Category: Commuting

Happy news

I already posted this on this blog’s Facebook page, but I thought I’d write about it here in greater detail.  I’ve been biking a fair amount lately, now that my work schedule has returned to something resembling normalcy.  The weather has been great recently, a few days of rain notwithstanding, and I thoroughly love the autumn temperatures, whether I’m on my bike or not.  Anyway, today I biked from home to campus in the morning and back again in the afternoon with no incidents.  Traffic was light, and the weather was perfect.

This evening I had a meeting to attend at Grace St. Luke’s Church, so I left home around 5:40 PM and began my bike ride.  As I was biking west on Young Avenue, I was approaching a parked car in the far right lane, where I was biking.  At the same time, a car was approaching from the rear on my left hand side.  As I neared the parked car and the passing car approached me, I wondered if I would have time to pass the parked car before I myself was passed.  I probably wouldn’t have had time to do so, but it didn’t matter, because the passing car slowed just as I was approaching the parked car, allowing me to safely pass it and return to the far right lane.  I was pleasantly surprised and waved my thanks.

And then, it happened again, on Belvedere, as I was heading north to GSL.  I was approaching a parked car when a car, soon to pass me, slowed and allowed me to safely pass the parked car.  I know we’ve all had close calls in traffic, whether it be while passing a car or being passed, and we’ve all had a driver or two extend the hand of courtesy.  But twice in one day?  This is unprecedented, my people, and quite welcome.  Are Memphis drivers becoming used to cyclists and learning to share the road?  Let’s all hope so.

Speaking of good news, hopefully you’ve heard about the Hampline.  It’s a two mile, on-road, multi-use trail that will connect the Shelby Farms Greenline to Overton Park.  Making this connection safe and protected for cyclists and other travelers will do a lot to strengthen the routes between east Memphis and the ‘burbs to Midtown, Downtown, and other points west.  The Hampline is partially crowd-funded, so you have an opportunity to support this unique project with your resources.  The goal is to raise $75,000, of which around $12,500 has been raised so far.  I will definitely kick in some cheddar to support this crucial and innovative improvement in our cycling infrastructure, and I hope you will too.  Special thanks to the Hightailers for matching contributions earlier in the campaign.

Also, the good people at the Peddler Bike Shop are sponsoring a Traffic Skills 101 class on Saturday, November 2.  It’s geared (pun intended) for new or potential cyclists.  The class costs $50 and is limited to 10 people, so register now!

Lastly, this has very little to do with cycling per se, but it sounds really cool, so I thought I’d share.  It’s called the “I Wish You Well” Wall, and it’s happening tomorrow at Overton Square.  The idea is that people will write a message of encouragement or something like that and leave it on the wall next to Bar Louie.  (See the event page for more information.)  I’m not usually one for public displays of positivity – perhaps it’s because I’m an economist, or because of my Scottish heritage – but this event sounds like something Memphis could use.  I’m going to visit and contribute my note, biking-related no doubt.

OK, that’s all for now.  Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll see you out there, biking in Memphis

Close call …

I was biking from home to Brother Juniper’s this morning to have lunch with a friend.  I had previously biked to Empire Hair Studio for a much-needed shearing, so my legs were good and warmed up, despite the chilly temperatures today.  It was a good ride east on Southern Avenue, and I rested for a moment at the intersection of Southern and Highland, waiting for the light to turn green.  As it did, I pedaled through the intersection, heading north on Highland for one block to then turn right on Walker St.

Just as I was turning right, an SUV decided to turn left onto Walker out of the Domino’s Pizza parking lot.  Apparently the driver didn’t see me, or just decided to ignore me.  As we both attempted to enter Walker at the same time, I had to slam on the brakes.  (The driver of the SUV made no similar attempt at stopping.)  My rear wheel slid out to the left as I went into a skid.  Fortunately, I managed to get my right foot on the ground before I tipped over.  After a couple of awkward hop-steps, I stopped, upright, slightly shaken, but none the worse for wear.

This was my first true close call since I started biking almost five years ago.  In and of itself, that’s pretty miraculous.  I’ve heard some harrowing stories of life on the road from cyclists and non-cyclists alike.  I do tend to be fairly defensive when I ride, stopping at traffic signals, not cutting between lanes full of cars, and so on.  But all the courtesy and mindfulness will only get you so far.  All it takes is one careless driver and you are on the ground.

I will note that I signaled my turn onto Walker for a good 3-5 seconds before I turned, pretty much the entire length of Highland north of Southern.  Apparently my extended right arm was unnoticed or ignored.  I don’t know.  I’m just glad I was able to stop in time, and that the SUV driver didn’t decide to take the lane a few seconds after I did.  That could have been ugly.

As it happened, Cort from The Peddler and Fix Memphis was walking west on Walker – say that five times fast – just as I nearly ate asphalt.  So at least I got to impress a fellow cyclist with my mad skidding skills.

So that’s my first close call story.  Please share yours in the comments.  I’d love to read them.  Also, be safe out there, and beware of SUVs bearing pizza.  (Seriously, did it have to be an SUV?  Did I really need another reason to not trust them?)

The miles keep adding up

Last week was a pretty damn awesome week on the bike.  I managed to commute to and from work and around town four days out of five and ran a boatload of errands to boot.  Let’s review …

Monday was easy.  I biked to work in the morning, then home in the afternoon.  Nothing terribly exciting to report about that.  I did have a pretty full load in my panniers, as I had to pack in my suit for an on-camera interview that morning.  Otherwise, easy peasy.

However, I had been noticing that my car was overheating and its engine was revving when idling, as if to run the fan and cool the motor.  Given that I needed to drive on Thursday, I had to take my car to the shop on Tuesday to make sure it was repaired on time.  So that morning, I loaded up my gear and my bike and drove to Barton’s on Overton Park Drive.  I had to be on campus by 8:30 AM, so I left the house super-early (for me, anyway) at just past 7.  After dropping of my car, I biked to campus.

