Credit: Courtesy of Bike New York

In this episode of The Gotham Center for New York City History’s Sites and Sounds podcast series, Evan Friss talks about Bike New York, the organization that hosts the annual Five Borough Bike Tour, as the starting point for a wider discussion about the history of cycling in the City.

When this yearly event began in 1977, it consisted of just a few hundred people, biking alongside cars on the ever-gridlocked streets of New York. By now, over 30,000 riders participate, and for one day at least, the roads belong to them. But the question of who owns the streets (the largest swath of public land in New York) goes back to the earliest days of the modern city. When the first velocipede, or bike prototype, appeared in 1819, riders had to maneuver around horses, pushcarts, carriages, livestock, and of course pedestrians. Things got much more complicated, however, when the automobile arrived. On a rapidly warming and predominantly urban Earth, the bicycle has re-emerged as a cheap, healthful, sustainable alternative to private transportation. And in recent decades, New York has become far more of a biking city than it has ever been. Yet there has always been a boom-and-bust dynamic, as Friss relates here, drawing on his two books on the subject, “The Cycling City” and “On Bicycles: A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City.” If the past is any indication, the future remains unclear.