Category: Commuting

Happy 1st Birthday, Biking in Memphis

I can’t believe it, but it was exactly one year ago today that I wrote my very first post for this blog.  Looking back, I had no idea what 2011 would bring in terms of my biking, this blog, and the cycling community in Memphis .  So let’s take a moment and look back at the most significant events in the local scene, in no particular order.

1.  Bike lanes, bike lanes, and more bike lanes. I’ve written about the status of bike lanes in Memphis more times than I can recall, but it’s remarkable to remember that it’s been slightly more than one year since our city got it’s very first bike lanes, on Southern Avenue.  And in the past year we’ve seen lanes installed on North Parkway, Chelsea, McLean, MacLemore, and, after more drama than I care to remember, Madison Avenue.  This year we should see even more lanes striped, continuing the transformation of Memphis to a truly bike-friendly city. Along the way we will no doubt face more obstacles and detractors, but I very much feel that the wind is at our backs.  I’m very excited to see the discontinuous sections of existing lanes connected into a true cycling network.

Not only did we see more bike lanes, but we saw the cycling community in Memphis and its supporters truly galvanize behind this issue.  The Rally for Great Streets in September showed that cyclists can and will turn out in favor of bike lanes, Livable Memphis did an exceptional job of spreading the word and rallying the troops, Matt Farr launched the website bikesmeanbusiness.com and the petition drive on MadisonBikeLanes.com gave names to our numbers.  I’m really proud of my city for this, and very thankful for our local cycling activists for their hard work (Anthony, Kyle, Sarah, and Les, I’m looking at you, among many others.)

2.  The Greenline turns one. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this rails-to-trails project, not just for local cyclists, pedestrians, and runners, but for the idea that Memphis has no greater aspirations than being sedentary.  The success of the Greenline proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Memphians are eager for new opportunities to get out and move, and I’m proud that our city leaders heard those pleas.

3.  The death of Chris Davidson. It’s hard to write with eloquence about someone I never met, but as the outpouring of support for his family and loved ones clearly demonstrates, Chris touched many people and was loved by all who knew him.  The driver of the car who hit Chris has yet to be found, and might never be, which only compounds this tragedy.  I don’t know what lessons there are to be learned from this, other than take care of each other and look out for one another.

4.  Cycle Memphis group rides. Years ago, when I first started biking around town, I attended a Memphis Critical Mass group ride or two.  It was fun, but we were never much of a mass, nor were we particularly critical.  Perhaps it is not surprising, in a city known (rightly or wrongly) for a certain degree of apathy, that it would be hard to get people together for a regular group ride intended to raise awareness about cyclists in Memphis, but I’m glad that Adam and Jason had the brilliant idea of turning a group ride into a rolling party, complete with sound system and a mid-ride snack break.  I’ve ridden on 3-4 of the Cycle Memphis rides and am looking forward to many more, especially once the weather warms up and more people dust off their two-wheelers.  Now if I could just figure out how to attach a disco ball to my bike …

5.  Local bike shops grow. In the past year we’ve seen two local bike shops, Victory Bicycle Studios and Midtown Bikes, significantly expand the scale of their operations and move to new locations, and another local outdoor store, Outdoors Inc., open another bike shop at a new location.  If anyone needed proof that biking is growing in Memphis, there you have it. Best of luck to these local bike shops and all the rest.  Let’s spend lots of money there.

6.  Project: Bike Love. Local photographer and Victory Bicycle Studios employee Nathan Berry began recruiting local cyclists in the fall for a series of photographs.  The images depicted the cyclists in street clothes with their bikes, in an effort to demystify cycling as a means of transportation and recreation.  I was honored to have been nominated for the series (h/t Clark) and proud to see my picture on display with so many prominent local cyclists.  I hear there’s a book in the future from this … sign me up for a copy.  Nathan’s a fantastic photographer.  You can learn more about Project: Bike Love on facebook.

I was also honored to have been suggested for inclusion in the equally-awesome This is Memphis series of photographs.  While not limited to local cyclists, the series did feature such prominent folks as Matt Farr, Anthony Siracusa, and Kyle Wagenschutz.  Visit the website to see me in my power suit of doom.

7.  More bike rides than you can shake a stick at. In addition to the Cycle Memphis group rides, Memphians enjoyed numerous other group rides for cyclists of all ages and abilities, including the Tour de Grizz, Tweed Rides, Rock and Revolution Group Ride, Midnight Classic, and many more than I can remember.  Big props to all those who make these events happen.

8.  National recognition for Memphis. The League of American Bicyclists awarded our fair city two awards for improving our bike facilities and becoming more cycling friendly. Considering the reputation that Memphis had before, this is truly good news, and a long time coming.

9.  Funding for a Greenline to Overton Park connection and Greenline extension. The only thing better than the Greenline?  MORE Greenline!  And soon we will have just that, thanks to funding for connecting the Greenline to Overton Park via the increasingly-awesome Broad Avenue district, and even more funding to extend the Greenline east to Cordova.  Oh hells yes.

10.  Wolf River Greenway to Germantown connection. Announced back in October, by next summer Memphians will be able to ride from Midtown to Shelby Farms across the Wolf River and all the way to Germantown on dedicated bike paths.  This should make my periodic trips to the Apple Store at Saddle Creek far more enjoyable.