What made the ride so enjoyable, other than the opportunity to watch the sun rise over Memphis as I headed to work, was that I followed a new route to campus.  From Barton’s I biked through Overton Park, east on Broad St., then south on Tillman to the Greenline.  I rode the Greenline east to High Point Terrace, which I followed south to campus.  It was a really great ride, and faster than I expected: just over 30 minutes.  (I’m sure the two double cappuccinos I had that morning helped.)  After class and a few meetings, I biked home.  Here’s the map:

Screen Shot 2013 02 11 at 10 30 58 PM

The loop at the end was courtesy a trip to the bank.  11.5 miles total.  Whee!

My car was ready that afternoon, so Wednesday morning I biked to Barton’s, stopping at Black Lodge on the way, picked up my car, and drove it home.  Then I biked to campus, had my day at work, and left in the afternoon to run a few errands.

From campus I biked to Poplar Plaza and bought a few things at the soon-to-be-replaced Kroger.  Then I rode to Busters for some vino, even biking on Poplar during rush hour for a spell.  From Busters I headed west to the Memphis Public Library on Poplar, then biked home.  I was going to go to Home Depot, but the hour was growing late and I was hungry.  Once again, here’s the map:

Screen Shot 2013 02 11 at 10 38 19 PM

Another 14.5 miles.  Awesome.

What I enjoyed most about the week was the variation in routes.  Normally I follow pretty much the same route every day.  Sure, I could mix it up, but like a lot of commuters (of the two-wheeled and four-wheeled varieties), I mostly just want to get where I’m going.  Being pushed into new routes was really nice.

Friday was super easy.  I biked to and from Otherlands, my normal Friday routine.  So easy, I didn’t even bother with cycling gear.

Altogether, I logged around 30 miles last week.  That’s roughly two gallons of gas I would have otherwise burned, meaning that I saved … um … how much is gas these days?  I can never remember.

Anyway, more news later this week.  I hope to see you on the road soon.

End of the week wrap-up

Hi everyone.  Well, after an incredibly productive day yesterday spent working the yard, my immune system decided to take the rest of the weekend off.  I woke up this morning around five with aches, a mild fever, and that special kind of nasty taste in my mouth that only a cold can bring (hint: think an ass-flavored fruit roll-up … with no fruit).  On strict orders from Nurse Wife, I spent the day in bed.  Normally, getting sick really bugs the crap out of me, as I like to stay busy and be busy, even if that means just cleaning up my MP3s or sorting paperclips by color and size.  (Don’t put it past me.)  But it was actually really nice to have a day of forced rest.  We’ve both been ridiculously busy lately, Ms. Wife (and she is known in her new role as a middle-school math teacher in Frayser) especially, so I very much appreciated the downtime, even if Ms. Wife had to spend most of the day working on lesson plans for the next week.  Plus, I managed to plow through a stack of half-read New Yorkers while I rested.  Not even a cold can stop me.

But enough about my unproductive productivity.  I have some articles I’ve been saving for just the right time, which is now.

First, are cyclists the new limousine liberals?  Well, assuming that taking a limousine to work involves profuse sweating, dealing with surly drivers, and the ever-present danger of being run off the road, sure.  But that’s not the point.  Some libertarians in Washington D.C. are apparently taking issue with public subsidies for the city’s very popular and successful bike-sharing program.  Their beef is that most of the riders are college-educated and white, characteristics that don’t reflect the city’s population.  (The article does a good job of addressing that objection.)

The larger question for me revolves around subsidies.  From an economics perspective, goods and services should be subsidized when the value to society exceeds the value to the individual.  In the case of bike infrastructure, there is just such a difference in value.  It has to do with the congestion externality created by vehicular traffic.  Essentially, the individual’s decision to drive a car is motivated largely by individual costs: fuel, repair, and so on.  But the individual’s decision to drive also creates other costs which are not directly paid by the individual.  Among those costs are the reduced driving times experienced by other drivers when one more car enters a roadway.  These congestion costs are a negative externality, a cost generated by each individual but not paid by those individuals.  Generally speaking, negative externalities result in too much of some thing being done.  In this case, too many miles driven.

Cycling however carries very little congestion externality, especially in cities with robust infrastructure for cyclists.  So, a subsidy for these programs is entirely justified, as it uses a public payment to reduce a public cost.  It is worth noting that other solutions to the congestion externality, like congestion taxes, are far less popular (and politically feasible), so targeting these public funds at programs that are popular makes sense.  Plus, there are positive externalities associated with cycling, like enhanced productivity (which might be fully captured in higher wages) and decreased reliance on healthcare (which would be more difficult to capture).  Indeed, there are estimates of the net gain from cycling, and the net costs from driving.

Whatever the case, I think the subsidies are fully justified.  It would be good to see the city take steps to improve access to the program for low-income residents.  But given that libertarians are not known for arguing in favor of government programs to alleviate poverty (beyond an often misguided belief that smaller government = more freedom), it appears that their concerns are motivated more by ideology than sound economics.

Speaking of economics – and who doesn’t tremble with joy on hearing those words? – this brief article on the Marginal Revolution blog asks about the socially optimal level of bike danger.  OK, it’s really just a repost from an email to the authors of the blog, but it raises an interesting question.  Again, we see the presence of an externality, again a negative one.  The externality is the one cyclist’s decision to obey the rules of the road leads to expectations about the overall lawfulness (or lawlessness) of cyclists.  So, if a majority of cyclists in Memphis are law-abiding citizens, stopping at traffic signals and so on, then drivers should expect that any given cyclist will be law-abiding.  The danger, according to the letter, is if a large number of cyclists are scofflaws.  This could change the expectations of drivers about cyclist behavior and potentially lead to more conflicts, accidents, and so on.  (Note: I’ve written about this before.)  And, at least one person thinks that being a lawbreaker is ethical.  Works for me!

