” … my right.”

You might have read this article in today’s Commercial Appeal.  If you didn’t, or for some reason are unable to click on links, the article concerns the recent installation of bike lanes on McLean Boulevard and some conflicts that has created.  The conflicts stem from the loss of on-street parking, which was sacrificed to make way for the bike lanes, and are localized onto a roughly 2000-foot section of McLean between Poplar and Overton Park Avenue.  Here’s a map of that section.

Screen Shot 2012 07 18 at 11 09 00 PM

I’m not terribly familiar with that section of McLean, it not being in my normal patterns of travel.  But, as you can see, there are no cross streets, meaning that the loss of on-street parking is a legitimate grievance for the residents and businesses there.  A local resident received a parking ticket when she parked on the street, to make way for a construction crew doing work on her house.  A videography business is worried about losing clients, since access to its offices are now greatly limited.  No doubt other residents have similar complaints; again, all legitimate.

Two things struck me about the article and the concerns addressed therein.  First, big props to the city and, in particular, Kyle Wagenschutz, for getting in front of this issue and responding very quickly to emails from concerned citizens.  When I think about what effective local government means, rapid response to complaints or questions is tops on that list.  (To that point, my wife have been very impressed by the MPD’s program of watching over your house when you’re out of town.  We regularly call the MPD when we’re traveling and we feel safer as a result.  In fact, we’ve gotten to know at least one of the officers assigned to our beat.  Of course, bringing a tray of sandwiches to the local precinct will do that for you.  But I digress.  A lot.)

Second, the statement from one of the residents of McLean that it “is my right” to park on the street.  That’s the problem.  Because McLean is a public street, it is not only her right to park there, but every other resident of the city (and visitors to the city) also enjoys that same right.  Not only that, every other resident of the enjoys the right to bike along that street, drive on it, or otherwise use it for any lawful purpose.  Such are the difficulties of congestible public goods.

Economists have a phrase to describe this phenomenon: the Tragedy of the Commons.  The basic idea is that when individuals share access to the same common resource, the resource is often depleted, such that its value is lessened for all users.  Each user has the incentive to consume the resource as much as possible, to her/his own benefit, but in doing so, adversely affects other’s enjoyment.  In this case, we see that the road in question is shared by many users: drivers, cyclists, residents, pedestrians, and so on.  When all users attempt to use the same road for each of their own ends, the road becomes congested to the point that the overall benefit is reduced.

But there are ways of dealing with this tragedy, one of which the article (and the city) addresses: the assigning of property rights.  If the various users of the common have limits on what they can consume, then the good can be protected for the benefit of all.  The city initially did this by allowing unfettered access to drivers and parkers.  Fine, unless you’re a cyclist.  Then, the city reallocated property rights, creating bike lanes and greatly reducing the property rights of parkers.  Fine, unless you’re a parker.  But now, we have a proposed compromise, which is to allow parking in the bike lanes between certain hours; dusk to dawn, for example.

While I am generally more in favorable of compromises, as opposed to all-or-nothing solutions, and while I do think that allowing night-time parking in bike lanes would be acceptable, I do have some concerns about that solution.  First, I’m concerned that others would seek to apply this solution to other lengths of road where bike lanes have been recently installed.  The loss of parking space is a legitimate concern, as we have seen expressed in the discussion over bike lanes on Madison Avenue and Cooper Street.  But if  this solution were applied more broadly, the integrity of those bike lanes, and the protection they afford cyclists, would be compromised.  While I recognize that some such compromise is acceptable, I’d like to minimize it.  To be sure, no one has suggested such additional compromises, and hopefully that won’t come to pass.

My other concern is that, while perhaps Pareto-improving (sorry for the overuse of economics jargon, by the way), compromises can be confusing.  Parkers and cyclists would have an entirely new paradigm to adjust to, one that might not be as easily understood as one all-or-nothing solution or another, to say nothing of the difficulties in enforcing this solution.  This is not to say that an amenable solution does not exist; indeed, the city, to its credit, is looking into that as well.  In fact, I’m really curious to find out what other cities have done in similar situations.

One last point, before sleep overtakes me: part of me is utterly overjoyed when I read articles like this.  Why, you might ask?  Because when cities march (or pedal) down the path toward being truly bike-friendly, they inevitably encountered such issues.  While some might take this story as being evidence of the intransigence of the non-biking public, I take it as meaning that we, as a city, are doing the right thing.  Memphis is truly becoming a bike-friendly community, and these intermittent skirmishes are evidence of that.  As long as we all keep our heads (and helmets) about us and focus on the long run, we’ll be fine.  Just imagine what Memphis will be like in 10 years, or even next year, and these short-term concerns become less of a headache.  (Unless you live on McLean between Poplar and Overton Park Avenue, that is.)