11.  The Harahan Bridge. We don’t yet know when bike lanes will be extended across this wonderful old bridge, but it will hopefully happen soon.  Keep up to date here.

12.  More bike blogs! OK, I don’t know when Ty at Living Loud in Midtown or Cort at Fix Memphis or Brett at Gotta Be Gritty started writing, but even if it wasn’t in 2011, I’m giving them a shout out.  Represent!

13.  I know I’m missing something, if not many things, so please remind me in the comments below.

A few more thoughts before I sign off and get ready for the Grizzlies game tonight.  Originally I had planned to continue this blog for a year and document my experiences as a commuter cyclist in Memphis.  One year and 150 posts later, I think I’m going to keep writing.  And riding.  And writing about riding.

Despite all the adventures I’ve had over the last year, there is still so much I have yet to try, so many parts of town I’ve never visited on my bike, and so much I have yet to write about.  So to give you a preview of what to look forward to in 2012, here are a couple of my New Year’s resolutions:

1.  I will try bike polo.  At least once.  I promise.  And hopefully I won’t look like a complete tool.

2.  I will volunteer at Revolutions and build my own bike there.  I’ve been wanting a road bike, something very simple and clean I can take on group rides, and I’ve been meaning to learn more about bike repair and maintenance.  Starting sometime this spring, I’m making it happen.

3.  I will introduce new features to this blog, like … nah, you’ll just have to wait.

I’d like to close by saying thanks to everyone who commented on my posts, agreed to be interviewed, went on group rides with me, and worked hard to make Memphis the bike town we know it should be.  I’ve met a lot of great people in 2011 and I look forward to more of the same in 2012.  In the meantime, let’s all keep biking in Memphis.

Two bits

People.  I ran across a couple of links I wanted to share with you before I biked to work this morning.

First, having blogged several times about the perception that cyclists are elitists, you can image my surprise when I ran across this article debating whether cycling to work is unprofessional.  So let’s see, this makes me not just an elitist, but an unprofessional one at that.  I just can’t win.  Fortunately I’m an academic, so no one really cares what I look like anyway.

Second, somehow after seeing this, the Frazier fir we by every year just doesn’t cut it.

Bonus: i have now added Cyclelicious and The Bicycle is Art to my RSS feeds.  You should too.

Cool.

Yesterday’s rides

Hi everyone.  I’m pleased to report that Fall Semester 2011 is 99.99% finished.  (I’m still waiting for one small assignment from a student so that he can pass the class.)  This is my last semester teaching three courses; in the spring, my teaching load drops to two courses and should stay that way for quite some time.  I have my new job, as the Director of the Center for Economic Education, to thank for that.

For years I taught at least three, if not four, courses per semester.  It’s hard to describe how much more work that third or fourth course adds to my day.  More emails, more grading, more questions, plus more hours spent in the classroom.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older – 40 is less than one year away – but teaching that third course has become increasingly taxing and, honestly, distracting from what else I want/need to do, like publish papers and work on outside projects.  My heart will always be in the classroom, but fortunately my body will be there less from now on.

Now that the semester is over, I should have more time to write and perhaps even get in a few recreational rides.  I will be commuting to school at least a day or two this week, but after that I won’t be doing much bike commuting until the new year.  But I will keep writing; I have a large backlog of articles I’ve been wanting to share, and my blog is coming up on its one-year birthday.  I already have numerous ideas about what I want to write for that post.

Yesterday was a good day to be biking in Memphis, and by “good” I mean windy and cold.  (At least the sun was out.)  I spent the first part of the day grading papers and doing housework, but around 1:30 PM I geared up and headed north to a graduation party for a former student.  The student is one of the most exceptional I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching, so I definitely wanted to be there to help her celebrate and to meet her family.  The party was at a colleague’s house on Jackson Avenue, just east of McLean, which gave me the opportunity to check out the new bike lanes on McLean.  Here’s a shot of them taken on the north side of North Parkway.

Mclean

Yes, that is my finger in the shot.  I blame my gloves.

The party was a lot of fun, and after about an hour and a half, I headed home.  The ride home was quite a bit easier than the ride to the party; there’s definitely a net elevation decline heading south.  I really loved having the bike lanes, especially on Madison.  Traffic seems much more calm since they’ve been installed.

After getting a bit more work done at home, I headed out to another party, this time at a friends house in Midtown.  Traffic wasn’t too bad, so I biked north on Cooper to Harbert, then headed west, ultimately ending up on that short section of Linden between McLean and Lemaster.  After getting my party on for a while, I biked home – sober, I promise you – and sacked out for the night.

Here’s a map of my rides that day.

Screen shot 2011 12 18 at 5 15 50 PM

And here’s a clickable link if you’d like more detail.

I’m signing off for now.  My wife and I are going Cat Caroling tonight.  What is Cat Caroling, you might ask?  It’s basically regular caroling, only you substitute “meow” for the words in the carols.  Try it with Jingle Bells.  It’s quite fun.

Another quick one (before I leave)

Hi everyone.  I have a busy day today – a graduation party for a former student, the last stack of final exams to grade, housework, etc. – but I wanted to share a few links before I head out to the partay.

