Yes, the Nation’s First Official Bike Path Was Drawn in California

How a small college town forever changed the path of bike safety.

Bicycle culture has exploded in California, especially in urban cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco where local governments stepped up to improve bike lanes and routes. Yet, even in recent history, safe biking conditions have never been a guarantee.

“San Francisco got its first protected bike lane—where cyclists are separated from auto traffic by cement barriers and parked cars—in 2010,” shares Peter Flax in a story for Outside. “Chicago didn’t have one until 2016.”

Go back 50 years and you’ll find America’s first modern example of a dedicated bike lane. Not in San Francisco. Not in Los Angeles. And not even in San Diego. Where? Davis, California.

“Davis had one five decades earlier,” explains Flax. “Not to mention a two-way bike lane and a so-called contra flow lane—where riders can travel against traffic on a one-way street. This early building set in motion an actual revolution, one that resulted in a single city like New York having more than 1,000 miles of bike lanes today.”

In fact, a whole bike culture emerged in the flat, college town of Davis. That was, in part, thanks to encouraging UC students to bring bikes with them on the first day of school. And all that before the campus was even fully designed. “Bike paths and tunnels were built in some neighborhoods before those neighborhoods were actually built out,” says current Davis Mayor Robb Davis. “How cool is that?”

So when the city introduced bike lanes back in 1967, a conversation about improved bike safety emerged and trickled throughout the state all the way to a signed Vehicle Code by then-Governor Ronald Regan.

It should come as no surprise then why the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame was moved to Davis in 2010. In the long trajectory of bicycling culture, this small town west of the Capital was downright progressive.

You can read more about California’s bike path evolution here.