“on this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling…”
by T. D. DENHAM
During the 1880’s, 1890’s, and the first few years of the 20th century, the Bicycle Craze prompted many innovations that would soon be adapted for the automobile. One innovation was described in the following article about a bicycle freeway, built before the term “freeway” was coined.
The following article, as printed in the November 1901 issue of Good Roads Magazine, was originally published in from Pearson’s Magazine:
The South California towns, Los Angeles and Pasadena, are now connected by the strangest and most interesting of links-a magnificent, elevated cycle-way, with a smooth surface of wood, running for nine miles through beautiful country, flanked by green hills, and affording views at every point of the snow-clad Sierras.
On this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling. At Pasadena they may mount their cycles and sail down to Los Angeles without so much as touching the pedals, even though the gradient is extremely slight. The way lies for the most part along the east bank of the Arroyo Seco, giving a fine view of this wooded stream, and skirting the foot of the neighboring oak-covered hills.The surface is perfectly free from all dust and mud, and nervous cyclists find the track safer than the widest roads, for there are no horses to avoid, no trains or trolley-cars, no stray dogs or wandering children.
Southern California-with her delightful climate and beautiful country, verdant and radiant with wild flowers in the midst of winter-should be a cyclist’s paradise. There is only this drawback-a really good cycling road cannot be found in all the country! Where a good road is most needed it is least in evidence-between the towns that are now linked by the sky cycle-way.
Horace Dobbins and automobile, 1900...
A conservative estimate places the number of cyclists in the two towns, including visitors, at 30,000. As a sign of the enthusiasm that exists for wheeling, it is stated that no fewer than 5,000 inventors of cycles are numbered in the populations. On Sundays, enthusiastic cyclists often swarm over the apologies for roads between the towns. They bravely face the sand and the dust and the steep hills that they have to combat.
There is a difference of some 600 feet in the elevations of the larger city and of its suburb; but this does not deter the enthusiasts, although the twenty-mile ride from one town to the other and back is no mean feat of endurance. At present, not only is there no good cycling road, but there is little chance of one being constructed, owing to the number of railway tracks that would have to be crossed.
What a boon, therefore, is the new cycle-way to these beautiful California cities! It is thought that in five years time, industrial activity will be so quickened that the country will enjoy such prosperity as it has never known. Wheelmen increase and multiply every season. Motor cycles are fast coming in. The day is at hand when the motor-cyclist will be able to buy for a few cents enough compressed air to propel his machine for twenty miles at top speed. That in Pasadena, Queen of the Cities, and in Los Angeles, her metropolis, there will be 100,000 cyclists and 10,000 motor-cyclists in a few years, is a moderate computation. It is well that they will not have to trundle over the old, rutty adobe roads.
The inventor and promoter of the great cycle-way scheme is a wealthy Pasadena resident, Mr. Horace Dobbins, while the vice-president of the Cycle-way Company is an ex-Governor of the State, Mr. H.H. Markham. When the first bill for the cycle-way was brought before the Legislature it was vetoed-the scheme was thought chimerical. In 1897, however, the proposition was officially sanctioned, and although no one but its daring originator had any faith in it at first, gradually public support was gained. In spite of all difficulties and opposition, the cycle-way at length became a fact, and is now, perhaps, one of the most noteworthy institutions in Southern California.
The long track that winds like a great green snake through the hills between the two towns is built almost entirely of wood, and is strong enough to bear a service of trolley cars. Throughout the entire distance from the center of one city to the center of the other it has an uninterrupted right of way, passing over roads, streets, railway tracks, gullies and ravines. At its highest point, the elevation of the track is about fifty feet. The maximum grade in the nine-mile run is three percent., and that only for two thousand feet. Elsewhere the grade averages 11/4 percent.
At present, the cycle-way is wide enough to allow four cyclists to ride abreast, but its width may be doubled presently. As it is, cycles and motor-cycles alone are allowed on the road, but when the track is widened, motor cars may be permitted the privilege of running over its beautiful surface.
From the engineer’s point of view, the road is a triumph. No fewer than 1,250,000 feet of best Oregon pine were used in its construction. The wood is painted dark green. At night, the cycle-way looks like a gleaming serpent, for it is brightly lit with incandescent lights on both sides.
The cycle-track has pretty terminal stations and a Casino. The stations are little buildings of Moorish design, where cycles and motor cars may be hired and repaired and housed. The Casino sits on one of the loftiest hills in a beautiful tract of country that has been christened Merlemount Park, and which is now laid out as a peaceful retreat for the weary townsman. You look out from the crown of the hill over a superb view-the grand Sierra Madras overshadow the beautiful San Gabriel Valley; Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Bernardino, rising 9,000 feet and 11,000 feet, stand sentinel over the rich land of orange and olive; the blue pacific waters glisten to the south; and far out to sea your eye can discern the island of Santa Catalina.
According to internet sources, the Cycleway ran from the Hotel Green in Pasadena to the Plaza in Los Angeles. The toll was 10 cents for a one-way trip or 15 cents for a two-way ticket. The first mile and a quarter opened on January 1, 1890, but the commercial prospects for the Cycleway were doomed by the slowing of the Bicycle Craze and the coming of the automobile to the Los Angeles area.
(FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION 8.4.11)
all photos Pasadena Museum of History