NYC bike lanes date back to 1899, and trucks blocked them then too

October 4, 2016

Vehicles parked smack in the middle of bike lanes are among the biggest scourges faced by city cyclists. It’s illegal (yes, there’s a $115 fine) though the law is rarely enforced–but it’s not just a modern obstruction. As it turns out, the main reason early bike lanes were created in the 1890s was because of lobbying by cyclists in the hopes getting more open riding space. New York City began paving whole streets and laying down asphalt strips specifically for cyclists–and, ironically, carts, wagons and other vehicles immediately began blocking them.

NYC bike architecture
Image © NYCDOT via photopin cc

Atlas Obscura recounts how the moment a smooth strip of pavement threatened to make life a lot easier for two-wheelers, things with more wheels saw free parking. By 1899, the wheels were in motion to pass a law that would fine bike-lane blockers; a hefty (at the time) fine of $10 would be levied on “any cart, wagon, truck, carriage or other vehicle” (except tricycles and bicycles of course) parked in the asphalt strip meant for cyclists unless they were actively unloading said vehicle. We don’t know if the law actually passed, but after more than a century we have yet to find a new spin on the impasse. A recently-launched “name and shame” site,, features a crowd-sourced NYC map that targets bike lane scofflaws; but public shaming only goes so far when you’re protected by 10,000 pounds of truck and at least four wheels.

[Via Atlas Obscura]


Lead image: Fifth Avenue at night, 1899. (Image: Charles W Jefferys/Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library)

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