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With the city’s “bicycle craze” reaching its height, and complaints rolling in from incensed pedestrians, council passes bylaw No. 258, regulating the speed and freedoms of Vancouver’s cyclists.
“The streets were largely macadam or wooden plank,” City Archivist J.S. Mathews will recall, years later. “In winter, the macadam was muddy; the planks, frequently loose, had a nasty habit of squirting dirty water up the cracks between when a weight passed over, frequently soiling the trouser legs. This led to riding on the wooden sidewalks, especially in the dark or dusk. Pedestrians on these walks noised their objections with the result that a by-law regulating bicycle traffic and bicyclists was passed by the City Council. The fine for the first offence of riding on a sidewalk was five dollars; it was unlawful to ride a bicycle at night without a light. A license to ride was necessary, and the police were kept busy enforcing the law; a daily crop of charges were heard at the police court.”
Under the conditions of the bylaw, a warning bell must be used, and maximum speed is limited to 8 mph (with a 6 mph maximum at intersections). However, as Mathews will note, the increase in enforcement does little to curb the enthusiasm of Vancouver cyclists, and will in fact lead to the construction of the city’s first dedicated bicycle paths.
“Repairs shops were many; a knowledge of the merits or demerits of the different makes was essential to any young person,” Mathews will recall. “All kinds of gadgets were invented as accessories, including ‘fancy toned’ bells (rung with the thumb to warn pedestrians to get out of the way), lamps of fancy design (which burned kerosene), extra hand brakes, handles and handlebars of high, low and medium twist, mud guards large and small, rims of wood and rims of polished metal; and they all had their advocates, some violent[...]The “machines” were so numerous that the City Council ordered special bicycle paths constructed on those streets which were most frequently used. These paths were invariably cinder surfaced, and rolled flat, and ran along the edge of the street between the gutter and wooden sidewalk. They were about six feet wide, and constantly kept in order, level and smooth, by city workmen.”
“Gradually,” Mathews will conclude, “the bicycle craze died down, and the street car system was extended into even remote and sparsely settled districts; then the motor car came. The bicycle paths fell into disrepair, and finally mysteriously disappeared.”
IMAGE: Terminal City Bicycle Club, circa 1896. Image Courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.