Monday, August 26, 2013

Lessons Learned from America's First Coast-to-Coast Highway in Building the NBG


The Greatest Memorial
The Lincoln Highway

"It is a name to conjure by. It calls to the heroic. It enrolls a mighty panorama of fields and woodlands; of humble cabins and triumphant farm homes and cattle on a thousand hills; burrowing mines and smoking factories; winding brooks, commerce-laden rivers and horizon lost oceans.

And because it binds together all these wonders and sweeps forward till it touches the end of the earth and the beginning of the sea it is to be named the "Lincoln Highway".

It brings back to us the lank figure of the growing boy walking the country roadway with borrowed books; the dreaming out, surveying and building of his highway of the soul, that should stretch from that mysterious ocean of the past, whence he came, to the mysterious ocean of the eternal, to which he would go;

A highway along whose everyday travel he had a gentle word for the sorrowing, a hand for the one in trouble, a sharp prod for the indifferent, a word of council for the perplexed, an inspiration for the doubtful, and love for all; the highway of the soul of the "Great American".

Therefore, Be it Resolved, That The Lincoln Highway Now Is And Henceforth Shall Be An Existing Memorial In Tribute To, That Great Martyred Patriot - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Rev. Frank G. Brainard First Congregational Church Ogden, Utah September 21, 1913

In getting from one coast to the other here in America, as you will see when we talk about Omaha's significance to the opening of the West, as forms of travel evolved, so did the one main route they journeyed upon. By canoe and horseback man first pioneered his way west via the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The stagecoaches of those seeking free land or California gold altered it with the Oregon Trail that soon followed. It wasn’t long before the transcontinental railroad closely paralleled the known way West to then rewrite all the rules for coast-to-coast travel. By the time automobiles made the connection to California with the Lincoln Highway, the way to move across this Nation’s lands was then carved in stone.

Of all these connections, none empowered the individual, shifted the collective consciousness or stimulated the nation's imagination more than the Lincoln Highway. No more than ruts in the grass or a "red line on a map connecting all the worst mudholes in the Country" as it was referred to by many when it began, it was formed by those who dared to think big. This as the courage of its early users was equally as large. And yet it would go on to impact how people lived on this continent in many ways similar to how the Tran Siberia Railroad across Russia as well as the Silk Road across Asia affected the lives of eastern Europeans. In the end, even though it was never one road but made use of many, it still changed our geography, enlarged the scope for what was possible and began to show that strangers are only friends one has yet to meet.

Long is this how I have foreseen the impact that the National Bicycle Greenway can have for America. And we are getting closer to the shift in mass consciousness that will have taken place before we as a Nation begin to demand the NBG. In the not too distant future, it will become plainly evident that this country must be outfitted with the labyrinth of safe bike roads and paths our organization has long envisioned. 

This is so for many reasons. Largely because of the way in which we have squandered oil, for example, the conditions of the world, war, traffic gridlock, climate change and noise and air pollution, etc, etc, will force us to look for solutions in a radically different frontier. And as we do, we will realize that the only place left for us to search will be in a territory also only explored initially by the adventurous few. 

A frightful place for most, the wilderness to which I refer is the inner self each of us knows so very little about. And we need to know who and what we are so we can begin to heal the planet we have helped to break with the automobile. As we continue to make our car’s health, and all that it embodies, more important than our own, we keep our focus on all the externals its unmeasured use promotes.  We keep trying to go faster to get to all those solutions that we think are out there to our feeling of being disconnected from ourselves, the planet and from one another as we race around trying to keep up.

As we work longer and harder so we can go faster and live in the bigger spaces our vehicles require for parking and purchases, ours is a treadmill of complexity. When we place the car at the center of our life we must add more things to it that we have to keep track of. This is so because, unlike a bicycle, it just does not make sense for us to take an overgrown extension of ourselves to the grocery store, for example, if we cannot buy in quantity. 

Paying a visit to the local food merchant with an auto for an apple or a single roll of toilet paper is often ruled out as unwise unless the need is desperate. Besides the wear, tear and fuel cost of driving somewhere to make a small purchase, all drivers also know that the agitation of parking almost always awaits. In fact, there are many places automobile users just do not visit because finding a close by landing spot for their space hungry vehicles is either hard or impossible.