Let’s talk for a minute about the phrase “socially optimal.”  Basically, a good or service is produced at a socially optimal level when the value to society of the last unit produced equals the cost to society.  So, thinking about cyclist behavior, the socially optimal level of bike danger (or safety) is found where the benefit of one more instance of dangerous behavior exactly equals the cost.  In other words, the socially optimal level of bike danger is found where there is neither too much nor too little danger.

But again, there could be an externality here, as my decisions about how dangerous to ride could effect drivers’ expectations about how dangerous are all cyclists.  So, I should behave less dangerously, lest my reckless behavior reflect poorly on my two-wheeled brethren.

(And if you needed more libertarian content, the authors of the Marginal Revolution blog, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, are economists with a decidedly libertarian bent.  They are both employed at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which is funded in part by the Koch Brothers.  Whatever the case, and however distasteful you might find the Kochs, I’ve met both Tyler and Alex, and they are both very nice guys.  Also, their microeconomics text is among the best I’ve ever read.  But enough about that.)

A few comments on another post about biking on Marginal Revolution:

  1. No, biking is not inherently dangerous, especially if drivers are polite.
  2. Discouraging biking might be the cheapest way to reduce accidents, but it is not the best way.  See above.
  3. Drivers might have a higher time-value than cyclists, but over short distances, there is little difference between driving and cycling, to say nothing of the health benefits of the latter.
In other news, the Tennessee Department of Transportation is making a statewide tour, soliciting input about transportation funding needs.  They’re scheduled to be in Memphis sometime between September 10th and 13th.  It would be great to see cyclists turn out in droves for these meetings.  Stay tuned for more details.
 
Do we need laws to protect cyclists and pedestrians?  Yes, no doubt.  But such laws will be largely meaningless without effective public education and enforcement.  Some peer-group effects couldn’t hurt either.
 
Making biking less scary?  Yes, please.  I am very pleased to see the efforts to link previously unconnected sections of bike lanes in Memphis into a truly city-wide network.  Big props to our city’s and county’s leaders for taking charge of this issue.
 
Oh, Texas.  You never fail to impress me.  OK, there’s some good stuff in the guidelines, like asking drivers to lower their speed, cover their brakes, etc.  But claiming that pedestrians and cyclists can be huge sources of danger?  Come on.  That’s so 20th century.
 
Lastly, insurance for cyclists?  Yes, please!
 
OK, that’s all I have for now.  Thanks for reading.  More to come soon.

End of the week wrap-up

My people.  It’s been a while since I posted an end-of-the-week wrap-up.  But, since I have a few minutes tonight, and a back-log of articles to share, I think it’s time.

First, what an awesome and amazing article appeared in today’s Commercial Appeal about biking in Memphis.  As I noted on my blog’s Facebook page, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  In fact, I really need to interview this guy for my blog.

Second, I hope that everyone who participated in last night’s Cycle Memphis ride had a great time.  I had planned to go, but spent the day moving boxes of books and other crap from one office to another – it’s a long story – so by last night, I was pretty shagged out.  It looks like the turn-out was really good.  I hope to make September’s ride.  The Cycle Memphis guys always put on a good show.  Hmmm … maybe I should interview them for my blog as well.

Also, from Cort at Fix Memphis, there is a bike polo tournament happening soon.  The game goes down on September 29 at Tiger Lane.  It’s also a benefit for St. Jude’s; always a good cause.  Visit memphisbikepolo.com for more information and to register.

Next, James Roberts posted a question about local bike courier services on the About page of my blog.  I didn’t have anything to tell him, but if any of you have information about any local bike messenger services, please share it in the comments.

Do I have a GPS unit on my bike?  No, unless you count my iPhone.  Do I now want a Japanese GPS unit on my bike?  Oh hell yes.

A bit late, but yikes … be careful out there, Murfreesboro.

If you needed a reminder about all the ways in which biking is awesome, and a key part of our cities’ futures, here you go.

And that’s all for now.  As always, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all soon, biking in Memphis.

P.S.  I don’t have anyone lined up for the Cyclist of the Month profiles in the next few months, so shoot me a comment if you are interested.

Parking in bike lanes

I’ve seen it many times; I’m sure you have too.  Sometimes it’s a landscaping truck, or a broken-down car.  Sometimes it’s an MLGW truck or even a Memphis Police Department vehicle.  A friend of mine on facebook even began to chronicle it on his wall.  As the subject line suggests, this post is about parking in bike lanes.

I don’t have any statistics or photos to share with you.  Usually I’m too busy to stop and take pictures or do a count of vehicles parked in bike lanes when I’m biking to school.  It appears to be more common on Southern Avenue than Madison, probably because there is already on-street parking on Madison.  I hear that it’s an issue on McLean as well.

None of this should be particularly surprising.  For all the acclaim the bikes lanes have received, many Memphians are not used to them.  Part of that stems from the fact that new lanes are being added on an ongoing basis, so drivers haven’t had a lot of time to adjust to them.  And they’ve only just recently begun to infiltrate the most dense and heavily-trafficked parts of the city, on roads like Peabody, Madison, and McLean.  Nonetheless, the lanes are here to stay, so we have to do what we can to educate drivers and ourselves about the proper use of these lanes.

For more information on the city’s rules about bike lanes, visit Municode, a repository of municipal codes from across the country.  Click on Tennessee, then Memphis, then the Memphis Code of Ordinances link.  The relevant code is found in Title 11, Chapter 11-24.

I’ll quote from the code here.  In Section 11-24-9, the code says that “[e]very person operating a motor vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a person operating a bicycle within a bicycle lane. A person operating a motor vehicle may cross a bicycle lane when making a turn or when entering or leaving the roadway, but a bicycle lane shall not be used as a turning lane or passing lane.”  It goes on to say that “[m]otor vehicles shall not be parked, stopped or left standing in a bicycle lane unless the city has determined that parking within the bicycle lane in specific locations is appropriate during certain hours and official signs have been erected in the designated areas to that effect or the city engineer has issued written special permission parking for a specific event during certain hours.”  That’s as clear as I can imagine.

