Today’s commute, or, An open letter to the woman who yelled at me in Chickasaw Gardens

Don’t worry – I’ll stop with the pretentious post titles soon.  But I had an interesting encounter today (several, actually) that I wanted to write about.  So here goes.

Dear woman who yelled at me in Chickasaw Gardens,

As you might have guessed from the way I turned my head when you yelled at me, I did hear you.  And I understand your concerns.  At least, I think I do.  I’m really just guessing at what those concerns are.

But whatever the case, when you yelled “That’s a stop sign!” or something like that, I heard what you said.  And I think I understand where you’re coming from.  After all, it is a nice, quiet neighborhood, Chickasaw Gardens.  And certainly, many cyclists use your neighborhood as a short-cut – a rather circuitous one at that – to get from east Memphis to points in Midtown or downtown.  Heck, if I had a dollar for every time I’d biked through your neighborhood, I could afford one of these.

Or maybe not.  But you get my point.  I bike through Chickasaw Gardens a lot, as do many of my bike-commuting or sport-biking comrades.  And who could blame us?  The lovely winding streets, the shade from the many mature trees, the lack of aggressive automobile traffic … it’s practically a cyclist’s heaven, you know?

Also, please forgive me for assuming that you live in Chickasaw Gardens.  I never really got a good look at you or your car (if I had to guess, I would say that you were driving a late model Toyota Camry, which is great, as I used to drive a Camry myself, although an older model that was a compact car, as opposed to the newer mid-size version), but given that you turned right from Arawata Lane onto Lombard Road, which doesn’t lead to any exits from the neighborhood in that direction, I assumed that you were a resident of the neighborhood.  But maybe you were just visiting a friend and felt particularly offended when I sailed through the stop sign at that intersection, when our paths diverged, as I turned left on Lombard on continued on to S. Fenwick Road.

OK, you’re right … that wasn’t the first stop sign I sailed through.  A few blocks back, at the intersection of E. Chickasaw Parkway and W. Goodwyn Street … yeah, I completed pwned that.  But the two SUVs that were approaching from both directions on the cross street made it to the stop signs well after I did, and given the PITA that is coming to a full stop and resuming one’s ride, I felt it OK to slow a bit and continue riding.  Was that rude?  Sorry if it was.

But look … I completely get where you’re coming from.  I totally ignored those stop signs.  Broke the law.  Deserved a ticket really.  Although it would probably not make you happy to know that if I had gotten a ticket for running those stop signs, I totally would have scanned it and posted the image on my blog.  It would have been awesome.  In fact, that only thing better would have been if I had gotten a speeding ticket.  On my bike!  How cool would that have been?!  Only if it was not in a school zone, of course.

Plus, we cyclists are always out there demanding special rights and privileges and all that, right?  Like our own lanes, signals, and the right to ride in shared lanes with you and other drivers.  Apparently we fully expect to be treated as equals on the road, but then one of us goes off and flagrantly violates the law!  How offensive is that?!

Except that it’s not.  I mean, really?  Am I a car?  Do I weigh 2000+ pounds?  Does it take me 27 feet to stop if I am biking at a comfortable 10 MPH?  Could I kill someone if I collided with them at that speed?

The answer to the above questions, expect maybe the last one, can only be no.  And here’s the difficult things to understand: bicycles are not cars.  Cyclists are not drivers.  It’s just different.  We’re just different.  So when a cyclist runs a stop sign, it’s just not the same as when a car does the same.

Don’t believe me?  Have a look at this article.  OK, yeah … I don’t agree with everything she wrote either.  But the point remains.  As much as cyclists demand equal rights on the roads, as we very well should, we’re not cars.  Fully loaded, with all the crap I tend to carry on any given day, my bike and I probably weigh about 10% of what you and your car does.  Plus, I don’t have any blind spots.  Nor does my bike insulate me from the sounds around me like your car does.

In short, biking is much safer for everyone except the cyclist.  Plus, there’s the issue of momentum.  If you, in your car, approach a stop sign, come to a complete stop, then proceed to your destination, the only extra effort required by you to do all of this is to gently press on one pedal or another.  For a cyclist, coming to a complete stop and then resuming a normal speed is much more taxing.

