In 1900, Elmira police made 1,438 arrests. The top three criminal offenses for which people were arrested were intoxication, vagrancy, and violating bicycle ordinance. 107 people were arrested for violating bicycle ordinances. That’s almost 7 percent of all arrests in the city that year. 1900 was the first and only time that bicycle-related criminal activities broke into the top three. So, why was that?
The years around the turn of the 20th century are seen as the golden age of bicycling. The earliest bicycles first appeared in the early 19th century but bicycling as a craze really takes off after the invention of the safety bicycle in the 1880s. The safety bicycle was an alternative to the penny-farthing which had one giant front wheel and a smaller rear wheel. The safety bicycle was, as its name implies, safer, so more people took up riding as a hobby and as a means of transportation.
|"Elmira" model D lady's bicycle made by the Elmira Clipper Chilled Plow Company, c. 1890s
By the 1890s, the city of Elmira had detailed bicycle ordinances in place regulating where and when cyclists could ride their vehicles. Rules that kept cyclists from riding on sidewalks without permits or riding at night without lanterns were made for the sake of public safety. Bicycling can be a dangerous activity for both riders and those who happen to get in their way. On July 17, 1897, the Elmira Star-Gazette reported on two wheelmen, as cyclists were also called, colliding with each other at 10 o’clock at night while riding on the cinder path in front of the table factory in Elmira Heights. One of the men suffered from a fractured cheekbone and a blackened eye while the other was knocked unconscious. Neither bicycle had a lamp.
Many of the complaints about bicyclists came from residents in the vicinity of Eldridge Park. The park was a very popular destination for cyclists. It was in the evenings at the end of a concert or play that had been held in the park that problems arose. Cyclists would speed away on the sidewalks, weaving through pedestrians as they went. Several accidents were reported in which pedestrians were run down. People also complained that cyclists used the roads surrounding the park as race courses for their own entertainment.
|Pedestrians and bicyclists in Eldridge Park, 1890s
|Elmira Star-Gazette, July 13, 1899
|Elmira bicycle permit, 1900
|Bicyclist in Eldridge Park posing near the American Girl Statue, 1899
|Kanawehola Bicycle Club in front of the Elmira Reformatory, July 4, 1895