Thank Cyclists, Not Drivers, for Early Road Improvements

Edward N. Hines became passionate about transportation reform as an avid biker—inventing the first center line to divide a street in two.

Before he became one of Wayne County's first road commissioners, Edward N. Hines was a cyclist. He would take long rides out of Detroit, into the country. Sometimes, he had a particular goal: The woman who would become his wife lived in Northville, a good 25 miles or outside the city. Whatever his purpose, tackling Michigan's roads on bike meant that he "pedaled through the mud and mire and hurdled the bumps of the Wayne County highways until his leg muscles went on strike and his vertebrae demanded shock absorbers," Motor Age wrote. This was 1914, long before the rise of the urban cyclist.
Around the turn of the century, when cars were just beginning to become popular, cyclists like Hines were some of the fiercest advocates for better roads. Together, cyclists formed the backbone of the so-called Good Roads movement. Hines himself, while still working as a printer, was the vice-president of the League of American Wheelmen, an official of Michigan's L.A.W. chapter, and president of the Detroit Wheelman. In 1906, he became an inaugural member of the Wayne County Road Commission (along with Henry Ford), and he served as the commission's chairman for most of the next 32 years.
Hines was full of ideas for how to improve roads. He wanted to make them more solid, so he started paving Wayne County's roads with concrete. ("As our medical friends would observe, 'arterio-sclerosis'—hardening of the arteries—is a bad thing in a man, but a fine thing for a county," he later wrote.) He wanted to make roads beautiful, by planting flowers along their borders. And he thought they could be safer.
There are other contenders for the first center line—a park in Cincinnati supposedly put one down around that same time, and Indio, California, also started marking its roads early in the 20th century. But Hines is often credited as the first person to think up the idea of painting a white stripe down down the middle of the road to show its center. The Michigan Department of Transportation says the first center line was drawn down Trenton's River Road in 1911. According to the DOT, Hines was inspired by a truck leaking milk down the road as it passed; a local Michigan version of the tale says he saw a horse-drawn wagon and car crash into each other. Both, or neither, could be true, but regardless, the center line is with us today, keeping sleepy, angry, and texting drivers on the right side of the road.