  1. eli greene

    Regarding the proposed compromise on McLean — In fact, the apartment building whose landlord complained about the loss of parking is only about 100 feet from Overton Park Avenue, where free parking is plentiful. And all the single family homes on McLean tend to have long driveways and parking areas that can accommodate multiple cars. Dusk to dawn will greatly diminish the utility of McLean to evening bike commuters, and nighttime is where the extra protection afforded by not having to swerve one’s bike in and out of traffic lanes is most needed. The proposed compromise is a step backwards to accommodate a couple squeaky wheels, and no one else.

    • Doug

      Hi Eli,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s good to know more about the layout of McLean in that area. And I agree with your point about needing bike lanes more in the nighttime. Hopefully the city will find a solution that doesn’t compromise safety too much.


  2. PatrickGSR94

    My family drives that road every Sunday headed to Redeemer Pres which meets at Snowden on McLean and N. Parkway. I did notice that section of road used to have lots of cars parked along it, but now have none due to the bike lanes.

    In my opinion, and this is coming from a cyclist, if cyclists would just learn to ride towards the right of the driving lane, and take the full lane when necessary I think everyone would be much better off. I live in an area with very few bike lanes (my town has zero, actually) so I have to do this anyway, and I haven’t had any problems.

    • Doug

      Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that taking the lane is an important skill to have as a cyclist, and that given enough room (a shoulder of at least 4 feet, not including the lane itself) cyclists should ride to the right. But the issue here is what to do about parking that has already been lost. The city is very unlikely to remove the bike lanes and reinstate parking, so the question is how best to forge a compromise. Obviously, bike lanes aren’t appropriate for every street, although I’d love to see them everywhere, including Union and Poplar.


  3. vic

    I live close to that stretch of McLean and ride it to work every day when it’s not 100F. Every week I see one or two cars parked on the bike lane in front of the apartment complexes. Although they started using their private parking lot behind their buildings as soon as the bike lane signs were posted. Same goes for the single home owners, they suddenly realized they have a driveway.

    I’d be willing to compromise and accept cars parked on the street at night, but cars must clear it during rush hour. It’ll be dangerous to swerve parked cars in the wintertime, when it gets dark by 4pm and everyone is catching up on the phone as they drive home.

    Memphis doesn’t have a parking problem (nor a traffic one), but somehow people freak out when they have to park one block away from their destination. I’m sure the videographer interviewed by the CA can tell his customers to park on Overton Rd beforehand. They’re probably the same people that use the valet parking at CY.

    • PatrickGSR94

      Yeah I never really paid attention to the driveways for the houses when driving by. I can see people parking on the street if they’re visiting and there’s little to no parking off-street. But seriously, with a driveway, you need to get your butt off the street.

      My neighborhood is littered with WAYY too many street parkers because these people can’t seem to clean the junk out of their garage to park in there, so they have to park on the driveway, block the sidewalk, and park on the street.

  4. SB

    McLean between Poplar and N Pky was never broad enough for parking. Many residents knew that and parked on the sidewalk, which is unsafe for pedestrians (and bad for the sidewalk/curb). I can’t believe how lazy people were, not to park one behind the other in driveways, but I don’t agree at all with Patrick that cyclists are safe driving in the lane. Cars expect you to get out of the way for them and there are too many in-road hazards like potholes, storm drains, etc. for this to be safe.

  5. PatrickGSR94

    The sidewalk isn’t safe for cyclists, either, at least not if you’re going at a decent pace, i.e. 10 MPH or above. Cyclists on the sidewalk are a hazard to pedestrians. And it’s been shown that motorists are less likely to watch the sidewalk for cyclists, so in many cases a cyclist can be in even more danger from motorists while on the sidewalk. Not to mention many sidewalks are way too narrow for both pedestrians and cyclists to pass one another safely, and many sidewalks are broken up and uneven in areas of town with large, old growth trees.

    Proper education of both cyclists and motorists is key. Cyclists have just as much right to the road as motorists.

  6. PatrickGSR94

    I just drove on McLean yesterday and noticed that the No Parking signs in front of houses with their driveways coming off of McLean now have little signs below them that say 7AM – 7PM. So from 7PM to the following 7AM I guess cars are allowed to park there. This was around 10:30 AM, and I did see one truck parked in the bike lane, with 2 cyclists approaching it, who were forced out into traffic to get around it.

    Stretches of McLean without any driveways, such as between cross-streets, only have the No Parking signs, so I guess parking is not allowed in those areas at any time of day or night.

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