So the challenge now is on two fronts: education and enforcement.  On the first front, the city recently released a video which discusses the proper etiquette in the use of bike lanes.  It’s a great video, short and to the point.  And hey, that male cyclist looks familiar, doesn’t he?

On the second front, we must rely on the Memphis Police Department.  I called the MPD today for more information about the fines that could be levied on a vehicle parked in a bike lane but was unable to get a response.  (Don’t worry: I didn’t take it personally.  I know that our city police are pulled in many directions and I always appreciate their part in making Memphis a better place to live.)  But according to the city’s code, parking in bike lanes is a misdemeanor offense, so I imagine that the penalty is similar to what would be levied for a parking ticket.

Hopefully, continued education, vigorous enforcement, and the accumulation of experience in dealing with bike lanes – plus lots of cyclists using those lanes – will resolve many of the unlawful uses of these lanes.  We’ll likely never reach a point of 100% respect and compliance, but by working together we can insure that bike lanes are used only for their intended purposes: giving cyclists a safe place to ride.

This weekend’s activities

Hi everyone.  Just a quick post about a couple of biking activities this weekend you should know about.

The good people in the Boscos Cycling Team (including April’s Cyclist of the Month, Jason Potter) are leading a Bike to Work Train from Midtown to downtown on Friday, June 1.  The ride begins at Otherlands Coffee Bar at 7:30 AM – be there early for some java.  It will be a fun ride.

On Saturday, June 2, the monthly Cycle Memphis ride happens.  This installment meets at 7:00 PM at the gazebo at the corner of Cooper St. and Young Ave. and begins at 7:15 PM.  I don’t have a route to share with you, but every Cycle Memphis I’ve been on has been great.  I don’t think I’ll be able to attend, so have fun in my absence.

Alright Memphis, get out there and get on your bikes.

Bike share programs – UPDATE

There was a great article in yesterday’s New York Times by David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads and about 1,000,000 other projects, about New York City’s new bike share program and his experiences with similar programs in other cities.  Memphis is slated to adopt its own bike share program, although I have few details about it, as I missed the Pizza with Planners meeting last week due to vacation.  And, the University of Memphis should be implementing a bike share program for students beginning in the fall, subject to approval by the Board of Regents.  I’ve been working on that project for some time now, along with my friend and colleague Amelia Mayahi, the University’s Sustainability Coordinator, and many others.  Hopefully the two programs will complement each other as well as the existing bike share program at Rhodes College.

New York’s bike share program would offer unlimited rides for $10 per day, as long as the rides were 30 minutes or fewer in length.  This time restriction is made easier by plans to install 450 (corrected: 600) bike share kiosks and station around the boroughs.  In a practical sense, this means that if you wanted to bike from home to the grocery store, you would need to find a bike station near your home and another near the store.  You would check out a bike near home, bike to the station nearest the store, and return the bike.  After shopping, you would return to the station near the store, check out another bike, and continue on to your next destination.  You could do this as many times as you like that day.  The ease of finding bike share stations is enhanced greatly by offering an app for iPhones (and hopefully Android devices as well), that shows the location of nearby stations.

I don’t know where the bike stations will be located around NYC, presumably near population centers, entertainment districts, subway stations, and so on.  As for Memphis, I could imagine numerous bike stations in downtown (i.e. at South Main and Patterson, further north on Main, near the Convention Center), in the Pinch district, Uptown, the medical district, Overton Square, Overton Park, Cooper Young, near college campuses, and so on.  Basically, anywhere where there are lots of people or where lots of people like to go.

One thing to consider is the number of stations relative to the time limits on rentals.  The basic equation is that fewer stations = longer rental time.  If we start out with, say, 10 stations in Memphis, a 30-minute window might be too short for many rentals, and might inadvertently discourage participation.  On the other hand, making sure that bikes are returned in a timely fashion is important.  If relatively few people account for most of the rentals, effectively hogging the bikes and preventing others from using them, dissatisfaction with the program will manifest.  This is a concern that Amelia and I heard from some of the other bike rental programs we investigated.

The bike rental program at U of M will have a two-week window for using a bike.  Upon returning a bike, the student must wait 24 hours before re-renting a bike if there are no other bikes available.  The program will be open to all students for a flat annual fee.  We’re going to start with 50 bikes which will be housed at a central location on campus.  We won’t have the kiosks that are typical seen in municipal share programs due to the initial expense of acquiring and installing them.

Another concern with bike share/rental programs (by the way, I am using “bike share” and “bike rental” as synonyms, although there might be a difference that I am missing) is helmet use.  According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine, only 1 in 5 bike share users wear helmets.  While I am 100% pro-helmet use, and never bike without one, I am also respectful of the right of adults to engage in risky behavior at their own discretion, without the government forcing them to use safety devices.  I’ve never written about them before, but I am generally opposed to laws that require adult cyclists to wear helmets (although this rapidly turns into a discussion on the relationship between the state and the individual and such issues as helmet laws for motorcyclists and seat belt laws).  Helmet laws for minors are a no brainer.

At U of M, we’re going to address the helmet issue by providing helmets and other safety gear for all riders and, of course, requiring that they sign a waiver indemnifying the University from injuries, etc.  Also, the students will be responsible for any damages to the bikes, equipment, or theft.

I don’t know how the helmet issue could be addressed in a municipal share program'; perhaps with one of these?  It would be difficult to mandate that riders wear helmets, although having them available would be good and might enhance participation.  Of course, there’s also the ick-factor of wearing a sweaty, stinky helmet that just came off someone else’s head.  Maybe some Lysol would solve that.

Whatever the case, I am very excited about the bike share programs at U of M and in the city itself.  They both show that Memphis is growing into a truly bike-friendly city.  Good times.

