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April 6, 2011

Roads were built for cars? Not so

Getting There has had a ton of comments on the subject of the respective rights of bicycles and motor vehicles on the road in recent days. One of the most frequent comments has been an variation on the theme of: "The roads were built for automobiles."

The problem: It isn't so. There's no basis for that statement in law or in American history.

Law? There's not a state in the Union that reserves the use of the roads for autos only -- with the exception of limited-access highways. Otherwise, Hummers and Schwinns enjoy equal access (if not throw-weight).

History? Here's a tidbit from

In May, 1880, riding clubs and manufacturers met in Newport, Rhode Island to form the League of American Wheelmen. Its main purpose was for the support of bicycling burgeoning and to protect their interests in Washington D.C. Then in 1891, the League went national and started to publish their magazine known as Good Roads Magazine. The national magazine started to garnish much attention in readership and solidified a movement celebrated as the Good Roads Movement.

That movement gained momentum with the support of auto enthusiasts after 1900, but from the early days of paved roadways in the United States, they were built with bicycles in mind as one of the users.

In many cases, the engineers who designed those roads did a miserable job of adapting them to shared use, but never was it intended that they should be excluded. And there's much to be debated and discussed about how bicyclists and motorists should interact.

But the notion that roads were built for motor vehicles only has never been true. What's happened is that a certain segment of the population that grew up in an era when bicycles were regarded as toys rather than transportation (roughly the 1950s through the 1980s) were ill trained to deal with bicycles on the road. Rather than learning, they have stubbornly resisted the fact they have always been required to share the road.

There's no getting around it: Watching out for bicyclists and interacting with them safety is a basic driving skill. Those who can't do that should seek remedial instruction or stop driving.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:32 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: On the roads


Thank you.

Bicycles? Yes. Most assuredly.
Spandex? Please no.

It seems a reasonable compromise to me.

Also picked up on this strange notion reading through the comments. Bizarre. Ergo, carried to its' logical conclusion, pedestrians cannot cross the street?

Michael, you are absolutely correct.

And even on some freeways, bikes are allowed. A specific Maryland example is in Anne Arundel County, on Md. 32 between Md. 198 and Md. 175.

OK, really, where is the lunatic fringe on this post? Anyone care to debate this issue, or did Mr. Dresser's deft deployment of cold, hard, irrefutable facts leave you speechless?

Automobiles and bicycles have a lot of common ancestry. The first automobiles invented by Karl Benz (a bike fanatic himself), were built with spoked wheels, steel tubular frames and chain drives -- all common elements in bikes, even in the present day. Benz's love for the simplicity and efficiency of bike design informed his automobile work.

I'm sure Karl would be sad to know that many of the modern-day users of his invention are opposed to dual use of roads by bikes and cars.

I'd just like to comment that "wheelman" is a much cooler name than "bicyclist".

Wheelwomen! Wheelmen! Take to the street!

With patience, consideration, and respect for other people, their space and their possessions; I think we could solve most of the world's problems including car vs bicycle!

More roads were built instead of introducing other solutions. So the core problem, ... today's environment is forcing people to use their cars. ... Our car-addicted society is not easy to handle so we have to make changes step by environment and the effects of living in this environment were not known. We produced trains and cars and with them congestion.


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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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