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Bicycle Coalition in the 80s: Fight To Preserve Your Rights

Photo via Temple University archives

After forming and getting a few wins under our belt throughout the 1970s, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia spent much of the 1980s preserving bicyclists’ rights against Not In My Backyard government oversteps. These efforts were generally successful and the Coalition additionally found time to publish official bike calendars and maps, create an official name, hire its first paid staff member, and get recognition from the President of the United States.

Beginning in 1980, the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition was focused on opposing bicycle bans on Kelly Drive, West River Drive (as MLK Drive was then called), and Lincoln Drive. While the bans were not overturned completely, advocacy resulted in improved multi-use paths enjoyed by thousands of Philadelphia residents and visitors. It was through this advocacy that the Bicycle Coalition organized the first Freedom Valley Bike Ride, an open ride from Philadelphia into the northwestern suburbs, and back.

And to commemorate the policy battles that would eventually lead to the construction of the region’s Circuit Trails, if you give a gift or become a member this week, you will receive these awesome Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia/The Circuit Trails socks.

In 1982, the Bicycle Coalition (then called the Bicycle Coalition of the Delaware Valley) published its first regional bicycle map. Recently, the member who created this map, Bob Thomas, met with current Executive Director Sarah Clark Stuart to talk about the map.

Sarah Clark Stuart and Bob Thomas hold Thomas’ map

By 1984, the Hitch-2 bike rack, first designed in Philadelphia, starts to spread around the city. The bike rack was developed and designed by architect David Rulon while a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. Appalled by the complicated bike racks being installed by around the university at the time, he designed the first Hitch-2 racks for Urban Outfitters at 40th and Locust, which were soon seen and spread by Coalition members. That same rack was noticed throughout the United States and adopted by major cities around the country.

Later that year, it was announced that the Freedom Valley Bike Ride had raised $16,000 since the beginning of the decade to help construct the Valley Forge section of what would eventually become the Schuylkill River Trail.

The next year, in 1985, the Bicycle began getting directly involved in politics. A representative from the Coalition, Bob Pierson, joined a city task force to consider the future of the Chestnut Street Transitway, which was still closed to private motor vehicles — and, technically, bicycles.

The Coalition also put its support behind the state’s “Bottle Bill,” which would have required deposits on all plastic, metal and glass bottles. Why’d we get involved? Simple. All that broken glass on the curb was (and remains) a detriment to bicycling. Broken glass is one of the worst culprits of flat tires for city commuters.

The Bicycle Coalition also joined a larger coalition of community groups and park users to fight the temporary ban on bicycles on Kelly and West River Drive during rush hour, and Lincoln Drive south of Rittenhouse at all times. We fought and defeated a bicycle ban on portions of South Street in 1986, instituted after merchants complained that bicyclists added to traffic congestion and “street crime.”

By 1989, the Freedom Valley Bike Ride had continued to raise money for what would eventually become the Schuylkill River Trail—and its members put together $15,000 for Montgomery County for the construction of the Conshohocken-Norristown section of the trail. We would also join a lawsuit brought by the Clean Air Council against the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Pennsylvania.

We would also separate from the greater “Bicycle Foundation,” the group it had been operating under, and become its own 501(c)3, focusing exclusively on educational and charitable activities.

When George Bush became president, Coalition co-founder John Dowlin shared a message in our Cyclegram he had once received from the new leader of the free world (albeit before he was president), in which Bush noted:

“The more I think about our U.S. domestic transportation problems from this vantage point halfway around the world, the more I see an increased role for the bicycle in American life. Obviously, some terrains make it more difficult, obviously some climates make it more difficult; but I am convinced after riding bikes an enormous amount here in China, that it is a sensible, economical, clean form of transportation and makes enormous good sense.”

Stay tuned next week for our Bicycle Coalition in the 90s report! And to give a gift or become a member during this month’s Member Drive, click here.

Topics: Biking in Philly, Biking the Suburbs, Featured

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