On Bicycles

A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City

Evan Friss

Columbia University Press

On Bicycles

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Pub Date: May 2019

ISBN: 9780231182560

256 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $30.00£24.00

Pub Date: May 2019

ISBN: 9780231544245

256 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£24.00

On Bicycles

A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City

Evan Friss

Columbia University Press

Subways and yellow taxis may be the icons of New York transportation, but it is the bicycle that has the longest claim to New York’s streets: two hundred years and counting. Never has it taken to the streets without controversy: 1819 was the year of the city’s first bicycle and also its first bicycle ban. Debates around the bicycle’s place in city life have been so persistent not just because of its many uses—recreation, sport, transportation, business—but because of changing conceptions of who cyclists are.

In On Bicycles, Evan Friss traces the colorful and fraught history of cycling in New York City. He uncovers the bicycle’s place in the city over time, showing how it has served as a mirror of the city’s changing social, economic, infrastructural, and cultural politics since it first appeared. It has been central, as when horse-drawn carriages shared the road with bicycle lanes in the 1890s; peripheral, when Robert Moses’s car-centric vision made room for bicycles only as recreation; and aggressively marginalized, when Ed Koch’s battle against bike messengers culminated in the short-lived 1987 Midtown Bike Ban. On Bicycles illuminates how the city as we know it today—veined with over a thousand miles of bicycle lanes—reflects a fitful journey powered, and opposed, by New York City’s people and its politics.
In On Bicycles, Evan Friss fills in the missing chapters that bicycles hold in New York City’s near-miraculous transportation history and shows how the city’s streets are finally catching up with them. Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg Associates, former NYC transportation commissioner
This social history of the transformation of New York’s relationship to cycling is elegantly researched, gracefully written, and nearly as delightful as the bicycle itself. Kim Phillips-Fein, author of Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics
Two hundred years ago, the first riding machines that resembled what would become bicycles began pouring into Manhattan, and New York City would never be the same again. On Bicycles is brilliantly researched, noting the battles against local government, sexism, the automobile, and the railways, as the bicycle fought its way to become more popular today than ever before. Vive le vélo! Phil Liggett MBE, "The Voice of Cycling"
Witty and wise, engaged and engaging, surprising, fun and fabulous—I’m running out of adjectives to describe Evan Friss’s wondrous new book. Move over Amsterdam: New York City is a bicycling city too, though with fits and starts, grunts and guffaws, and more than a handful of bike haters (some in high places). A great way to learn about the history of the city that never sleeps—and has never stopped arguing about its bicycles and bicyclists. David Nasaw, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History, CUNY Graduate Center
A fresh and personalized perspective on what the bicycle has meant to New Yorkers over the years. David Herlihy, author of Bicycle: The History
A superb history of New York’s cycling cultures over the last two centuries, On Bicycles surveys the evolution of the bicycle in the city from urban menace and medium of feminist liberation to weekend joyride and mainstay of the transportation network. Written with verve and precision, it reads like a long glide down Broadway with the wind at your back, catching green light after green light. Samuel Zipp, author of Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York
An essential contribution to multiple fields—New York history, transportation history, urban history, and planning history—this compelling and fascinating story takes you along with ease, artfully offering a barrage of digestible information, including previously unknown morsels. Even the most well-read New Yorkers, cyclists, and urban historians will find something new here. Owen Gutfreund, Hunter College
A thoughtful, entertaining look at an essential form of transportation in New York City. Publishers Weekly
Introduction
1. Rough Start
2. Up and Down
3. Moses
4. The Ban
5. Bloomberg
Epilogue
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

About the Author

Evan Friss is an associate professor of history at James Madison University and the author of The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s. He used to pedal around New York City, but now lives in Virginia with his family.