At the close of the 19th century — just before cars made their appearance — a wealthy American businessman began construction on a private, for-profit bicycle superhighway that would stretch from Pasadena to Los Angeles. It almost got built.
This story comes to us from Brian Merchant at the always interesting Motherboard. The entrepreneur in question was Horace Dobbins, and he was trying to take advantage of the pre-automobile worldwide cycling boom. Merchant writes:
Dobbins was able to win the support of an ex-governor of California, who in turn strong-armed a nay-saying legislature to get the bike highway approved. It was officially dubbed the California Cycleway. Here's a Google Map of its intended route:
The first stretch of it, 1.25 miles across Pasadena, was in fact erected. The plan was to charge bicyclists 10¢ a pop for hopping on the bike-only highway one way, or 15¢ round trip. That's a savings of 50% if you make a day of it, folks.
The notion that anyone could profit off of such a venture—a bicycle toll road—seems insane now. But at the time, bicycling was a full-on fad. As in, something the rich, the hip, and the elite actually wanted to do. There were 30,000 cyclists in the Los Angeles region at the time, which was less populous then; it was home to 500,000 residents. A full 6% of Angelenos were cyclists.
Read the rest of the story at Motherboard.