UPDATE: Here’s a great article from the Atlantic Monthly Cities blog about safety concerns with NYC’s bike share program.  And here’s Cort’s ideas on bike sharing in Memphis.

April Cyclist of the Month: Jason Potter

Hi everyone.  As I wrote just a few days ago, April is a particularly busy month for cyclists in Memphis.  There are events scheduled every weekend, sometimes more than one. But I’m particularly excited about the fourth annual Tour de Grizz, in no small part because it combines two things I love most about Memphis: basketball and biking.  The fact that the Tour was started by a really great guy, Jason Potter, the Director of Promotions and Event Presentations at the Memphis Grizzlies, makes it even better.  Read on for the history behind the Tour de Grizz and more Memphis cycling goodies.

 

1.  This marks the fourth year of the Tour de Grizz, if I’m not mistaken.  What inspired you to launch the first ride back in 2009?

I’ve wanted to put together a ride in Memphis like Tour de Grizz ever since I picked up riding again.  Four years ago, the NBA rolled out the first of its now annual “NBA Green Week” initiatives in an effort to highlight sustainability efforts and offer education to fans about the benefits of “Going Green.”  It was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

I perceived that there was a lack of awareness and education about cycling in Memphis back when we started Tour de Grizz.  I thought that an event that combined the fun and excitement of the NBA experience with the simple joy of riding a bike could be a catalyst in introducing or reintroducing people to riding.

2.  I remember the first Tour de Grizz; there were a few dozen cyclists and we left from the parking lot of First Congo church.  Last year there were hundreds of cyclists and we occupied much of the entranceway to the Memphis Zoo.  Mayor Wharton even rode with us.  To what do you attribute the rapid growth of the Tour de Grizz?

I had high expectations for Tour de Grizz even from its humble beginnings that first year.  I truly believed we could grow the event to be something special.  What has surprised me, however, is just how excited people get about the ride.  We certainly have a lot of experienced participants from the local cycling community who do Tour de Grizz for the fun of it, but I think just as many people who come out for the ride are not used to riding among a group of people that large.  To them, this is their biggest bike adventure of the year, and to see how happy they are to be a part of a community of riders just like themselves, well, it makes it all worthwhile.

I would credit that growth and excitement to two things: the change in attitude towards cycling in Memphis and incredible support from the cycling community.

I think we can all agree that Mayor Wharton’s administration has gone a long way in helping change the attitude towards cycling with the installation of all bike facilities (with more hopefully to follow).  There will always be the grouchy folks on message boards who think it’s a waste of resources to make our streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and we might not change those people’s minds.  But you can tell change is coming by the fact that so many businesses have gone out of their way to invest in facilities for riders.   I think the businesses recognize this isn’t a passing trend, that to a neighborhood or business district, being bike-friendly means real money.  Then the system perpetuates itself because people see that investment on the civic level and on the business level and they feel more comfortable giving cycling a try.  This is obviously good for events like ours.

The other major impact in the growth of our event has been from the support of the cycling community of Memphis.   We’ve had tremendous partners support our event on the grassroots level: from shops (I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically thank The Peddler, Outdoors and Victory Bike Studio) to clubs like the Hightailers and IP Cycling and organizations like Revolutions, Greater Memphis Greenline, and Shelby Farms, we’ve had the cycling community bend over backwards to help spread the word and see to it that the event became a success.  More riders at our event means more customers and patrons at their respective businesses.  It’s the same at other cycling events in town, too.  For so long, cyclists felt pushed to the fringes in Memphis, and now that it’s a new day they want to make sure they are as inclusive as possible to keep the good times coming.  That’s been my experience.

Lastly, the support we’ve received from the Zoo has been phenomenal.  It’s such a fantastic organization and a jewel to the City of Memphis.  Connecting the dots to the communities/fan bases/families that claim to be a Grizzlies Fan, a Cyclist, or a Zoo Lover; well, to put it in basketball terms, it’s been a slam dunk.  There’s so much overlap among the audiences, it’s been the perfect partnership.  We would not have grown the event so quickly without the Zoo’s participation.

3.  The Tour is one of many very inclusive group bike rides in Memphis these days.  Others that come to mind are the Cycle Memphis rides, the Tweed Rides, and the Tuesday night rides sponsored by the Peddler Bike Shop.  How often do you get a chance to go on one of those other rides?

One of my goals for this year is to participate in more “leisure rides” that are similar to Tour de Grizz to keep learning about who participates in them in an effort to make the experience better for our event.  I’ve loved all of the leisure rides I’ve done in town, including the Tweed Rides you mention and even a bigger scale event like the Midnight Classic.  Any time you bring together a group of cyclists with the expressed intent of having a good time, you succeed.

4.  Do you commute to work on your bike?  What’s your commute like?

I’m a self-proclaimed “fair weather commuter.”   I tend to ride to work the most in the spring through the fall, and try to do it once or twice a week at least during my riding season.  I love my commute from Cooper Young to FedExForum.  I like to ride in to work at an easy pace, and it usually takes me around 25 minutes no matter what route I take.  This spring, the city has repaved several of the stretches of Linden and Peabody I ride on, which has made it an absolute joy compared even to last year.  You probably hear people tell you how much the ride to work clears their head and how a ride home can decompress you from a workday, and I couldn’t agree more.  For all of the inconveniences of commuting by bike (which, if we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we’d have to concede a few) I find the benefits for what it can do to your state of mind, your creativity, and your feeling of connection to your community far outweigh the negatives.

5.  I think I met you for the first time at Bike to Work Day a couple of years ago.  Are you planning to participate in that again this year?

I love the “Bike to Work Day” event and think the organizers at the Downtown Memphis Commission and Church Health Center do a magnificent job of educating people about taking the plunge and making their first commute by bike.  This will be the third year of the event, and I’ve been involved each year.  When I first learned about it, I reached out to the organizers and asked if I could lead a ride from my neighborhood to get involved.  Since then, I’ve been an official “Ride Captain” and look forward to leading an even larger number of cyclists into work this year.  I enjoy demystifying the bike commute experience to first-timers.