First, thanks for @sulatuesday for sharing this article about perceptions of elitism about cyclists (and vegetarians, which I also happen to be).  I wrote about the double standard that cyclists face here, here, and here.  (Make sure to read the comments from the first post.)  I love the argument the author of the article makes: that only on opposite day could “one of the cheapest forms of transportation on the planet” be regarded as elitist.  As for the idea that cyclists believe that biking is a better form of transportation than driving; of course we do. That’s why we bike.  I’m sure the car drivers out there feel the same way about driving.

Second, here’s a great article on Salon about efforts in some cities to slow traffic in residential areas, thus improving safety and perhaps making cycling equally as fast, if not faster, than driving.  I wonder if this idea would get much traction in Memphis, and where it would best be employed.

Next, it looks like Brett over at Gotta Be Gritty took a nasty spill while biking in the bike lanes on Southern.  The culprit for his spill was a piece of styrofoam, like you see inside car bumpers.  It’s funny, but just this week I noticed similar debris on Southern.  Fortunately Brett wasn’t seriously injured.  Let’s all be careful out there.

Lastly, it’s good to see that Mayor Wharton is following up on his promise to make Madison Avenue the best street that it can be.  The article’s a bit dated, but I wanted to share it anyway.

P.S. Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the song the title of this post pays homage to.  Leave your guesses in the comments.

December Cyclist of the Month: Steven Wray

Hi everyone.  I’m a little late in posting my interview with Steven Wray, December’s Cyclist of the Month.  Steven’s a great guy; we rode together for a while at Cycle Memphis 2.0. He also has some really interesting stories about being a native Memphian and biking around our town for decades.

Steven jpg

Biking in Memphis: I understand that you have quite a storied life as a cyclist.  Can you give my readers a quick summary of your life on a bike?  Any great (or not so great) stories you’d like to share?

Steven Wray: Biking has been a major part of my life since I started trick riding and racing BMX when I was 12 or 13.  There have been times where my passion has faded somewhat such as turning 16 and being lured by automotive culture or when I became a husband and parent all at once and forgot what free time was. But the passion always comes back, stronger than before, usually with a new focus.  In college it was mountain biking.   After a major accident I had on a motorcycle it was road biking.  Now it is mostly utility/transportation cycling with recreation rides as a bonus when I have the time.  I’m already looking ahead for retirement when my wife & I plan to see the world by bike via long distance touring.  

BIM: You’re a native Memphian, so you’ve been witness to the evolution of our city to the increasingly-bike-friendly town happen over the years.  I hear many people say that these changes have been accelerating lately.  Do you find this to be true?  What was it like biking in Memphis 20 years ago?

SW: I do find that in the last few years tremendous advances in bike friendliness in the city have been made, mainly due to several committed individuals, several have been mentioned on your blog.   That being said, the city beforehand had nowhere to go but up.  I’m nervous that city officials will look at miles of bike lanes added in the past year and the recent bronze status given to the city by the League of American Bicyclists as ‘mission accomplished’ and move on too other priorities, especially as 2008 stimulus moneys run out.  
Although I was hit by a car and broke my knee-cap when I was 14, riding in Memphis 20 years ago seemed much safer than today.  I used to ride to the Kennedy Park BMX track in Raleigh and the Southaven, Mississippi BMX track often in the same day, many days a week and I would take the main arteries cause it was all about the destination.  It was not unusual for me to put 50-75 miles a day on my single-speed BMX bike (editor: WOW), and my only real fear was flatting.  From my perception cycling didn’t become too hazardous until the mid ‘90s.

Steven bmx1 jpg

BIM: Where do you most like to bike around town?  Are there any favorite routes you have?

SW: Other than hitting the Greenline I wouldn’t say I have any favorite routes.  In fact, I try to never duplicate the exact route to any given destination again.  I have a mapping program that catalogs my rides, kind of like iTunes for GPS tracks, and I try to fill in areas and go down streets I’ve never been before.

Gps tracks

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

SW: I’d give the Greenline a solid 9.  I think it has the potential of being the greatest addition Memphis has made in my lifetime, but I can’t quite give it a 10 until it has lights.  I look at resources for cyclists with a transportation rather than recreation mind-set, and until it is lighted it will be limited as a transportation alternative. Since I’m at work before sunrise it eliminates it as route to work. Also since daylight savings time ended back in November, the omission of lights has affected me several times, getting caught out east running errands in fading light, during rush hour. 

BIM: Madison Avenue is currently being repaved and prepared for the installation of bike lanes.  What are your thoughts on the controversy that surrounded these lanes?

SW: I attended all the public meetings that were held at Minglewood Hall, and was very perplexed at some of the business’ opposition.  If you look at other cities that have transformed their streets towards pedestrian and cycle friendliness, the local businesses fared very well as their streets became destinations rather than just thoroughfares.   I have to say I was shocked on a recent ride when I saw the fresh lanes on Madison with the 3-lane option.  I just knew it was a fight that we were going to lose from the mood of the meetings I attended.    

BIM: If you woke up one morning as the mayor of Memphis, what would you do in that day to further the cause of making Memphis a more bike-friendly town?

SW: I could rant on about how I’d love to tax those who live outside the city’s tax base that drive in, causing congestion and taking local jobs, but I’d probably make sure that every school has bike parking and safe routes to school.  Possibly even offer financial incentives for families of kids who do.  People are very reluctant to change, and the best way to make a real change is with the next generation.  

