My Route, Then and Now

I don’t remember who or what first motivated me to begin biking to work; it might have been my brother, who regularly bikes to work from his home in Seattle.  It might have been the realization that I was driving 3.5 miles one way to work (about a 10-15 minute drive, plus time looking for parking), when I could easily walk that distance in an hour.  (I’ve still never tried that.)  It might have been the sinking feeling that as I sauntered through my 30s, my metabolism was not getting any faster, and that if I wanted to avoid becoming fat and feeble in my old age, I needed to get my exercise on, and fast.  Or, it might have been a desire to cut down on my carbon emissions and contribution to traffic congestion. Likely, it was a combination of all of those factors, plus some I’ve forgotten.

Whatever the case, my first challenge in biking to work was planning my route.  I’m a planner by nature; I love maps, spreadsheets, numbers, labeled files, and having an organized life.  So after spending hours poring over Google Maps, this is the route I came up with.

[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=202134851422910892642.00049936a0fba613f9b8f&z=14 width=650 height=400 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

Actually, that’s not quite the exact route.  First, the western terminus of the route is inaccurate, mostly because I don’t want to publicize my exact home address.  Also, when I first started biking, I would ride east on Southern Avenue and turn left on S. Hollywood Street, not cut through the Mid-South Fairgrounds (that’s the section between E. Parkway South and Hollywood), as the above route indicates. But I didn’t feel like drawing a separate map for that slight variation, so there it is.

According to Google, that route is 4.22 miles.  I remember the first time I biked to work, having to stop every mile or so to catch my breath.  Now I can knock out 25 miles without stopping.  But I digress.  Now, compare that route to the route I currently follow, as seen below.

[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=202134851422910892642.000499368389545bb4e34&ll=35.119066,-89.965067&spn=0.038332,0.071669&z=14 width=650 height=400 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

Notice how many more turns there were on my old route.  Notice how many intersections I had to cross. Notice also, if you can see it, that I had to cross railroad tracks on Hollywood St., which can really slow down a ride if trains are present.  Now compare that route to my current one.  The distance traveled on my current route is a bit shorter – 3.47 miles – but the trip is soooo much faster.  It used to take me around 25 minutes to get to work.  Now I can get there in a little as 15 minutes, depending on my caffeine intake. This is largely due to a significant decline in the number of turns I must make, each of which requires deceleration.  Again, just look at how circuitous the old route was, and how direct is the new one.  Quite a contrast I must say.

So what motivated the change in route?  Bike lanes.  The city of Memphis recently striped bike lanes along Southern Avenue, beginning at Cooper Street in the west and ending at S. Perkins Road in the east.  (There’s actually a short section in the middle of my route, between Semmes Street and Patterson Street, where the bike lanes have not yet been striped.  It’s something to do with the funds used to pay for the lanes and the fact that there are railroad crossings in that section of Southern Avenue.  Apparently there will soon be bike lanes in that section, perhaps by this summer.)

The bike lanes were first striped in October of last year, and I rode them the first time on the 22nd of that month.  In fact, here’s a picture I took that day, as I was just about to enter the bike lanes for the first time.

Pretty neat, huh?  It took several months before the lanes were painted with cyclist icons and fitted with signs labeling them as bike lanes, but it was worth the wait.  Here’s two more pictures, both taken near my house, that show the icons and signs.

I’ll write more later on the bike lanes, especially as new lanes are striped.  But I cannot overstate how important the lanes are in making my daily ride easier, and hopefully encouraging more Memphians to ride.

Anyway, you’ll notice on my first route that I would ride for a short time on Central Avenue.  Central’s not a horrible road to bike on; there’s certainly many worse in Memphis.  In fact, there are sections of Central that are plenty wide enough for bike lanes, and I hope it gets striped soon.  But, there are also sections of Central where the road bottlenecks and is just wide enough for four lanes of traffic, with precious little room for a cyclist.  One of these bottlenecks is found at the intersection of Central and S. Greer Street, which made the ride on Central rather harrowing just as I was preparing to turn onto a two-lane street.  So, after many more hours poring over Google Maps, I devised this alternate route.

[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=202134851422910892642.0004994513de8aea42573&ll=35.122927,-89.964724&spn=0.038331,0.071669&z=14 width=650 height=400 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

This route allowed me to avoid Central entirely, except for crossing it twice (only once at a light), and led me through a neighborhood known as Chickasaw Gardens, a very swanky part of town indeed.  The Chickasaw Gardens route is well-known among Memphis cyclists; the complete route is below.

[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=202134851422910892642.00049946df6f3588d78ac&ll=35.125104,-89.963522&spn=0.03833,0.071669&z=14 width=650 height=400 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

Can you tell I seriously loves me some Google Maps?  The above route is a bit longer than my main routes, clocking in at just under five miles.  But if I had some extra time, or had had breakfast at Otherlands before leaving for work, I would (and still do) ride the Chickasaw Gardens route.  It is rather circuitous and hard to master at first, but Chickasaw Gardens is a really damn beautiful neighborhood.  In fact, I once read that no resident of Chickasaw Gardens has ever had a cavity.  (Note: That is a lie.)

To be sure, there were some parts of my old commute I liked.  The section of Midland Avenue between Hollywood and Goodwyn cuts through the heart of the Beltline community, a working-class neighborhood developed in the 1920s, which I came to really enjoy cycling through.  The streets are mostly quiet and little-traveled by cars, a nice contrast to the death race that occurs daily on Central.  I can’t say I got to know any residents of Beltline during my rides through it, but I can see and hear echoes of what the neighborhood must have been like in its heyday, and I hope it regains its former glory soon.

In future posts I’ll write more about the other bike-friendly routes I’ve found around town, and the various cycling adventures I’ve had.  But the above maps and pictures should give you an idea of what my daily commute is (and was) like.

Now if my knee would only stop hurting, I’d be on my bike tomorrow.  But that’s another post.

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