6.  On a scale of one to ten, how awesome is the Shelby Farms Greenline?

On its worst day, in the coldest, wettest weather imaginable, I’d say an eleven.

7.  Do you run any errands on your bike? If so, how do you handle cargo? Have you invested in any panniers?

I’m more of a messenger bag or backpack guy when riding and carrying any cargo.  I find anything I need to take to work: clothes, toiletries, etc. all fit perfectly fine.  The messenger bag can get a little uncomfortable in the summer and probably isn’t practical if you don’t have facilities to get cleaned up at work, though.If I’m going to the store, that’s enough cargo capacity for the essentials.  It is a lot of fun to take your bike to the Union Avenue Kroger, too, because people still kind of look at you like you’re crazy, which we cyclists all seem to take pride in, don’t we?

8.  Where do you go for information about bike commuting?  Are there websites you consult?  What about friends in the area who are experienced cyclists?

I guess for the most part I’ve learned about bike commuting through trial and error.  When I first got back into riding, it was primarily for fitness doing weekend endurance-style (read: spandex) rides.  I fell in love with it so badly, I wanted to find more time for riding and that’s how I first decided I’d try to ride to work.  Well, there were not such great programs in place as Bike To Work Day in Memphis yet to teach me what I needed to know, so I had no idea what the hell I was doing.  I was dressing in full-on lycra and riding to the office super-early so no one would call me “Lance” or anything.  I think I thought that’s what I was supposed to do on a road bike, that I had to dress like that to be considered a “real” cyclist.  In hindsight, it was ridiculous.

I typically commute these days in khakis and t-shirts, and either bring a change of clothes in a messenger bag or I’ll have a shirt or two hanging in the office to change into when I arrive.  I keep an extra pair of shoes at work in case I want to ride my road bike.  I guess I’ve just gotten more relaxed about riding in general.  I’ve learned that there is no right or wrong way to dress on a bike, no right kind of bike to ride, that the only thing that matters is that you are comfortable both physically and emotionally, as in “comfortable with yourself.”  You shouldn’t be riding around wondering what people are thinking about you.  You should only pay attention to where other people are so you can ride as safely as possible, and spend whatever remaining mental capacity you may have dreaming about the things you need to do, your next trip, your friends and family, all the good stuff in life. Enjoy the ride, and laugh on the inside at all the people stuck in their cars listening to their bad music.

9.  What kind of bike do you have? Are there any biking accessories you can’t live without?

I currently have three bikes and I am always looking to expand the fleet, much to the chagrin of my wife.  I’m afraid I have to tackle a better bike storage solution than our dining room before I get too carried away again.

I have a road bike, a 29er mountain bike, and a single speed.  Each has their purpose and a special place in my bike heart.  As far as accessories, it really depends on the kind of ride I’m on.  I think the only constants I have are my ID and cell phone.  I don’t ride without my helmet and I always use lights at night.

10.  What about drivers in Memphis? How friendly are they to commuter cyclists?

I find motorists in Memphis to be more and more aware of cyclists every year.  Perhaps it’s from experience gained and confidence on the road, but I think cyclists and drivers alike are getting more accustomed to the new bike facilities in town and the outcry from both sides has seemed to mellow a bit.  Maybe bikes and cars can coexist after all, right?  Having said that, I think it’s especially important for cyclists to be alert at all times while on the bike and be smart about the way they ride and the routes they choose.  After all, it’s just you and your helmet out there.  As we see all too often, the danger is greater for the one on the bike than the one surrounded by a ton of steel.

11.  Any other stories you’d like to share?

I could go on all day, but any other stories I have are better told on a bike.  I hope I see everyone out there soon.

>>>>>>

Thanks Jason.  I appreciate the interview, and I’m sure my readers will as well.  See you this Saturday at the Tour de Grizz, where hundreds of people will be biking in Memphis.

March Cyclist of the Month: Kyle Wagenschutz

My people.  (Man, it feels like a while since I’ve typed those words.  Hopefully my writing deficit will come to an end soon, but that’s for another post.)  I am pleased to present to you the March Cyclist of the Month, none other than Mr. Kyle Wagenschutz.  Never heard of Kyle?  Oh come on … he’s the city’s very first Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, the Director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop, and … well, just read the interview.  It’s a good one.

KW

Photo credit: Nathan Berry

1.  You’re the city’s first Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator and have been in that position for about a year and a half.  What was it like to accept a job where there was no previous officeholder?  How has your idea of what the job would be like changed over time?

Taking the job was at first very overwhelming. Because there had been no previous officeholder, there was no precedent to follow, no established work schedule to fit into, and no expectations of what I was supposed to be accomplishing. I spent the better part of the first year just trying to figure out where and how a Bike/Ped Coordinator fits into the inner-workings of Memphis governance and operations. That being said, I have also been able to mold the bicycle and pedestrian program without restraint or restrictions on where we can take this movement. Almost any idea is possible and any program doable as long as I can find the resources and people to make it work.

Because of this freedom to create the first bicycle and pedestrian program, my roll has transformed somewhat over the last year and a half – but really in a good way. I’ve made some real progress not in just having more (and better) facilities constructed, but have also been able to address some of the systemic causes of bad decision-making as it relates to accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians in the city. I’m not sure the job has really changed – more that I have been able to find my stride and my roll in the process.

2.  Where do you see Memphis in five years, in regard to accessibility for cyclists, pedestrians, and people with disabilities?  In your opinion, what are the greatest opportunities and challenges?

What is interesting is how these different users – bicyclists, walkers, runners, persons in wheelchairs, etc. – often get lumped into the same category and fight for similar funding sources, but the needs of each of these groups couldn’t be more different.

