Historical Perspective and the future

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Historical Perspective and the future

I wonder what stories you might hear if you asked your elders about their memories of bicycles and bicycling.

As I was talking with my mother yesterday, we explored some of her memories of pre-WW II Tokyo. She came from a well-to-do Japanese family and offered some interesting perspectives on cars, bicycles, and pedestrian traffic. She remembered how the streets of Tokyo were narrow and often choked with pedestrians, bicycles and, sometimes, cars. Cars were considered a luxury, a burden, and a nuisance. Since none of her family could actually drive, her grandfather employed three full-time driver/mechanics to drive family members to work, to attend to domestic purposes, and to assist guests in their travel needs. Their garage was full of cars and bicycles. Bicycles were seen as a necessity, since cars often needed maintenance, were often were slowed by pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and roads were not always in conditions fit for cars. She remembered hearing of the challenges to city planners as car owners pushed for wider streets and property owners balked at the expense of moving buildings back from the streets on their small city lots. Bicycles were ridden all year ’round. When winter snows came, bikes were taken to bike mechanics to have chains (?) fitted to their tires (coaster brakes made this possible). Given her fading memory, this was a delightful¬†conversation¬†with her. I never knew of her past dependence upon bicycles.

The above conversation with my mother was spurred, in part, by questions I had in response to the “Modest Proposal” article in the New York Times. I wondered about what transportation was like in cities before cars played such a major role. What did traffic look like? At what point did bicycles become common means of transportation (well-designed, affordable, maintainable, and mass produced)? Did city planners ever take into account the needs of bicyclists? How did this vary from region to region and country to country? What can we learn from that time of industrial revolution and apply to our current need for economic, ecological, and industrial evolution?

By | 2009-03-14T18:53:48+00:00 March 14th, 2009|Categories: Advocacy, Commentary, Gear, Maintenance|5 Comments