How interesting that the debate over bicyclists in Santa Rosa has not budged much in a century. In 1905, pedestrians accused “riders of wheels” of being inconsiderate jerks who acted as if they owned the sidewalks; today, motorists accuse bike riders of being inconsiderate jerks in traffic. Sic semper.
The 1905 newspapers almost never ran letters to the editor, so this offering would be unusual for that alone. But pro-bicyclist author “R. A. H.” wrote one of the longest commentaries ever to appear in that period, only about one-third of it transcribed here. It concludes with proposals for nine clauses to be added into the sidewalk ordinance, requiring license plates for bikes, a ban on youths under 16 from riding on sidewalks (“children are reckless”), a rule that bicycles must be “propelled solely by muscle power without machinery,” and a complete ban on sidewalk riding “in the business part of town,” which seems to undermine the author’s other argument that the streets are in such lousy shape that a “right to ride” must be granted posthaste.
Editor Republican: I believe that the better judgement of our people is in favor of granting some reasonable use of our sidewalks for riders of wheels…The most common objection to an ordinance permitting the riding on sidewalks is that of those who say it would be all right if complied with but that riders will pay no attention to the limitations of the privilege. There are two replies to this objection. In the first place that reckless and lawless class of riders daily violate the law now in force, and the public is already subjected to the evils of reckless riders. In the second place, the present law is not respected…
…Practically every progressive city in the State permits the riding on sidewalks, subject to reasonable restrictions. The right to ride them in Santa Rosa in winter time is an urgent necessity to many people. We have a city of 10,000 inhabitants, without street car service and with streets that for many weeks in each year cannot be ridden with a wheel with any reasonable convenience. Nine out of every ten miles of our sidewalks are practically vacant every day in the year. Quick and convenient transportation and communication are elementary requisites of progress. Every lot in the outlying portions of the city would be more valuable when made nearer the business center by the constant use of wheels. Property decreases in value from the center of a city simply because its utility is lessened by its remoteness.
It is not right to require a laboring man or a business man to spend twenty minutes in walking a mile to his work over vacant sidewalks while his wheel could take him there in ten minutes. If there are one thousand people in Santa Rosa that would each save ten minutes in one day by the use of the wheel on the sidewalk, that represents a daily saving of seventeen days’ labor for one man [sic]. In the course of one rainy season it becomes a matter of great importance.
The sidewalk ordinance is not asked for by those who sport up and down the highways crippling and maiming women and children, as some would have us believe. But the demand comes from the laboring man, the clerk, and the merchant, whose time is his capital…It is true that it might be a little more pleasant for the selfish pedestrian who is not willing divide anything, not to have his serenity in any way disturbed by a silent wheel, but we are all inevitably compelled to submit, occasionally, to the inconvenience of the presence of others…
(Signed) R. A. H.– Santa Rosa Republican, September 23, 1905