The short answer is that I think bicycling will continue to grow in popularity over the next 5 years. As we continue to construct more bicycle lanes, more shared-use paths, and provide more bicycle parking at local businesses and civic centers, we’ll see more and more people choosing to take a bike rather than drive a car. We can already see that happening over the last year and a half and the momentum is going to continue to carry bicycling forward. To best part is that bicycle facilities are often times very cheap and can be constructed in conjunction with ongoing road repaving and maintenance projects.

Serving pedestrian and persons with disabilities is going to be a much more complex (and expensive) change to see happen. So much about building better cities to encourage more walking, or providing safe and convenient travelways for persons with disabilities leads back to development patterns and urban design. The new Unified Development Code sets the stage for better urban design that would produce an environment conducive to safe pedestrian travel, but it has only been in place for about a year. We can’t undo 60 years of bad urban design, annexation, and development patterns in just 5 years – It’s going to take a lot of time and more importantly it is going to take private/public collaboration and cooperation to make it happen.

We’re also going to have to review some of the legal liabilities that make improving pedestrian travelways more difficult. For instance, in the City of Memphis (and most cities around the country) it is the responsibility of property owners to maintain the sidewalks adjacent to their property. This means that if the sidewalk outside your house is broken, uprooted by trees, or otherwise impassable, it is your responsibility as a property owner to make and pay for the repairs needed to make it safe. I’ve done a rough calculation and the total cost of repairing all the damaged sidewalks in the city would be around $1 billion dollars, and that doesn’t include the areas that don’t have sidewalks and need them. Getting a better understanding of how to address sidewalks is literally the billion dollar question here.

Finally, to really make bicycling and walking a viable transportation choice in Memphis, we are going to have to figure out how to integrate with MATA on a more consistent and efficient basis. I really believe that the mangers at MATA are doing the best they can, with limited resources, to address some of the public transit complaints Memphis is known for. I expect to see some really good changes occur as they begin to finalize and implement their new short-range plan, but being able to link trips to MATA via bike, walk, or wheel chair will be crucial to the success of each other. Our city is more than 300 square miles and it isn’t going to get any smaller anytime soon. Residents on average travel more than 20 miles to work each day which for a majority of the population is an unachievable feat by biking or walking. Being able to provide more alternatives to driving your car is going to mean that people are going to need to combine multiple types of transportation – and it needs to be easy and as efficient as driving your car. We’re already beginning to see this happen with bike trips (all MATA buses are equipped with bike racks and MATA has a very lenient policy about bring your bike on buses or trolleys), but a more concentrated effort is going to have to take place.

3.  I know you commute to your job downtown from Midtown via bike.  My commute is from the same neighborhood, but in the opposite direction, to campus.  How is the daily commute downtown? Is commuting during rush hour particularly vexing?

I don’t really have any problems. I have developed a few alternative routes that I can use that allow me to change up the scenery as often as I like. I get to see a nice cross section of the city going from residential neighborhoods, through some more industrial warehousing spaces, and finally into the more dense development of downtown. The arrangement of the buildings and proximity to the river can sometimes make for interesting headwinds, but other than that I’m pretty comfortable with the commute.

I mostly encounter heavy traffic when I encounter school zones. About 25% of morning rush hour congestion occurs because of parent dropping off their kids at schools. I also typically travel in hours before or after traditional vehicular rush hours times. In general, our data collection indicates that “rush hour” for cyclists actually occurs about 30 minutes before the normal vehicular “rush hour” times. Presumably, cyclists arrive at work earlier to clean up, shower, change clothes, etc. and a such have to leave home earlier. 
Typically, if I end up riding when there are a lot of cars on the road, I alter my route to help avoid some of the potential conflicts and relieve some of the stress associated with riding with large volumes of cars.

4.  On a scale of one to ten, how awesome is the Shelby Farms Greenline?

10. In my opinion it has been, by far, the most influential infrastructure investment in Memphis in the last 10 years.

5.  In addition to being the city’s Bicycle/Pedestrian coordinator, you’re also the Director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop.  Tell me about the impact Revolutions has had on the city.

In a lot of ways, I think Revolutions has been quietly influential in improving the physical conditions and more abstract acceptance of cyclists in Memphis while also providing for the basic needs of a large population of cyclists. Over the last 10 years, Revolutions has helped to put over 3,000 bikes back onto the streets of Memphis and has helped repair countless more.

Revolutions has always been concerned with making sure that all cyclists had a seat at the table in Memphis. Largely, this was brought about through our extensive work with individuals that don’t have enough money to afford the routine maintenance needed to keep their bicycle running properly and safely. Educating cyclists about basic bike repair and providing the tools and parts needed to make those repairs has always been one of the goals of the program and continues to drive the activities today. More importantly, Revolutions has become a place for “voiceless cyclists” to take part in the dialog about improving conditions for cycling in Memphis. These aren’t what people would think of as “typical” bike riders – they don’t wear spandex, they ride heavy bicycle often weighted down with parcels they are carrying, they don’t wear helmets, they don’t have the latest gear or gadgets – but to me they represent more of what a “typical cyclist” is than many of the publicly portrayed images of cyclists today and making sure they have an opportunity to participate in the public processes and discussions that continue to shape the future of bicycling in Memphis is a major interest of mine.

Personally, my involvement at Revolutions is what prompted me to get my planning degree and pursue the line of work I am doing now, and I can see similar story lines emerging in the lives of other past and present Revolutions volunteers. Some have gone on to establish community bicycle shops in other cities, some have taken up active roles in advocacy groups that promotes cycling, others have begun work, much in the same way as I did, with governments, planning agencies, and transportation firms – attempting to work within the system to improve conditions. It’s really great to see what has come about from a bunch of folks gathering 10 hours a week to work on bikes. These folks remain some of my closest friends and nothing can beat the community building aspect to what Revolutions does.

6.  Members of the cycling community take it for granted that more and better access for cyclists makes a city better.  If you were making that point to someone who wasn’t already a cyclist, what would you tell them?