What’s more is that because they try to consolidate their trips so that they can buy from as few sellers as possible, those chained to their cars lose out on the chance to be out in their community. The number of familiar faces, such as those of shopkeepers and their fellow customers, is less to the man in the automobile than it is to the person who relies on his own two legs to do his shopping. Because it is difficult to build rapport and thereby trust when people see less of one another, car drivers not only compromise their own humanity but they serve to keep more of us strangers to one another.

The motoring public also sees different roads than does the man on two wheels or two legs. In the interest of time and convenience, the vehicle user travels on often-lifeless boulevards, expressways and freeways to get places. This as those who make use of their own power often travel on quieter neighborhood roads where bird song can often be heard, nature and not exhaust fumes can often be smelled and the actual life forms of people and animals can often be seen.

Soon, more and more of us will also understand the importance of being known to more of our brothers and sisters. It will become very clear to us that by lessening our dependence on the private automobile we will not feel so isolated from one another. And as we unite as a way to get back to our true selves, ours will have become a move in the direction of simplicity. 

As the business of life becomes less complicated, the bicycle, where modern transportation all began, will become the tool we will have used to make this a reality. When glass and metal no longer separate us from our brothers, by riding a bike we will have discovered what it is to be a part of the human family. When a radio or the steady drone of an engine does not drown out the music of our feathered friends or the sounds of the city, we will have started to listen for our connection to all of that which surrounds us. When we can feel the wind, even the wet of rain on our face, it is the bicycle that will have taught us the joy of being fully awake and alive.

As the act of bicycling reawakens us to the fact that the best things in life, sunshine, fresh air and the colors and sounds of nature, are all free, it will also teach us that we already have it all. Soon we will learn that we need nothing from others to be complete. It will be this inner knowing that soon teaches us that conflict cannot bring us anything of value. 

Despite the fact that the government funded our interstate system for defense purposes, when the majority of the Nation’s trip are done on a bike, our long distance roads will no longer be seen as ways for us to escape an “enemy”. Instead, we will see them as ways for us to more fully explore the love that is our connection to one another and to the planet itself. 

Using the early Lincoln Highway as an example, then, I will show you how we can switch from the car consciousness it brought about to make it very American to put the bicycle in the center of one’s world. And as more of us do, we will saturate all the roads all over this Nation with human power. As we go about creating the heaven on earth we call the National Bicycle Greenway, it will help us to understand the Lincoln Highway.

On July 1, 1913, 17 cars and 2 trucks left Indianapolis in search of a route to California for the newly formed Lincoln Highway Association (LHA). The LHA wanted to see a road built that would connect the east coast with the west. While the route from the Atlantic Ocean to Indianapolis was known, getting to the Golden State by car was a mystery for most. 

After a journey filled with breakdowns and often-impassable roads, 34 days later the LHA caravan made it to San Francisco. Several weeks later a route was announced. It would cross the 13 states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Spanning 3389 miles, it would travel from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.  

In order to better understand what the LHA people were up against when they began their “road”, we need to see their challenge in its context.  Their “highway” across America was conceived at a time when only 10 years before Dr. Nelson Jackson had proven it was even possible to travel cross-country in a car. In 1903, he drove one from New York to San Francisco. It took him 65 days!

In the first 15 years of the 20th Century, most Americans just did not travel very far beyond their own towns. And if they did so, it was not in an automobile, as only the wealthy owned them. In fact, many people thought of roads that went long distances as “peacock alleys” that the rich just used to prance about on as they explored the countryside.

Before Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in 1913, the price of a car rivaled that of a home. For that matter, the cost of one tire, of which many were needed on longer trips, could be measured in the form of several weeks’ worth of the workingman’s wages. Nor did the majority of America even live in cities where they could get a regular paycheck.  In 1910, only 46.3% of the population did not pay himself with the produce of his land.  For this reason, the LHA had to convince America, that the Lincoln Highway they envisioned was desirable in a Nation that was still largely driven by the needs of the farm.

When the Lincoln began, the country had approximately 2,199,600 miles of rural roads. Also at the time, in the entire United States, there were only 190,476 miles worth of roads with improved surfaces. An improved surface was defined by the US Bureau of Public Roads (established with the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 to make America’s National Parks more accessible) as dirt that had been covered by gravel, stone, sand-clay, brick, shells or oil.  

