Remembering The Great California Cycleway
All the excitement over a few lines painted on York Boulevard for bicycles last week, and Mark Vallianatos’ article on Eagle Rock Patch yesterday, reminded me of a time over a hundred years ago when bicycles ruled the day, and highways were being built just for them.
The Great California Cycleway opened in Pasadena around July of 1900. (Some sources say 1890, but its creator, Mr. Horace Dobbins didn’t start the Cycleway Company until 1897, and the only photos available of the cycleway date to 1900, likely when it was being shown.)
The California Cycleway was an elevated wooden bicycle highway that was designed to go from Hotel Green in Pasadena down the Arroyo, past Highland Park and into Downtown Los Angeles, ending at the Plaza on Olvera Street. Part of the design was to be a completely uninterrupted path by bridging over obstacles like creeks, roads, train tracks, and maintain only the slightest of grades (no more than 3%) over the 9 miles of smooth wooden track over an elevation of 600 feet. The entire project would have cost an estimated $187,500 at the time, and included a casino called, “Merlemount” to be placed midway in Arroyo Seco Park. (On top of where Debs Park is today??)
At the time of its opening there were an estimated 30,00o cyclists in the region. Which is quite impressive, considering the total population at that time was less than 500,000. The toll to use the bicycle super highway was 10¢ each way or 15¢ for a round trip. Part of the plan was to have bicycle rental available so that users could leave their bikes at either end of the cycleway. If Cycleway users wanted to forgo the climb back to Pasadena, they could take one of the 4 trains and trolleys adjacent to the cycleway.
While many portions of right-of-way were secured for the Cycleway along the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad and Arroyo Seco, the grand plan was never completed. The only section of the Great California Cycleway to be built was the 1.25 mile section that went to South Pasadena from the Hotel Green. “Progress” stepped in. (Or should I say drove in.)
By the late 19th century, the bicycle craze met the driving craze of the 20th century, and the cycleway was abandoned to become forgotten paths, alleyways, and roadways. (A popular belief is that the Cycleway became the Arroyo Seco Parkway / Pasadena Freeway. However, most of its path was east of the Arroyo Seco, whereas the parkway was built on the west bank and on area that was reclaimed by WPA flood control projects of the 1930s.)
The cycleway isn’t completely forgotten. In the years before his death, bicycle activist, Dennis Crowley, had tried to revive this dream of connecting Pasadena and Los Angeles with a New California Cycleway. Here in 90042, the sorely missed Cycleway Cafe honored the historical connection by naming their cafe after the utopian concept.
I’ve created a Google Map that shows part of path of the California Cycleway as best as I could guess it. (There must be a better map from 1900 out there somewhere.)
In the meantime, continue to enjoy the ever-increasing new bicycle lines in the pavement and please share the road.