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

SW: I was a serious work commuter for several years before realizing that it didn’t fit my kids and my schedule very well, as I work close to their schools and they have to be picked up right after work.  I now drive to work and pick up the kids afterwards then run most of my errands via bike.  This has reduced my auto mileage by about 20%, and I’m riding more miles than I did when I commuted regularly.  Year to date 79.3% of my total cycling mileage has been replacing an errand normally accomplished by car.

I have a pair of waterproof Ortlieb Backroller Classic panniers that are probably the best cycling accessory I’ve ever had.  I bought them to keep my laptop dry, but at least one never leaves my bike.   But one of our biggest weekly errands is a Costco trip, and the panniers just can’t hold 40lbs worth of groceries.  This was solved when I had Cort at Peddler order a Bob trailer for me.  It and the Greenline have made the trip to Costco almost effortless, and the 25.4 mile round trip has become a highlight of my week instead of the drudgery it was by car.  Bob is perfect for the farmer’s market, as it’s hard to fit a watermelon in a pannier!  Bob is also a great bike advocate, as he always draws attention and questions, especially out east.

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

SW: I’m kind of a blog nut.  The nature of my job is I have a lot down time in between moments of insanity, so I use the down time to regularly follow probably 25+ cycle blogs.  Of course my favorites are local blogs like yours and others such as fixmemphis as the information is much more relevant to actually Biking in Memphis, but there are many others. Unfortunately one of my favorites, ecovelo.info is ceasing to provide new content, although they plan to remain up for a couple of years as a resource with their past articles.   I subscribe to a couple of cycle magazines, but one really stands out for my type of cycling and that’s Bicycle Times.   Two cycling organizations that I’m a member of are both great resources, The Memphis Hightailers and The Adventure Cycling Association.  

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

SW: Living within 1/2 mile of the Greenline usually means most of the cycling adventures start and end on the Greenline, although the T.O. Fuller State Park has been a destination several times.   I love the route taken by the Memphis Hightailers on the Tour de La Grange, and it is a favorite destination when my wife & I load up the bikes and head to the country.  We are hoping to do at least a week on the Natchez Trace this summer if work permits.

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

SW: I have two bikes, one is my special occasion group ride bike, a 1995 GT Force, which I’ve owned since new and just rebuilt this year.  My primary bike is a generic Nashbar (I know it’s a dirty word) touring bike that has slowly evolved.  My plan is/was to get all the parts as I wanted and then to get a really good frame.  Well, the components are pretty much there, but I’m in no hurry to replace the frame as it has provided a great dependable foundation for about 2000 miles now.  The one accessory I just can’t ride without is a GPS.  I was a geography major in college and I love maps and mapping.  I log every mile I ride and I’m hopeless without it, as was made clear when my trusty Garmin finally died recently.

BIM: What about drivers in Memphis?  How friendly are they to commuter cyclists?

SW: I’m guilty of trashing Memphis drivers and I do have enough stainless steel in my body to prove my point, but for the most part they’re OK.  A few bad apples always spoil the bunch. I know before the Greenline opened, there were few points for a cyclist to safely go east out of the 240-loop.  Back then I’d use Summer Ave, and MANY people would get upset, honking, flipping me off and yelling to get on the sidewalk.  Lately, besides the occasional jerk, I mostly get honks.  They startle me, but I think that it just a reaction from someone not paying attention and then panics when they suddenly see a cyclist in the road.

BIM: Any other stories you’d like to share?

SW: Two quick stories that emphases the need for more than just infrastructure advances, but also advances in cycling education, in theses cases, education of law enforcement.

The first happened when my wife and I were riding from Mud Island to T.O. Fuller on a deserted weekday morning using a route used by many including the Hightailers and actually on a section of the MRT.  We were pulled over by a Shelby County motorcycle officer and told we couldn’t be in the road and had to ride on the shoulder.  His was polite, but when I pointed out the fact that the shoulder consisted of broken concrete and debris, he stated that it wasn’t his concern and if he sees us again in the road he would confiscate our bikes.

In the whole 5-minute altercation exactly two cars past us in the direction we were headed, that’s how deserted the road was, so we were obviously not an impediment to traffic.
The next story was when I was pulled over in the rain at 5:15am on National Ride Your Bike to Work 2010 on Poplar near Highland.  At this time of the morning traffic on Poplar is virtually nonexistent and I was running dual headlights and dual flashing taillights and even had a blinking light on my helmet.   It was obvious that the officer was genuinely concerned with my safety, and couldn’t understand why I was resistant to his suggestion of riding on the sidewalk.

Again I believe that both officers were motivated by genuine concern for my safety, but were completely unaware to the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

>>>>>>

Thanks for the interview, Steven.  I really enjoyed hearing the stories about cycling around town years ago.  Stay tuned for more such stories about biking in Memphis.

Elitists? Really?

Well, I was going to write about the recent onset of cold weather and share some helpful links to articles about biking in low temperatures, and then I read this article, and I sighed.

The article references this article by John Cassidy in the New Yorker, which I discussed at some length here.  It attempts to summarize the “image problem” that urban cyclists have, without providing any evidence of this alleged image problem.  The article further conflates this image problem with cyclists images of themselves.

I’ve never understand this argument, that urban cyclists have an image problem or that we’re elitists.  These are two separate issues really; it would be entirely possible to have an image problem because we all have really bad teeth or something else.  Mostly, cyclists seem to have an image problem among people who say that cyclists have an image problem.  I’ve had numerous interactions with drivers since I’ve been a regular commuter and many of them, if not most, have been positive.  People let me turn first, yield to me when turning, and so on.  And I’ve had just as many negative experiences with drivers while on my bike as I’ve had while behind the wheel of my car.  Probably more, in fact.  The fact that those experiences are ever more terrifying while riding my bike is only somewhat beside the point.