Like the airplane and the car that preceded it, the forerunner of the US Interstate system, the Lincoln Highway, was also brought to us by a bicycle mechanic. Few people know that Carl Fisher, the man who fomented the Lincoln Highway, and earlier the Indianapolis Speedway, and later the Dixie Highway and also Miami Beach, used to run a bicycle repair shop,

In 1891 the seventeen-year-old Fisher and his two brothers opened a bicycle shop in Indianapolis where, among other things, they repaired flat tires for twenty-five cents. He also belonged to an Indianapolis bike club where he went on rides to far away Indiana cities. He often did so with some of the people who would join him in his later business endeavors.

Although handicapped by poor eyesight, Fisher managed to participate in a number of bicycle races, He even slugged it out with champion bike racer, Barney Oldfield, who would go on to become a famed race car driver and the first man to go 60 miles an hour.

Later, Fisher turned to promotional stunts to help him sell his product. Wearing a padded suit, for example, he once rode a bicycle across a tightrope stretched over a downtown Indianapolis street. Always looking for ways to market his wares, he even built and rode a twenty-foot-high bicycle.

Just as he was swept up in the bicycle craze of the Gay ‘90’s, when cars started becoming popular, he felt pulled in that direction. In fact, he once told Oldfield back when they were racing bikes together,  "I don't see why the automobile can't be made to do everything the bicycle has done." Not long after, Fisher converted his bicycle shop into an automobile repair/sales facility.

By the time the 20th Century began, Fisher was fully consumed with the miracle of internal combustion. So much so that by 1909, he would go on to form the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with some of the friends he had made through bicycling. Wanting to increase the need for the new product they sold, automobiles, with Fisher at the lead, he and his new auto pals concocted the bold vision of a car road from New York to California. 

However when some of the early car makers, such as Henry Ford, did not buy into their dream, Fisher’s group soon realized they would not be able to raise the millions needed back then to actually build a coast to coast car connection. Instead, they would make use of the roads and paths they knew to exist until they could collect the resources that would be required to actually lay the concrete they foresaw. In order to do so, they turned to promotion. 

If you think of all the dirt roads and paths that had to be paved back when the LHA began in order for them to be worthy for cars, the NBG is employing the same strategy. In our case, the road as we know it today, can be thought of as an early American dirt surface that just needs to be upgraded to fit the needs of cyclists. We can also think of the occasional concrete surface the early motorist was able to luxuriate on as being comparable to the bike boulevards found in more and more cities, and in some cases similar to a few of the rail trails and bike lanes that stand out today.

While there are many parallels between our organization and theirs, as we will soon be showing you, it is important right now to see more of how the LHA mind worked. In order to get early 20th Century man to accept the notion of loud, foul smelling vehicles rumbling over the land he lived off of, the LHA had to get very creative. Toward this end, late in 1914, when their "highway" was formally announced, after almost two years of teasing the public with the adventure calling to them from California, they devised a way to make it seem un-American to not support what they had envisioned. 

They called their offer to drive the collection of roads they had assembled an “Appeal to Patriots”. Having already credentialized it with the name ‘Lincoln’, Fisher and friends had devised a way to make a person look like a better citizen if he or she motored on the course they selected. Working every angle in order to sell their vision, the LHA even referred to the roads they had chosen, most of them dirt, as  "The Main Street Across America."

Driven by the ever-burgeoning automobile industry, the LHA knew that in order to create demand for its machines they had to have not just a road to California but lots of roads going everywhere. And as history has shown us, from the systematic deconstruction of passenger rail to the demolition of whole neighborhoods and historic buildings, future road builders would go on to stop at nothing to make people feel like they needed paved thoroughfares to get places.

Unaware of the problems that could result from rampant road building, the LHA did whatever they could to insure that their one road, which would spawn many, got built. In getting our one coast-to-coast Greenway built, a thruway that can only add to the planet, not take from it; it is their success we are copying. Here are some of the other parallels between our mission and theirs.

After their much-publicized tour across the US, which we talk more about later in this chapter, the LHA then collected all the data they had accumulated. Within the next year, they then announced a route. With this as a precedent, after our own much-celebrated tour, we, as well, plan to announce the information we have collected. The roads and paths we will have selected will be the best-known way for cyclists to connect San Francisco with Washington, DC and Boston. And just as the LHA had spent a few years shopping their vision around before they got their wheels on the ground for their cross-country caravan, that has also been our strategy. That has been one of the main reasons why we have produced nine years worth of Mayors' Rides.

With regard to marking the route they had chosen, wherever it was needed, the LHA tried to place directional signs on the dirt paths that were being used. Ultimately this evolved into what at one time were universally familiar red, white and blue concrete posts.  Here at the NBG, we have long foreseen handsome, green and black road signs inscribed with the words, ‘NBG Route’.

