The incredible story of cycling highways

While in Vietnam biking is becoming more and more popular, cyclists still have to fight for their space on the road and to be respected by motorcyclists or car (not say bus) drivers who tend to look at us with disdain. After all, if you ride a bike, it means you can’t ride something better. We know mentalities evolve at their own pace and it will take a while for bikes to be widely used in Vietnam as they once were (although it was for purely economic reasons). And who knows if we will ever reach the advanced project London is planning for its cyclists: segregated cycling highways. This is the dream for any cyclists, roads in good conditions where you wont have to fight for your life avoiding cars, trucks and buses or pedestrians who go into bike lanes (when there is one).

According to this article in The Guardian, the most ambitious plan is an 18-mile segregated route from Tower Hill in the east to Acton in the west, running through the centre of the city. Imagining something like that in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi  can only bring frustration, since we are very far from it, but this kind of project is not as innovative as it may seem. Before cars became increasingly popular during the 20th century, there were several projects to do cycling highways and to make bike the main way of transportation. A pity for bike lovers that cars ruined all these projects.

California cycleway in 1900
California cycleway in 1900

By the end of the 19th century cycling was booming in some European countries and in the US. As a result, cyclists, were very active in demanding roads adequate to their needs, since most of them were not paved and in poor condition. Some of these associations even contributed to creating cycling roads before the turn of the century. The first registered one was built in the Netherlands (still a cycling paradise today), along the Brenda-Tilburg road, during the 1890’s. But the most amazing one was built in California, from California to Los Angeles. Called the California Cycle Way, it was an elevated wooden tollway built specially for bicycles, an idea that seems so advanced and is over 100 years old. Unfortunately, only a small stretch of the initial plan was built and was dismantled a few years later, as motorized vehicles and electric trams were gaining popularity and the bike fever started to decline.

There were projects to revive it during the 1980’s in Los Angeles, on the wake of the 1984 Olympic games, but it was not possible and cities all over the world had already been built for cars. There were some similar experiences (although not as spectacular) in Europe, but they kept losing space as cars expanded everywhere. It’s only now, with this new biking boom at the beginning of this century that these ideas are gaining popularity again. Let’s hope we’ll see something like this in Vietnam soon. While we wait, we still enjoy many roads with very little traffic in the countryside and we can still cycle safely on bigger ones, since motorbikes don’t usually go too fast.

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