Friday, July 12, 2013

forgotten history of what might have been, the California Cycleway (bicycle only elevated wood road from Pasadena to LA)

the Hotel Green, Pasadena, 1900

In 1897 bicycling was a fad, a craze. The first of many strange compulsions that caught Americans up in a social movement that seems strange to those same people after it's gone (pet rocks, flag pole sitting, etc)

It was soon swept away by the board track racers, endurance runs, and land speed racing on dry lakes. But there was a time when biking was the thing to do, and LA had an entrepreneur that built 1.2 miles of this bike highway to charge a toll for a quick easy way to get from Pasadena to downtown LA.

He had it all worked out, except for the part where it gets completed while it still was in demand.

found on from a facebook post by but it originates in a 1901 magazine article posted on the

"On this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling. At Pasadena they may mount their cycles and sail down to Los Angeles without so much as touching the pedals, even though the gradient is extremely slight.The way lies for the most part along the east bank of the Arroyo Seco, giving a fine view of this wooded stream, and skirting the foot of the neighboring oak-covered hills.The surface is perfectly free from all dust and mud, and nervous cyclists find the track safer than the widest roads, for there are no horses to avoid, no trains or trolley-cars, no stray dogs or wandering children." 

the article is written in an antique flowing way, eloquent by todays norm, but it points out some interesting signs of it's time... 5000 cycle inventors, nothing worth riding a bike on in the age of steam locomotive prestige but adobe roads and train track crossings of muddy wagon wheel ruts. The bikes would be smoothy riding above all the horse manure, rocks and ruts on a boardwalk with nothing to interrupt a pleasant Southern California sunny day. If you started in Pasadena, you'd cruise downhill the whole way without pedaling at all due to the 600 feet elevation difference and the 20 miles... it's likely if this had occured it would have been an hour of riding downhill.

Throughout the entire distance from the center of one city to the center of the other it has an uninterrupted right of way, passing over roads, streets, railway tracks, gullies and ravines. At its highest point, the elevation of the track is about fifty feet. The maximum grade in the nine-mile run is three percent., and that only for two thousand feet. Elsewhere the grade averages 11/4 percent.

the elevated cycleway was designed to run from the Hotel Green in Pasadena to the Plaza in Los Angeles, and was an attempt to speed up transportation and accommodate the booming bicycle craze at the time. In some areas the cycleway was planned to be 50 feet above the ground. The toll was going to be 10 cents for a one-way trip or 15 cents for a two-way ticket, or cyclist could take one of the trains back up the hill. The sudden popularity of automobiles quickly made the cycleway obsolete and the project was abandoned after only one and a half miles of the intended nine mile track was completed.

some of it went through the back yards of 35 East California Street to 78 East California Street


  1. Fascinating story. Thanks for posting it.

    I suggest that you do a bit more research on biking history. Bicycling was much more than a fad or craze. For decades it was the most popular sport in the world, led to the good roads movement that almost literally paved the way for the automobile, liberated the common man--and woman especially--from the confines of mere walking distances or expensive carriage travel, and led to innovation and patents in design, engineering, and manufacture that made possible the development of the automobile and airplane. Harley Davidson and the Wright Brothers began in bicycle manufacture. If I remember correctly more patents were issued for cycle related products in the 1890s than all others combined.

    I am surprised that this project was never completed given the ubiquity of and popularity of bicycles at the time. It would be great to see something like it built today.

    Thanks again for posting it.

  2. I suggest you read the rest of this site. All 12,000 posts. Then you tell me what I need to do.

    You don't make a remark like telling me what to research more, when referring to wheeled vehicles, and think I'm not sure you're the one of us that is in the wrong. I've put more content that fleshes out the full spectrum and variety of the 2 wheeled cycle than you've seen. I've learned and forgotten more bike hsitory than you've probably ever seen.

    You're welcome for posting it, it's truly a remarkable historical item.

  3. Thanks for bringing these little known nuggets to our attention,
    they are all greatly appreciated and enjoyed.
    If we can't learn from history...