Just as the LHA had developed a set of specifications for its roads, we have had such a spec for our network of roads and paths on the books almost from our inception.   

Where what the LHA referred to as “seedling miles” is concerned, the work has already been done for the NBG. According to the LHA's 1924 guide, its seedling miles were intended "to demonstrate the desirability of this permanent type of road construction and crystallize public sentiment for further construction of the same character”. The many exemplary rail trails, bike boulevards and bike lane arterials that have cropped up all over America communicate what can be once America realizes the genuine need we have for the National Bicycle Greenway.

The Lincoln Highway people ran a radio show from 1940 to 1942. Brought to a halt by the second World War, it had worked to even further impregnate the American consciousness with what it saw as the need for more roads. We are endeavoring to change the way our fellow countrymen think with radio as well. Our podcast show, the NBG Mountain Mover series, has been busy daring people to visualize a two-wheel bicycle heaven since 2005.

Besides some of the indifference that the LHA faced for its road scheme, their car tour across America faced a whole different set of obstacles. Fisher left on the 1,700 mile Hoosier Tour (also called the Indiana–Pacific Indiana Automobile Manufacturers Association tour) at a time when filling stations were rare in America and none would be found anywhere between Indianapolis and San Francisco. Nor did the road map that we take for granted today even exist. Gulf Oil would not issue America’s first ever road map, a map that would only cover the area in and around Pittsburgh, PA, until the end of 1913 well after Fisher had completed his journey. 

The early car adventurers were in many ways similar to the long distance cyclists of today. Consider the equipment that was required of all vehicles on the 1913 Hoosier Tour:

- A pick or mattock
- A pair of tackle blocks
- Six hundred feet of three-quarter-inch rope
- A barn lantern to be hung on the rear tire carrier in case the car’s regular lights failed
- A steel stake three feet long to use as an anchor to pull the car out of sand or mud
- Twelve mudhooks
- A full set of chains
- A sledge
- Chocolate bars in cans
- Beans and other canned food
- A 4’x6’ tent
West of Salt Lake City:
Four African water bags filled at all times

When you think about the difficulty level facing those long distance car travelers of the early 1900’s, one can’t help but know that such journeys built character in the same way that a coast-to-coast bicycle ride does today. Without tow trucks, phone lines or any of the safety valves the modern motorist has at his or her disposal today, car voyagers back then, like the long distance bike trekkers of today, often had to go inside for answers. There are many other ways that the original automobile adventurer was like the present day cycle tourist.

While those who ventured to go long distance in a car had to rely on instinct and the goodwill of others, those who go long distance on a bike today can measure the quality of their ride by how well they are able to listen to that silent voice inside. Since the cycle tourist cannot carry as much as a car in the way of supplies, they often find themselves trusting that their intuition will locate the food and water needed to keep their legs moving. Whether it is a road they feel called to pedal, a stranger they feel compelled to talk to, or a trip guide they feel guided to consult, most know their needs will always be met. Those that do are the ones who just surrender to that Bigger Voice which is always trying to get our attention.

In many ways, the treks early car excursionists took were a waking meditation. Without radio, billboards or road signs to distract them, they also had to go inside for information and entertainment as they also bonded with their machines. Just as the transcontinental cyclist can get to know himself pretty well on the open road and is attuned to any new sound his bicycle may happen to make, early motorcar adventurers faced the same set of challenges. At a time when a car trip to the Pacific Ocean lasted one to two months, those hearty souls who undertook such a trip were forced to become not only their own best friend but they also knew that as uninvited guests to an unfamiliar land they always had to be on the lookout for those who could help.

Entering a frontier where no services for either their vehicles or themselves existed, they could not afford to alienate anyone in the event there was any kind of breakdown. From directions to health matters and broken parts, the smarter car pioneers knew they needed each other out there. Unlike car drivers of today, this awareness forced them to be friendly with other motorists. Since travel was bidirectional, they never passed up a chance to exchange information about the condition of the road itself as they moved into new turf.

In addition to one another, just like the NBG assists its scouts today, from 1913 to 1928, Lincoln HIghway travelers were assisted by the home offices of the Lincoln Highway Association. The LHA helped its travelers get on the way with routing and gearing recommendations. Though the actual “road” assistance the LHA provided could hardly be described as timely, especially by today’s standards, once word did get to them that someone was stuck, they still were able to get help out to stranded motorists.

