cycleway in 1900. (Pasadena Museum of History)

Copenhagen has been hailed for its so-called bicycle superhighways, started in 2012.

But a Southern Californian had the idea more than a century earlier.

It was this week in 1900 that saw the opening of the California Cycleway, an elevated wooden path designed to link Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles.

At the time, commuters slogged along rutted roads between the suburbs and downtown, where most of the jobs were.

Dan Koeppel, a Los Angeles-based writer who has researched the cycleway, said it offered an alternative that combined the cutting-edge bicycle with a novel idea — rapid transit.

“It really was visionary,” he said

Conceived by Horace Dobbins, a millionaire businessman and later mayor of Pasadena, the nine-mile route was to soar up to 50 feet along the Arroyo Seco river valley. The toll was 10 cents.

On New Year’s Day, the first portion opened to great fanfare, prompting news reports as far as England.

The bicycle path was a profit-seeking venture by Horace Dobbins, seen here circa 1916. (Pasadena Museum of History)

But the promise of the cycleway never panned out. It faced opposition from powerful streetcar interests and declining bicycle ridership, among other obstacles.

With only about a mile of the path built, it was abandoned. Before long, Los Angeles’s love affair with the automobile was in full swing.

In 1940, the six-lane Arroyo Seco Parkway was opened with a triumphant optimism in place of the old cycleway.

Gov. Culbert L. Olson declared it “the first freeway in the West.”

“It is only the first,” he added, presciently. “And that is its great promise to the future — the promise of many more freeways to come.”

This article is from the California Sun.

By Mike McPhate

Leave a Reply