Bicycling Booms During Lockdown—But There’s A Warning From History

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COMMUTING AND shopping by bike, cycling while pregnant, riding with musical instruments: it all sounds very Dutch but, as Time explained, in 1970 it was becoming standard for Americans, too

Motorists of the world beware, the all-powerful bicycle lobby (were it to exist, except as a parody on Twitter) is coming for your cars. Bicycle sales are going gangbusters; space for motorists is being reclaimed overnight by global cities installing pop-up cycleways; and 1950s levels of motor traffic mean more people are cycling, even on roads that would otherwise be bumper-to-bumper with tin boxes.

Has bicycling ever been this popular? Yes. In the early 1970s. This was when much of the world, but especially America, experienced a “bike boom”—sales were so strong that bike shops regularly ran out of stock and would-be customers had to put their names on long waiting lists.

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Many commentators at the time believed the boom would never end and that cars were on the way out. (Regarding the current bike boom, the BBC asked on April 30, “Are we witnessing the death of the car?”)

In the 1970s, U.S. bicycle advocates assumed America would soon become more bicycle-friendly than the Netherlands. But while the Netherlands used the oil embargo to rein back the dominance of the motorcar in its cities and expand its cycleway network, there was no lasting bicycle-shaped legacy for the U.S. The boom went bust, and now few remember how bicycle-crazy America went for a few short years.

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