In the 1890’s, bicycles were more than a hot commodity, but also an obsession– nationally and in ad 1896

A contentious, relevant topic of the era was “Sidewalk Riding.” A May 1896 article lead with: “West Indianapolis bicyclists are rebelling against the strict enforcement ¬†of the law against riding on the sidewalk. They say that the air will be the only place left for them to ride in soon.”

Evidently, navigating horse-drawn wagons, carriages, and street cars on the streets of our city held too many obstacles for bicyclists, so they would ride on the sidewalks. And though that was illegal, offenders weren’t exactly carted off to jail.

“Attorney Stevenson is of the opinion that if bicyclists meet with accident on the over-sprinkled streets, they will have a case for damages against a property owns, the suburb, or both. The suburban bicyclists point to the liberalness of the Indianapolis authorities, who have made no law against riding on the sidewalks, and do not attempt to enforce the State law dealing with the same.”


Bicyclists in 1894; Courtesy Bertie Mynes Sappenfield

Our problems are very similar today: if not the Cultural Trail, Monon Trail, or other greenway, some of our streets are particularly challenging to navigate. Take Delaware Street for example: the street is practically the second speedway of Indianapolis. Especially through Old Northside, the average car speed is high and yet the sidewalks are wide. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice: risk life and limb or risk ticking someone off for using the sidewalk. Self-preservation trumps the rules.

Do you ever bike on sidewalks? Where? And if you stick to the streets, what are your favorite routes?

3 responses to “Misc. Monday: Bicycling Indy in 1896”

  1. Greg Wagoner says:

    I mostly cycle the Cultural Trail and the Monon so I don’t cycle on many streets. However when coming home from the Cultural Trail I have to travel north on East Street and Central Ave. Since they are one way streets going south, I ride on the sidewalk. I always give pedestrians the right of way, but sometimes I get dirty looks for riding on the sidewalk. It’s my only option. Riding on the street the wrong way is against the law, and it’s quite dangerous! I’m grateful for the Cultural Trail and other greenways throughout Indianapolis.

  2. George Starkey says:

    When going east-west on 86th street, heck yeah I ride the sidewalks! Very seldom do I encounter people, and they are worlds safer (and smoother) than the street itself.

  3. Tom Davis says:

    My wife and I used to ride semi-regularly up Delaware from downtown to Fall Creek, where we would pick up Washington Blvd. to continue north. But it was usually on a weekend afternoon so I’m sure the traffic was much less than on the weekdays. We sometimes start at the Art Museum and ride downtown and then up past Broad Ripple before heading back. In that case, we do take the sidewalk down the hill along Michigan Road by the International School on our way to IMA.

    About ten years ago I rode fairly regularly one summer from around 38th and Guion to 86th and College. I had a couple of routes, but like George, if I took 86th from College to Ditch, I used the sidewalk. The pedestrians were rare. What scared me the most was actually Guion from 56th Street south. I actually got to where I went out of my way down to 30th Street then east to the Canal towpath and took that to the Monon up to 86th Street.

    But I’m not riding that much these days and if we are on the streets, it’s only on the weekends. The cultural trail has really helped getting around downtown.

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