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I'm James Longhurst, a historian of environmental policy and cyclist.

As a policy historian, I try to find ways that historical research can contribute to making good decisions. My current research into bicycle history is intended to address the difficulties of urban and transportation policy in the present.

Follow my research and policy contributions through the updated list of publications and presentations below, and on Twitter @laxbikeguy


In the 21st century, American cities are witnessing a dramatic increase in the use of bicycles for practical transportation. There are a number of factors behind this transition, from increasing energy costs to an economic downturn and generational shifts. There is significant debate, however, over what the appropriate goal of government should be in the midst of this change. Should policies explicitly encourage bicycle commuting over automobile usage for reasons of public health, energy independence, and sustainability? Should the automobile prevail in the use of the road, as the addition of bicycles might prove to unsafe or unduly slow auto traffic? Is it possible to intermix increasingly-heavy cars with bicycle and foot traffic, or should they exist in seperate physical realms?

Without clear answers to these questions, many American cities are attempting to re-introduce the bicycle to auto-centric streets, but a century of decisions privileging the car are making it difficult.  In New York, LA and Toronto, attempts to increase bicycle ridership by altering the physical layout of roads have led to political and legal battles, as drivers, pedestrians and cyclists compete to carve out their piece of a limited resource: the public roads.

This should be an area of useful analysis for environmental, urban, and policy historians. While bicycle history in the past has focused on the technological, social, and sports history components of the story, several meaningful areas are open to discussion:

  • was the bicycle ever considered a viable transportation alternative in America's past?
  • what decisions privileged the automobile over the bicycle, how have they changed the city, and are they irreversible?
  • how can historical analysis inform current policy debates over transportation and urban planning?


At the height of the 1890s bike craze, recreational cyclists in New York City.

St Paul MapVictory BikeSuffolk County
To explore these questions, I am engaged in a long-term research project to re-examine bicycle history from a policy, urban, and environmental history perspective. The eventual goal is to produce a book-length project tentatively titled "Bike Battles." Until then, smaller pieces of the larger project will be appearing in various forms.

Publications on bicycle history:

Bike Battles (temporary title), a book manuscript under contract with University of Washington Press, forthcoming.

The Sidepath Not Taken:  Bicycles, Taxes and the Rhetoric of the Public Good in the 1890s,” Journal of Policy History 25:4 (October 2013), 557-586.

"Life Cycle:  The Victory Bike, the OPA, and the WWII Origin of Environmental Methodology,"
in Michael Egan, ed., The Bicycle in Environmental History, a proposal for an edited volume due to be submitted to publishers in 2013.

“'Awheel From Chicago to the Twin Cities': Legacies of Turn-of-the-Century Bicycle Paths in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” in George Vrtis and Christopher Wells, eds., The Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota: An Environmental History, a proposal for an edited volume due to be submitted to publishers in 2014.

Journalism and Press Coverage:

People for Bikes Blog Post, February 2014: Historian Uncovers the forgotton U.S. Protected Bike Lane Boom of 1905

Op/Ed, with Katherine Svitavsky.  “Bike, Walking Plan Benefits Entire City,” (pdf, url) La Crosse Tribune, September 24, 2012.

"Experts debate bicycles’ impact on congestion," (pdf, url) La Crosse Tribune, April 7, 2013.

"Professor helps create master plan for bicyclists," (pdf, url) FOX 25-48, June 22, 2012.

"Professor discusses path to a bike friendly La Crosse," (pdf, url) UW-L Campus Connection June 7, 2012.


"The Bike in the City: A History of the Current Conflict Over Urban Cycling," a part of La Vie Velo, a Rolling Seminar at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, January 17, 2013.

"The Sidepath Not Taken: Charity, Taxation, and the Failed Dream of an Interstate Bicycle Path in 1900", Urban History Association Bi-Annual Meeting, Urban History Association, New York City, October 26, 2012.

“Where Does a Bicycle Culture Come From? The Twin Cities and the Forgotten Sidepath Movement of the 1890s,” invited presentation, Minnesota Environmental History Conference, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul MN, June 13-15, 2012.

“The Sidepath Not Taken: Bicycles, Taxes and the Rhetoric of the Public Good in the 1890s,” History Roundtable Discussion Group, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA October 13, 2011.

“The Bicycle in the City: Privileging Automobile Commuting in the Early 20th Century City,” a part of panel “The Urban Environment in Historical Perspective” at Social Science History Association, Chicago, IL November 2010.


Sidepaths Cover

A cover from the rare Sidepaths magazine, 1900.