The author of the articles makes numerous unsubstantiated claims, like “[cyclists] are viewed as inept at best and a grave threat to the walking public at worst,” or “[cyclists] demand bike lanes in gentrifying neighborhoods, but don’t seem to care if they ever reach the slums.”  Really?  Maybe this is the economist in me talking, but where’s the evidence behind these claims? Do cyclists really not care about low-income communities?  Sure, I imagine that some of us don’t, but then obviously many other non-cyclists also don’t care.

What is completely missing from the Salon article is any evidence – not one single survey or public opinion poll – that demonstrates that urban cyclists think they are “better” than drivers.  In fact, all the article proves is that, as cycling becomes more popular in U.S. cities, and as those cities (rightfully) devote more resources (i.e. road surface) to supporting cyclists, that there is some degree of tension between cyclists and drivers.  That’s it.

But there would have been that same amount of tension, if not more, had those resources not been reallocated as they were.  Imagine if the number of cyclists in some city had “more than doubled” without the introduction of bike lanes and other cycling facilities.  The lanes previously dominated by motor vehicles would have become ever more clogged with cyclists, leading to more interactions between cyclists and drivers, each battling to occupy the same space.  Sounds like a recipe for road rage to me.

And honestly, I do think that cycling is better than driving; that’s why I do it.  I’m not trying to get all “rational self-interest” on you here, but that’s largely how people operate.  We do the things we think are best, subject to various constraints.  That’s why I decided to start biking back in 2008: I needed to get more exercise, I wanted to use less gas and pollute less, and so on. Biking was and is better than driving by those standards.  Of course, driving has its advantages too: protection from the elements, speed (over longer distances), fuzzy dice.  Just as I think my cycling is better, I’m sure many drivers think the same about their choice of transportation mode.

But does that make me an elitist?  No.  I will admit to having a certain feeling of smugness when I pass people sitting still in traffic, but they probably feel the same when they see me getting caked in road grime during bad weather.  I don’t think anyone’s taking it personally.  Further, I find it kind of ironic that, in a time of crowd-sourced expertise and democratized reporting, we are still bunched up about so-called elitism.  Given the far lower barriers to entry that our online world presents, where all you need is a good idea, a blog about it, and you too can have a book contract, the opportunity for many more people to become experts or opinion-makers, do we really care what some urban cyclists think about themselves or us?  Further, the words “elite” and “elitist” are so completely overused that they are basically meaningless.  I personally blame FOX News for this, but then I am a card-carrying member of the Liberal Elite, so there.

For all the accurate descriptions about sources of tension between cyclists and drivers, I was never convinced that cyclists are primarily responsible for the tension or for rehabilitating their public image.  There are more cyclists on our roads now, but I think all parties bear responsibility for making the roads safe and dealing with the issues that this raises.  If drivers are annoyed because they lost a lane to cyclists, they might also consider the safety implications for everyone, not just cyclists.

In closing, I’ll have more time to write this week, so look for more posts about biking in Memphis.  Thanks for reading.

This week’s commutes

Hi everyone.  I had a good week on my bike, despite the arrival of cold weather and a bit of rain.  Actually, I should say that I had a good week on my bike because of the arrival of cold weather and a bit of rain, as this is my favorite time of the year to bike.  Most of this is due to the fact that autumn and winter, followed by spring, are my favorite seasons.  (Summer, not so much.)  I picked a really odd town to live in, for someone who loves fall so much, but the job take you where it takes you.  At least I don’t live in Phoenix.

Anyway, my week began with me driving.  (GASP!)  I know, I know … but I had to go to Target to buy Christmas presents for my two Salvation Army Angels, and considering that one of them, an eleven-year-old girl, wanted a bike for Christmas, there was no way I could haul a bike with my bike.  My panniers are roomy, but not that roomy.  Plus my other angel, a man in his 70s, wanted a George Foreman grill for Christmas.  While I am a vegetarian and have little use for such a device, by God, if a George Foreman grill he wants, a George Foreman grill he gets.  (Also, please ignore the fact that I bought a Target bike for someone.)  I also had a meeting that afternoon in North Memphis, and there was no place for me to change clothes at the meeting place.  Plus it was raining, so arriving in any decent condition would have been nearly impossible.  So I drove.

And since I’m feeling confessional here, I also drove on Friday.  I had to deliver the aforementioned presents to the Salvation Army’s warehouse on E. Raines Road, plus run about half a dozen other errands.  And I drove today, since it’s hard to carry 15 bags of composted manure for my garden in my panniers.

But Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I rode.  And loved it.  Tuesday was still rainy, but not as bad as Monday, and I acquired a lovely layer of road grime on my bike and legs as a result. Wednesday and Thursday were really nice: sunny and chilly, but not yet brutally cold.  I didn’t bother logging my route on Tuesday since I just biked to work and back, but Wednesday and Thursday I did.  Here’s what they looked like.

This is Wednesday’s ride.

