Detroit bicycling in 1898: No other city compares

1898 Detroit Official GuideWe recently purchased the Detroit Official Guide from 1898.

The city was growing then and it appears this guide was intended for newcomers. Most of the pages list “reliable merchants”, including sixteen bike shops around the downtown area, nine of them on Woodward Avenue.

Beyond the retailersr, bicycling has a prominent place in the guide. The appendix lists city officials first then bicycling information.

And it speaks very highly of Detroit’s cycling opportunities. Detroit and Brooklyn were America’s best cycling cities in 1898? We’d like to think so, but it could just be visitor’s guide boosterism.

From the Guide:

With perhaps the exception of Brooklyn, noted for its cycle paths, no other city in the country can compare with Detroit in the facilities which it offers for pleasant bicycle runs. The suburban runs are especially fine. Elsewhere mention has been made of the streets and avenues of the city, and they need only be referred to here in passing. Miles of excellent macadam extend in all directions leading to scenes of beauty and interest. The course around Belle Isle is famous but that is only one. In reaching the Island you ride past some of the finest homes in the country beneath a canopy of foliage of trees planted more that a century ago, on a perfect asphalt pavement. To write of the attractions of the various cycle paths would be to write a long story. Suffice it to merely point them out:

Going out Fort St. West, rides may visit Ecorse, 9 miles; Wyandotte, 12 miles, Trenton, 17 miles; Flat Rock, 25 miles.

Michigan Ave. — Dearborn, 10 miles; Inkster, 15 miles; Wayne, 18 miles; Canton, 23 miles; Denton’s, 26 miles; Ypsilanti, 30 miles; Ann Arbor, 38 miles.

Jefferson Ave. — Grosse Pointe, 10 miles; McSweeney’s Club, 24 miles.

Woodward Ave. — Highland Park, 5 miles; Whitewood, 7 miles; Royal Oak, 12 miles; Birmingham, 18 miles; Bloomfield Center, 21 miles; Pontiac, 28 miles; Drayton Plains, 31 miles; Waterford, 33 miles; Clarkston, 35 miles; Orchard Lake, 32 miles. The road out Woodward Avenue is always good.

Grand River Ave. — Greenfield, 8 miles; Farmington, 10 miles.

And the bicycling ordinances? There weren’t many. Remember there were no stop signs, traffic lights, one way streets, or expressways. To the 1898 cyclist, the condition of the road surface was the most important information needed for a productive ride.

Of course the ordinances were important as well — and they were quite simple. We especially like the ordinance permitting businesses to have bicycle racks.

From the Official Guide:

The following is a synopsis of the Bicycle Ordinance now in force:

Section 1. — No person shall ride any bicycle on the streets of Detroit in the district bounded by Jefferson avenue, Cass, High (Edit: now I-75), and Brush streets at a rate of speed to exceed eight miles per hour; outside of said limits not to exceed twelve miles per hour. All persons shall slacken speed when approaching any crossing, crosswalk or intersecting street when any person is upon the same, or when requested or signaled to do so by a police officer.

Section 2. — All persons riding, driving or propelling vehicles through the streets of Detroit shall do so on the right hand side of the street, and in such a manner as to leave sufficient space for other vehicles going in the same direction to pass upon the left hand side. All persons passing vehicles going in the same direction, shall pass to the left hand side.

Section 3. — It shall be unlawful for more than three persons to ride abreast upon bicycles upon any highway or public place, or to ride curving to and fro thereon.

Section 4. — No person shall ride within the city limits without having at least one hand on the handle bar. And all riders of bicycles shall be compelled to carry light from sunset to sunrise when riding on sidewalks.

Section 5. — No person shall ride upon any sidewalk in Detroit, except upon the walks bordering upon unpaved streets, the roadways of which are in an impassable condition for such vehicles. Provided, that no person shall ride upon any sidewalk upon any such street at a rate of speed exceeding five miles per hour. Children under 12 years of age may ride tricycles on sidewalks.

Section 6. — Any person occupying premises where there is a space of 12 feet or more between the lot and the curb lines, shall have the right to maintain bicycle racks in front of said premises, inside of and adjoining the curb. The total space occupied (including bicycles) shall not exceed 10 feet running lengthwise of the curb, not extend back from the curb more than two and one-half feet. Only one such rack shall be allowed to be erected for each 20 feet of street frontage.

Section 7. — Violations of this ordinance shall be punished by a fine not exceeding twenty-five ($25) dollars for each offense; and the court may make a further sentence, that, in the default in the payment of such a fine, the offender be imprisoned in the Detroit House of Correction until the payment thereof, for any period not exceeding thirty days.

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One Response to “Detroit bicycling in 1898: No other city compares”

  1. Joel Batterman Says:

    Fascinating! Would you happen to know what those early bike racks may have looked like? There are a few antique racks remaining outside West Quad on the UM Ann Arbor campus, but the building itself was only constructed in 1937.

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