Editor’s Note: This is the second blog post in a series about the history of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. This is an updated/edited version of a similar post written by Randy LoBasso in 2017. All mistakes are welcome to be corrected!
After forming and getting a few wins under our belt throughout the 1970s, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia spent much of the 1980s fighting for bicyclists’ rights: the right to ride on roads (East and West River Drives) during rush hour, to access the South Street Bridge, the Chestnut Street Transitway and public transit, the right to dedicated bike parking and to roads free of broken glass, etc.
In 1981, the Coalition had to prepare for a SEPTA strike and outlined to Mayor Green and Managing Director George Hague that the City should prepare with safe routes, secure parking, bridge access and shuttle service. As far we know, these letters were never responded to.
The Coalition’s seasonal Cyclegrams”reported on what individual members were doing to engage the Mayor, the Managing Director, Streets Department, Planning Commission, Parking Authority, SEPTA, etc. to ask for better facilities, safer roadways, better access and safety tips. Sounds very much like what we are still doing, 40 years later!
Below is a membership brochure designed by Bob Thomas lists the Coalition’s near, immediate, and long term goals. John Boyle and I rated how well we have come over that 40 year period. What do you think?
Beginning in 1980, the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition worked to oppose bicycle bans on Kelly Drive, West River Drive (as MLK Drive was then called), Lincoln Drive and South Street. 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 helped the Sierra Club put on the first Freedom Valley Bike Ride, an open ride from Philadelphia into the northwestern suburbs and back, which raised funds to create the Montgomery County section of the Schuylkill River Trail.
In 1982, the Bicycle Coalition published its first regional bicycle map, put together by none other than our friend, Bob Thomas, one of the several founders of the Bicycle Coalition.
By 1984, the Hitch-2 bike rack, first designed in Philadelphia, started 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 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. 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.
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. Interestingly enough, the PennPIRG staffer who came to talk to the Bicycle Coalition members about the PA Bottle Bill was Sarah Clark Stuart’s late husband, Rob Stuart.
When George H. W. Bush became president, Coalition co-founder John Dowlin shared a message in one of the Cyclegrams that he had once received from the new president (albeit before he was elected), 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.” George Herbert sounds a little like our friend Mayor Pete!