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I started my day by biking to Otherlands for some coffee and a bagel.  After getting my caffeine on, I biked to campus via the Chickasaw Gardens route and got my work on.  At some point during the day I checked my RSS feeds (using the lovely NetNewsWire) and found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, the only cooking blog I read.  I texted my wife, who had planned to pick up Lenny’s for dinner, and told her I was cooking that night.  This necessitated a trip to Kroger, which explains the odd little spur into Poplar Plaza.  After leaving Kroger, I biked home, via Chickasaw Gardens, the Beltline community, and Tiger Lanes.  It was a great day.  Here’s a clickable map of my ride.

On Thursday I had even more biking adventures.  I needed to deliver some papers to the Memphis City School’s Teaching/Learning Academy at the corner of Union and Hollywood before I headed to campus, which meant biking on Union for a block or two during rush hour.  It wasn’t so bad; traffic was kind of light, and I made it in and out of the TLA with no problem. I then biked east, planning to again take the Chickasaw Gardens route to campus, but a train was crossing at Garden Lane, so I headed south on Flicker Street to Central, then south on Buntyn to Midland, then south on Goodwyn to Southern.  After teaching my three classes, I biked home, changed clothes, and headed to Boscos for a round (or two) of beers and dinner. My belly full and my week coming to an end, I biked home.

Here’s a map of Thursday’s ride.

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And here’s that clickable link.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my rides.  I plan to share some links with you all tomorrow.  In the meantime, stay warm and keep biking in Memphis.

The Bike Lanes on Madison

My people.  By now you are likely aware that, yes, bike lanes are being installed on Madison Avenue.  In fact, you might have noticed that the bike lanes have already been striped and that, absent a few additional signs and markings, the issue is pretty much done.  You might have participated in the numerous facebook events centered around celebrating these new lanes.  You might have watched the absurd waste of time that was the City Council’s discussion of the impact of the bike lanes.  You might even have attended one or more of those meetings.  Major kudos to you if you did – it was especially awesome watching the video of all of the bike lane supporters in the smaller public-works committee meeting.  I very much wanted to, but due to my work load at the time, I was unable to.  So I watched the meetings from my office at home, hunched over a stack of exams needing to be graded, no doubt.

So, now that our city has achieved a huge victory and step forward – and there are many people who deserve credit and thanks for helping to make this happen – I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the bike lanes, and where we go from here.

1. The first test of having bike lanes approved on a major commercial corridor in Memphis is over … for now.

By the end of the discussion at the full City Council meeting about the bike lanes, where Mike Cooper (from Mercury Valet Cleaners) and a couple of other anti-lane advocates spoke (plus quite a few wonderful pro-lane people), I could hear the tiredness in his voice.  Clearly, he was sick of talking about this issue, a sentiment shared by many, including me.  He even hoped that the issue would not permanently divide the city; many others share that hope too.  Indeed, the only person who seemed to be fired up about the issue was Councilwoman Fullilove, who is to be commended for caring so much about businesses in parts of town outside of her district.

What concerns me is the open-ended promise that the city would look into the revenues earned by businesses on Madison in a year’s time or so, to see if the the lanes were having an adverse effect on those businesses.  It’s probably no big deal; once everybody sees that the lanes did not have a measurably negative impact on Madison, we’ll all move on.  Except that the U.S. economy is hardly chugging along right now, and with the situation in Europe deteriorating rapidly, we face the very real possibility of a second recession in the near future.  I’m hoping that a European financial crisis can be avoided, but if not, both the real and financial sectors in our economy will be hit.  How hard remains to be seen, but Memphis will certainly not escape the damage.

So here’s the situation that worries me: Europe implodes, creating a wave of financial sector panic and the accompanying restrictions in lending.  The U.S. economy follows Europe’s down the water slide, only this time there is less appetite for stimulus and, at least from a fiscal perspective, if not monetary as well, less ability to employ it.  Businesses on Madison begin to suffer; some close.  And guess what … some tool bag blames the bike lanes.

Most likely this would happen in the comments section of a CA article, but if Fullilove and her minions got a hold of it, it could grow legs, at least in terms of the discussion about where else to install the lanes.  I think the likelihood of there being any significant fall-out is pretty low; there will by then be other roads with bike lanes, and certainly businesses outside of Madison would be affected if we entered another recession, throwing doubt on any claim that the bike lanes themselves were the problem.

But we’ve already seen this lack of understanding of the difference between correlation and causation.  The day of the debacle in Council chambers, Fullilove mentioned repeatedly that some business on Madison had already experienced a significant drop in revenue … and the bike lanes weren’t even installed yet! Unbelievable.  Repaving does tend to disrupt traffic, you know.

2.  The process of integrating bike lanes on a major commercial corridor is by no means over.  In fact, it is just beginning.

As I mentioned above, the lanes on Madison are not 100% complete yet.  On-street cyclist icons are sorely needed, intersections need crosswalks, signs, and so on.  Just this past weekend my wife and I drove (I know … I know) up to Boscos for brunch.  As we were walking down the sidewalk along the north side of Madison, we could see numerous cars, trucks, and SUVs heading west on Madison without a clue about what was a bike lane and what wasn’t.  (In fact, I was a little confused myself.  I didn’t think we were getting bike lanes on that stretch of Madison, but I’m certainly not going to complain about them being there.)  I know that many of these issues will go away when the street is appropriately marked and signed and all that, but I also suspect that the drivers who frequent Madison Avenue will need a bit more time to adjust to the (hopefully) frequent cyclists they encounter.  It makes me want to bike Madison once or twice a day just to move along the acclimation process.

