Remembering How the Roads Got Paved

Today from the Streetsblog Network, a look back at the early days of paved roads in the United States and the vehicle operators who led the way for their paving. The vehicles some of these men were operating, as Detroit’s  M-Bike.org reminds us, were bicycles:

IMG_3039_300x225.jpgWhat’s missing from this cake?

The Woodward Avenue Action Association
(WA3) had a ceremony today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the world’s first mile of concrete highway. That first mile was Woodward Avenue from McNichols to Seven Mile Road in Detroit. It was just 18 feet wide.

This historic milestone was very much the result of decades of tireless work, often led by bicyclists such as Horatio “Good Roads” Earle and Edward Hines…

Hines, former chief consul for the League of American Wheelmen Michigan Division, was a Wayne County road commissioner (along with Cass Benton and Henry Ford). He helped oversee this project. Back in 1893, he helped create legislation that enabled county road commissions.

Earle followed Hines as Chief Consul of the Wheelmen before becoming a state senator and our first state highway commissioner. He founded both MDOT and the American Road Builders Association. The National Cement Association called Earle the “Father of the Concrete Roads of the World.”

It’s highly ironic that some motorists question cyclists rights to the roads when we were there first and literally paving the way for improved motoring.

Unfortunately, that kind of history lesson is likely lost on the kind of drivers who see cyclists as "guests" on the road — guests who should ride on the shoulder regardless of how much debris they encounter there (h/t to @cyclelicious for that link).

But let’s not end the week on a down note. Instead, here are a few tidbits for your viewing pleasure:

Via EcoVelo, what may be the most amazing bike metamorphosis ever encountered. Click and believe.

Via Tempe Bicycle Action Group, the story of a bike that was ticketed for "excessive awesomeness." It belongs, by the way, to the woman who created these beautiful miniature bicycle dioramas.

And finally, a short film created for the NYC Bicycle Film Festival in 2009, Andrea Dorfman’s "Thoughts on My Bike." It makes me a little bit happier every time I watch it (thanks to @leejb for that one).

  • gecko

    Nice piece of history. Always wondered about the sequence of events. It seems this happened after the first cycle rails where built in the 1880s.

    Also wonder if at some point in the near future these miles of concrete and asphalt will be start to be replaced by much more practical and environmentally responsible ways to travel this planet?

  • gecko

    Hopefully, our vast heat-island-effect, space, energy, and life-wasting roads will go the way of the ancient roman roads built two millennia ago with the broad commercialization of molecular-strength carbon nanotube and graphene materials projected for about 40 years from now likely to completely reinvent the nature of the built environment; where the equivalent of a one-ton per foot steel beam might weigh about twenty pounds per foot and capable of terrific spans.

    Production of these materials could be local and onsite eliminating the need for truck transport and might even help pull carbon out of the atmosphere especially with the assistance of local distributed low-cost solar energy production using very efficient and equally low-cost photovoltaic and solar-concentrator technologies with oxygen as a by-product and used to accelerate local tree and crop growth.

    A low-point in human history, the first atom bomb was created in a few short years and landing on the moon didn’t take much longer so, with concerted effort these things could happen quite rapidly.

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