As an avid cyclist and someone interested in history, I sometimes wonder what our city must have been like before the car. I was thinking about this recently as I pedaled down car-clogged Allen Street, which (according to the Allentown Association website) began as a mere cow path.
Like many homes in Buffalo, the one in which I reside is an old one. I’ve done a little research on the house and have come across a couple of early pictures, but my favorite captures the image of the second owner of the house standing in front of it in 1886. What makes this my favorite is that in the photo he is leaning against his “ordinary,” or tall-wheeled bicycle. Sometimes I look at the photo and wonder what it must’ve been like to tool around town on that bike, on the same streets that I do now. Did he have the same feeling of freedom that I do when I’m on a bike? I’d like to think so.
Buffalo has a great history with the bicycle. The famed Pierce Arrow car company built bicycles before they did cars, but they were just one of many. Carl Burgwadt notes in his book Buffalo’s Bicycles, Reflections on Buffalo’s Colossal and Overlooked Bicycle Heritage that in 1900 the city directory listed seventy-nine bicycle manufacturers and 136 dealers. Today’s phone directory yields a mere handful of bicycle dealers.
Many of the rules, regulations, road signs, and infrastructure of our streets came about because of the bicycle. At the turn of the twentieth century it had become such a popular form of transportation—not just in Buffalo but nationally—that rules had to be established. The League of American Wheelmen (LAW) lobbied for them and produced our first road maps.