What we also need is effective enforcement of existing regulations governing bike lanes.  I bike to campus nearly every day on Southern, and hardly a week goes by when I don’t see some vehicular violation of the bike lanes.  Cars and trucks – often municipal vehicles – parked in bike lanes; drivers using bike lanes as turning or passing lanes; to say nothing of the sheer amount of gravel and detritus that accumulates along the side of the road, though that’s not a violation per se.  We need to have MPD officers trained on what sort of driver behaviors constitute violations of laws surrounding bike lanes.  I still remember, not long after the bike lanes were striped on Southern, I was biking home from school when I encountered a car parked in the bike lane not one block from my house.  Perhaps because I was new to the lanes, I called the police when I got home to report the violation.  The officer I spoke to did not even know that there was a violation.  Fortunately I was able to cite the number of the local ordinance that rendered parking in a bike lane illegal, but I still see people doing it nearly every week.

Look, I know that out local police have more pressing matters than monitoring bike lanes for vehicles, but if local drivers are going to understand what is and is not acceptable behavior in regard to the bike lanes, we need the police to write a few tickets.  Visible signs and cyclist persistence will also help.

UPDATE: Apparently the police are stopping people for driving in the bike lanes on Madison!  (h/t Ty)

3.  Memphis is taking the first steps toward becoming a truly bike-friendly town, and we have many more to take.

In the past year or so our city has added something like 30 miles of bike lanes, and we are due for many more than that.  Compared to the total miles of lanes in Memphis, that’s a relatively small number, but I’m not even worried about that.  I’m just so excited about the lanes we have – knowing that more are on the way is like Christmas every day.

And I hear that the future waves of lanes will be installed with an eye toward connecting the existing lanes and creating a network of lanes, from what is now a somewhat discontinuous collection of lanes.  To be sure, we should celebrate this collection, because they are the best evidence of our evolution to a truly bike-friendly town.  As more lanes are installed, it will become ever easier for cyclists to navigate from home to school, school to work, and neighborhood to neighborhood.  This is what I am most excited about.

In the past month, I’ve visited two other cities which are further along in their evolution toward being truly bike-friendly: Chicago and Washington, D.C.  (In fact, I’m finishing this blog in DC.)  Washington has a very popular bike-sharing program – more on that later – and both cities have extensive bike lanes, at least in the neighborhoods I frequented.  I am very excited about Memphis adding additional facilities and becoming just as bike friendly, if not more, than these two cities.

So what else do we need?  Here’s a short list:

  • More bike lanes.  Those are coming soon.
  • A city-wide bike rental program.  I hear good things on this front.  More to come.
  • Bike rental programs at local colleges and universities.  Rhodes has one, CBU I’m not sure, and U of M … optimistic.
  • More bike polo players, more fixie enthusiasts, more distance riders, more casual/comfort riders, and more bike commuters.  More of everyone and everything.  The more diverse our scene becomes, the more mature the community is.  Hell, let’s have even more tall bikes.  And, more Cycle Memphis group rides.  I look forward to them every month.
  • More enforcement and education about biking and cyclist safety.  This goes for drivers and cyclists alike.
  • The occasional street-sweeping of the bike lanes.  I know, I know – many needs, few resources, but few things suck worse than wet leaves.
  • More bike bloggers!  I have great respect for the good people at Living Loud in Midtown, Fix Memphis, and Gotta be Gritty, but there are dozens of cyclists with hundreds of stories that are not now being told.  Keep in mind that I’ve been writing this blog for less than one year.  What stories do you have?  I’d love to read them.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday’s commute

Hi everyone.  I would be remiss in beginning this post to ignore the fact that I’ve barely posted anything at all in the past month, save for my recent profile of local cyclist Greg Siskind. Suffice to say that October was an extraordinarily busy month.  Between three weekend trips, one of which was a conference, a due date for a paper to be presented at another conference, midterms, a presentation at a housing summit, and a two-day sustainability event on campus, numerous meetings with students, plus my normal work load, I was one busy guy.  I did manage to rack up many miles on my bike, but since I stopped tracking my miles and routes that month – no point in doing so if I don’t have time to write about them – I don’t have many stories to share.

Except that in the intervening days, autumn has fully occupied Memphis and rendered my daily commute so much more pleasant.  Biking when the outside temperature is in the 50s is nearly ideal; I don’t have to don my full winter kit, but with the addition of an Icebreaker long-sleeved shirt and a shell, I can comfortably bike to campus while barely breaking a sweat.  I know that these days are small in number – December looms on the horizon – but I am enjoying them as much as I can for the time being.

Wednesday was a fine day to ride my bike around Memphis.  My first appointment of the day was not until noon, so I had time to run an errand before departing for campus.  Here’s a picture of the day that greeted me when I left my house.

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I know … ridiculously beautiful, right?  I love how that one wispy cloud looks like a flag trailing from the unused light-pole near my driveway.

After snapping this pic, I biked west to Methodist University Hospital.  I can’t remember if I mentioned this in a previous blog post, but on 1 September – the day after my 39th birthday no less – I found myself in the emergency room at the aforementioned hospital for what I was convinced was appendicitis.  Fortunately (I guess) I was wrong, and I was sent home with some (lovely) painkillers and a prescription to drink lots of water and call my doctor if anything aberrant happened.  Nothing did, and so the event has faded into the fortunately-thin memories of my times with emergency care.

