I recently received an email from the good people at Livable Memphis about the proposed bike lanes on Madison Avenue. I have to say that I was a little disappointed to receive the email; not at all disappointed that Livable Memphis is very much on the case about supporting bike lanes on Madison, but rather that a small but vocal minority of businesses on Madison persist in opposing the installation of bikes lanes in front of their shops.
Here’s a link to the email. Â What makes the opposition to the proposed bikes so utterly irrational is that there is no empirical evidence that I know of to support the allegation that bikes lanes are bad for business. Â In contrast, everything I’ve heard to date – and I will admit to being woefully uneducated about the body of peer-reviewed academic literature on the impact of bike lanes on businesses located on streets where such lanes were installed – indicates that bike lanes are good for business.
But putting aside the research-driven answer to this question (and I do tend to favor such answers, for their ability to hold other variables constant while looking at the effect of bike lanes, ceteris paribus), we should examine the reality of traffic on Madison right now. Â The facts clearly indicate that the average flow of traffic on Madison right now is well below capacity. Â Apparently Madison is operating at around 35% of capacity on average, and that’s with two lanes of traffic flowing in each direction. Â When you consider that one car waiting to turn left can effectively close the left lane for almost a full block during high-peak travel times, the loss of two lanes to vehicular traffic hardly seems like a huge inconvenience to drivers.
And indeed, that is just what is being proposed. Â Under the best case scenario (based on my preferences at least), Madison Avenue would be converted from a two-lanes-in-either-direction street to having one lane of traffic flowing east or west, plus a dedicated turn lane in the center and bike lanes on either side. Â The bike lanes would not be completely protected from traffic, as I would prefer, but would exist side-by-side with vehicular traffic lanes. Â The addition of the turn lane in the center would make the east-west lanes much more easily accessible during peak travel times, due to the elimination of left-turning vehicles and the interruption on traffic flows they create.
But more importantly, the number of travel lanes on Madison would actually increase under this plan. Â That’s right: no less room for cars (the average traffic load on Madison would still be less than 50% of capacity with the bike lanes installed – let me repeat that point … with the bike lanes, the average amount of vehicular traffic on Madison would still be less than half of what the road can bear … and people are worried about cars being deflected to Union and Poplar? Â I just don’t see that happening …) and more room for cyclists. Â That sounds like a win-win to me.
What pains me the most is the number of businesses – locally-owned businesses in particular, who I very much prefer to support – who are opposed to the bike lanes. Â I’ll be honest: knowing that Huey’s, or Mercury Valet Cleaners, or the Barbecue Shop, are opposed to bike lanes on Madison makes it hard for me to want to spend my money there. Â I very much hope that they come around, but I’m not terribly optimistic at this point.
Whatever the case, if you, fair reader, can spare a moment, please take action. Â Send an email to Mayor Wharton – of course, be polite and respectful – about your support of the bike lanes on Madison. Â As was expressed at the Livable Memphis meeting tonight (my first to attend, but certainly not my last), the time is nigh for the pro-biking contingent to make its voice heard.
In closing, I am very glad to have met the Livable Memphis crowd tonight. Â I didn’t realize how many people had been reading my blog, and it was really great to meet so many kindred spirits. Â I am very optimistic about the future of Memphis, thanks to the hard work of so many concerned citizens. Â Let us all hope for bike lanes on Madison, and every other street in Memphis.