But if you don’t believe, ask your friends who bike around town.  You know, those weird people who hog the food station at cocktail parties – gotta replace those calories somehow – and who seem abnormally aware of local roads and traffic.  We’re good people, I promise.  Maybe a bit insular, but hey, that’s a scene for you.

In summation, please don’t think that I’m pissed at you for your comment.  I’m very protective of my neighborhood as apparently you are too.  I just hope we can get along and share the roads.

Would you like a little insight as to what it means to be a commuter cyclist?  Here’s a link to a map of my ride today.  It’s kind of pretty, isn’t it?  The loop that I followed?  From my home to my job, then to the Poplar Plaza shopping center, then to Otherlands Coffee for a meeting, then home again?  Did you ever map out your driving like I do my biking? You should give that a try sometime.  It’s very informative.

9 comments

  1. Vice-President, Biking in Memphis Fan Club

    It’s so interesting that learning to ride a bike is such a rite of passage and held in great esteem. Only it seems it’s relegated to a recreational activity and for youth – that once you become an adult you should commute by driving like everyone else. After reading this post, I wondered about two things: first, if it had been a child sailing through a stop sign if she’d have yelled; and second, the confines of an automobile – even with windows down – provide anonymity and insulation. I occasionally yell at people who speed through red lights and cut me off in traffic, drive too slowly on Central, but I’m safe in the confines of my enclosed vehicle where they can’t hear me. People probably yell at me too from time to time, but I drive away blissfully unaware of the trail of angry motorists I might have left in my wake. Maybe the issue is that people yell at people everywhere, only you’re not protected on your bike from hearing it. Unfortunately, as a public cycling pioneer, you’re way out ahead of public opinion and ahead of the change in behavior and perception and you’re butting up against a very entrenched car culture. Maybe think of your awesome helmet as a negative comment force field…

    • Doug

      So wait … who’s the President of the Biking in Memphis fan club?!

      I very much agree with your comments and wonder the same thing, if she would have yelled at a kid on a bike. I blogged earlier this week about the isolating effect of driving a car (as opposed to biking) and I wonder how much that was a contributing factor. I also wonder if the woman knows any cyclists.

  2. VR

    On my bicycle I don’t really stop at stop signs in quiet calm streets either, but I do slow and check around… My only problem with your whole stance is not the stopping part – you are correct, bikes are completely safe to roll through stop signs – my problem is that doing it in such a way as to annoy motorists creates enemies among motorists and they then vote against bike infrastructure or pressure elected representatives to vote against bike infrastructure or they write letters to the editor complaining about bike infrastructure…

    I try to be a nice bicycle ambassador. But if no one is around – I blow the damn stop sign… :)

    • Doug

      Hi VR,

      Thanks for the comment. I should have stated this more clearly in my post, but I do (and did) slow and look both ways many times before passing through a stop sign. Obviously, if there had been any vehicles, other cyclists, or people in the street, I would have stopped completely.

      But I hear what you’re saying, about being a good bike ambassador. I try to be one too, which is why when I’m biking on a major road, I obey the rules of the road almost 100%. Sometimes I do forget to signal a turn, but that’s the most of my infractions.

      As an example, when I’m biking from home to work on Southern Avenue, if the traffic light at the intersection of Southern and Hollywood is red in my direction, I always stop. (There’s even an extension of the stop line across the bike lane.) I like to show cars that I am a responsible cyclist, at least when riding with traffic on a major road.

      Anyway, thanks again for your feedback.

      Doug

  3. Kermit

    After she said “That’s a stop sign” I would have pointed to a tree and said “That’s a Tree.” The Idaho Stop… it’s a law in Idaho and it should be one everywhere.

  4. stephendeej

    My family is very familiar with the Chickasaw Garden, especially the nice shaded park (great for a snack break). We’re a few of the many riders seeking a safe and nice ride from out East Memphis home to Midtown and beyond. This is difficult enough without hauling a trailer of gear and two kids yelling “faster Daddy, go faster!”. This also makes the stop-sign-cheat essential for maintaining the speed the little ones demand…don’t worry, I always look both ways before I blow any signs or lights…but blow through them I do.

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