Because of the bold vision Fisher put forth in every way possible with the highway he envisioned, a shift began to take place in the way Americans thought about travel. In fact, by the time Fisher’s much-publicized journey across the West was complete, car production had exceeded the manufacture of carriages and wagons in the United States for the first time in history. 

He had captured the interest of whole cities. As the LHA took the data Fisher’s caravan had collected and continued their work of configuring an official route, for example, a great number of population centers all across the country set up committees to try to lure the Lincoln Highway to come their way. And even after the roads that would be used were announced, some of those that had been bypassed continued lobbying efforts that would ultimately become futile. And yet as they continued to petition for the Lincoln, they added to the voice that clamored for roads.

Some of those that had been ignored, Denver, CO, for example, even went on to establish connections to other highway systems that had begun to rush in to fill the void. One such route was called the Midland Trail. Transcontinental, it ran from Washington DC to Los Angles. Other shorter connections such as the Dixie, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Spirit Lake and Sioux Fall Highways began to form at this time as well.

Much of this was put on hold as America fought in World War I. However, when the war ended in 1919, the LHA rallied a sense of patriotism for their road once again. It sold the US Army on the fact that they needed to use its "highway" to test the reliability of their vehicles. As such, a convoy of 72 vehicles, most of them heavy military trucks, and 297 men, paraded across America for two months that summer. Everywhere their machines went, sometimes with great difficulty, their drivers were worshipped as heroes. 

One of the officers who traveled on this tour was Dwight D Eisenhower, the same man who 38 years later would usher the Interstate Highway system into law under the pretext of defense preparedness. And as he did so, the policy he set forth would officially swallow up the numbered US Highways that had replaced the Lincoln with what is known today as I-80. 

The road building frenzy that had been blessed by the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy gave cars more and more places to go. Soon, creating more automobiles and place for them to drive became America’s preoccupation.

And yet maybe if Fisher’s original dream of connecting communities to one another hadn’t been obviated by Henry Joy’s engrossment with the most direct route, later road builders would have had more respect for people, the buildings that housed them and the land itself. As the president of both the Packard Motor Car Company and the Lincoln Hwy Association, Joy was far more interested in the shortest path to San Francisco than he was in visiting any of the sights or residents along the way. 

It was Joy’s mindset that won over Fisher’s as technology then enabled construction engineers to more and more conquer the country as they mowed through whatever was in the way. This psychology continued unabated into the 50’s and 60’s. It was not until Jane Jacobs led a movement to stop Robert Moses, who had already displaced nearly three quarters of a million people in New York City with his insatiable thirst for roads, that road building in the interest of progress was finally called into question.

And yet there again, the early transportation pioneers of the last century could not have foreseen the downward spiral that the automobile would ultimately take us down. The health and social costs and the cost to the planet are only now forcing us to rethink the once unchallenged sacredness of the car and all the space it needs to do its work. From roads to parking places and the orientation of buildings, etc, we are only just now beginning to call any of the automobile’s insatiable appetite into question.

Just as the father of the Lincoln Highway, Carl Fisher, began life as a bicycle mechanic and racer, indeed we have come back to the very point where modern transportation all began. As we reverse engineer our cities so that people can move about, free also of noise and smell, it will be the bicycle that will make our population centers more livable once again. Besides getting us out of gridlock and helping to solve the long list of environmental woes caused by the automobile, the bicycle will also speak to the overweight epidemic that is gripping America today.

If there ever was a war that could justify the expenditure of federal dollars here in the US, it needs to be fought right now. For those who cannot see how we can make it cost effective to fight for the planet, we can at least engage in battle against the direct cause of skyrocketing health costs - obesity. Investment in safe infrastructure for walkers, joggers and cyclists can drive this expense down as it makes all of America healthy and virile once again. So from a profit and loss standpoint alone, the numbers for just trying to slim this country’s waist line could easily justify a new "Appeal to Patriots", the building of the National Bicycle Greenway.

So just as the Lincoln Highway came at Americans with many different messages about its benefit, our tour to Washington, DC and Boston will also provoke much thought. And it is our hope that the arguments we will have presented for a nation centered on two wheels will become actionable before it is too late! 

1 comment:

  1. And I think a National Bicycle Greenway would also be a strong economic structure for small businesses catering to the bike recreational trade (hostels, B&B's, snack bars, pubs, repair shops, etc.).