I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the cycling community takes improvements for cycling for granted. I think this past year and a half has demonstrated, on a real level, that cyclists are willing to fight for better cycling accommodations, and in turn a better city. If you look at the public battles that occurred over the ARRA spending plans and then Madison Avenue after that, you’ll find that cyclists were at the forefront of those skirmishes and their support ultimately provided the city with the momentum it needed to make some drastic changes to its road development policies and procedures – both in terms of how decisions are made and ultimately how to build better public places and roadways.

Now, if someone questions how more cyclists makes for a better Memphis I ask them to consider a few things:

First, cycling in and of itself will not solve the societal and economical qualms plaguing our city. In fact, there is no silver bullet that will repel crime, blight, failing schools, high taxes, and poor public health. There are no magic solutions to any of these problems. They all require multiple holistic solutions that addresses short term needs and long term systemic change simultaneously. While no single program can impact any of these problems on its own, the small impacts from each of the programs can begin to add up and make change more real and lasting as time progresses.

Second, with the understanding that cycling cannot act alone as a change agent – cycling has the ability to positively impact many of these problems in real and measureable ways. Need to revitalize an older commercial/retail corridor? – take a look at improving bicycling and walking conditions. Concerned about the health of your neighbors? – start a weekly bike ride or walking group that gets people moving. Aggravated about parking availability at a certain Mid-South university? – ride a bike and park ride outside your classroom. Real impacts occur when enough people begin to think about the possibilities and act of them.

Finally, diversity (and the activities derived from that diversity) are what make cities great. Diversity of architecture, neighborhoods, demographics, public art, parks, culture, festivals, food choices, and even transportation choices help make a better city. Being able to wake up in the morning and choose from a variety of ways to travel to work is the mission. We’re not forcing people to ride bikes to work, we’re not forcing people to walk to the store, we’re not forcing you to use the bus – what we want is for you to have the choice to choose any of those options and be provided the same level of safety, efficiency, and accessibility regardless if you are using a car or not. Our city will only be as good as the choices we have available to us.

7.  Do you run any errands on your bike?  If so, how do you handle cargo?  Have you invested in any panniers?

I’m a daily bike commuter – While my wife and I do own a car, I am seldom the driver of the car during the week. I handle most weekly errands just using my messenger bag and/or rear rack mount top bag on my commuter bike. I haven’t invested in panniers yet, but plan to in the near future.

For bigger cargo I have access to a nice Burly flatbed trailer that I use on occasion. Once, I staked two complete mountain bike frames on the trailer and hauled the bikes from Cooper-Young to Shelby Farms Park for an event that was taking place. I’ve even used the trailer to haul camping gear when going on overnight bike trips.
I’ve also made a concerted effort to reduce the amount of stuff I carry on a regular basis to avoid back-breaking loads in my bag. Generally, just being smart about what you have to carry will help eliminate some unneeded weight.

8.  Where do you go for information about bike commuting?  Are there websites you consult?  What about friends in the area who are experienced cyclists?

Most of what I know I learned from hanging out and riding with other cyclists. Even before the city began making investments in bike lanes, there were a dedicated group of cyclists that commuted by bike, hung out by bike, traveled the city by bike – we basically did everything by bike. Through that we learned about good routes, about new gear, and about each other. I met most of these folks through Revolutions and other bike shops.

I regularly check Fix Memphis and Biking in Memphis blogs. I also like to take a look at Cycle Chic and Streetsblog on occasion.

9.  Have you had any fun cycling adventures, like riding from Shelby Farms to downtown or from midtown to T. O. Fuller State Park?

It seems like the last 5 or 6 six years have been nothing but fun cycling adventures. Riding in South Memphis and further down towards TO Fuller are some of my favorite rides. There are always people outside to say hello to. There is an intrinsic friendliness when riding in neighborhoods where people are present and you can speak to, even for a brief hello. To me, it’s much more pleasant riding in these areas of town rather than a neighborhood where everyone is shuttered up inside avoiding contact with the outside world. Oh – and there is little traffic to deal with down in southwest Memphis.

I’ve ridden north along the MRT a couple times. In fact, the week before I took the job with the city, three friends and I rode to Fort Pillow State Park and back. That was a really great time.

10.  What kind of bike(s) do you have?  Are there any biking accessories you can’t live without?

I have a Fuji Sagres fixed gear that I have been using for my daily commute lately. This was the first bike I ever built at Revolutions and I hold it in a special place.

I also have a Magnolia Cycles bike that I am currently working on that will become my new multi-speed commuter bike. I had it built by former Memphian Mike Crum and he tweaked it out for me so I could put some racks on and use it for commuting/touring purposes.

I also have a Marin mountain bike frame that I converted to a single-speed for playing bicycle polo. My wife and I had a son five months ago though and I haven’t been able to play polo since he was born. I’m eager to get back on the court though.

11.  What about drivers in Memphis?  How friendly are they to commuter cyclists?

Generally speaking, no problems. Whenever I do see some mayhem occurring it usually involves the driver using a cell phone. I’m always on the lookout for the “cell phone swerve.”

My biggest qualm is when drivers do silly things to help better accommodate cyclists – like waiving them through stop signs when it isn’t their turn. One time, I was stopped at a stop sign waiting for cross traffic to clear and a driver came up behind me and rather than waiting in line, he moved to my left and stopped equal with me, blocking the other lane of traffic and completely blinding my view of traffic on my left. He had his window down and I asked him what he was trying to do here. He said that he wanted to make sure to give me enough room to wait. I had to explain to him though that he had now blocked the entire intersection and that I couldn’t go anywhere until he did. I think he got it, but it was screwy nonetheless.

12.  Any other stories you’d like to share?

Maybe so, but now that I am a representative of the City of Memphis, I’m not sure I can share them here …

>>>>>>

Thanks Kyle; what a great interview.  And thanks to you, my people, for reading.  I hope to resume writing again very soon.  In the meantime, I hope to see you biking in Memphis.