But that day I had to pick up some medical records for insurance purposes, so I headed to the medical district on the familiar and fabled Linden Avenue route.  After leaving the hospital, I headed east to campus, arriving just in time to meet my noon appointment.

After my last appointment of the day I changed into my cycling gear and biked home.  Altogether, it was a lovely and uneventful day on my bike.  Here’s a map.

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You’ll note that I did not follow the same route to the hospital as I did heading from there to campus.  Nor did I follow the same route from campus to my home as I did to campus.  For whatever reason, I do enjoy varying my commutes.

In the coming days, I plan to write a post or two about some of the events that passed by during my brief (and unplanned) hiatus from writing.  First among them … the bike lanes on Madison.  I guess I’m not done writing about them after all.

As always, thanks for reading.  And riding.

 

November Cyclist of the Month: Greg Siskind

Hi everyone.  As promised, I am pleased to present to you Mr. November, the cyclist of the month, Greg Siskind.  Greg is an attorney with Siskind Susser, a local law practice that specializes in immigration law.  He’s also a regular bike commuter and a road cyclist, having participated in the recent Bluff City Blues 100 and two Olympic-distance triathlons in the past year.  (That earns a triple “wow” from us here at Biking in Memphis.)  Read on to hear what Greg has to say about being a bike commuter in Memphis.

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1.  I understand that you bike to work.  Tell me a bit about your commute and what it’s been like as a commuter cyclist.

I’ve been wanting to bike commute for a while, but given the distance of my commute and the nature of my work, I knew that without a shower/locker set up, bike commuting wouldn’t work for me. So I decided to add them at our office. The cost was going to run more than $11,000 so I had to wait a while to find the funds, but we did and after six weeks of construction earlier this year, we had what we needed for people to bike commute to the office.

I started riding to work in May and have ridden the 15-mile round-trip nearly every day. I drive to the office once a week each weekend to empty out my locker and swap out my work clothes.

Commuting by bike has really been a treat. First, I’ve designed a route that is through quiet neighborhoods and a sizable portion is painted with bike lanes. There are only three traffic lights and I’ve had no problems with cars. I also ride with my iPhone mounted to my handlebar and use the i.Bicycle GPS app so I can track my speed and distance and see me moving on a map along the route.

I have recently been switching things up for colder weather riding. I’ve been stocking up on fall and winter cycling clothes for the past several months. Last year, I did a fair amount of recreational riding in the winter so had some clothes, but now I’m set for five days a week. It’s a bit confusing right now because it can be cold in the morning and in the 70s in the afternoon. So I sometimes have to ride in with an extra set of clothes in my back pack. For rain, I have a covering for my back pack that keeps everything dry. We’ll see how I do with ice.

I now have less sunlight to work with and I like to get to the office early. So I’ve just mounted a pretty powerful headlight.  It’s a Niterider MiNewt 250 Lumens Cordless Rechargeable LI-ion LED Headlight and it makes it really easy to see what’s ahead of me when it’s dark out. I will be replacing my back light with something similar.  I also ride in the dark with a fluorescent helmet cover that hopefully makes me pretty visible to drivers.

If I do have any gripes, it might be the fact that my back pack is heavy. I ride with my MacBook Pro, an iPad and usually papers I take home for work I may be doing in the evening. I’m thinking about switching back to using my old hybrid bike which as a rack and panniers.

2.  Have you always been a cyclist or, like many people, did you go through a period when you gave up biking in favor of driving a car?  If so, what brought you back to the bike?

Not counting the neighborhood biking I did as a kid, I’ve been occasionally cycling for fitness for more than 20 years. But I only got serious about it three years ago. After law school in 1990, I bought a Bianchi hybrid bike and cycled in western Washington, British Columbia and Alberta for a couple of weeks. And I participated in a couple of triathlons in the early 90s. Then I mainly rode only a few times a year for the better part of two decades.  In 2008, I started riding everyday to get fit and mainly rode on the Germantown Greenway and in Shelby Farms.  Then I joined the Memphis Hightailers, bought a decent road bike and started riding all over Memphis.

3.  Where do you most like to bike around town?  Are there any favorite routes you have?

For my recreational riding, I like to head east and ride out in Lakeland, Rossville, Oakland and the other small towns that surround Memphis. I also like heading north to Shelby Forest. In town, I enjoy Shelby Farms – the Green Line, Greenways, experimental farm area, etc.

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

10. I love the Greenline and am really thankful it has gotten the community interested in cycling. I tend to use it for biking on slower rides and also run on it. Last winter, I enjoyed faster riding when it was cold out and no one was out. I’m looking forward to the connections developing with new bike lanes and better connected suburban greenways.

5.  Madison Avenue is currently being repaved and prepared for the installation of bike lanes.  What are your thoughts on the controversy that surrounded these lanes?

I think the lanes are important both for the actual impact they’ll have on bike commuting by opening a route to downtown and also because of the statement the bicycling community made that our concerns are important and we have a right to safe roads. I tried to do my part – writing letters to the Mayor and council members as well as sitting down with a key business owner on Madison Avenue and talking about our concerns. I don’t know if I changed any minds, but participating in the discussion was a valuable experience nonetheless.

6.  If you woke up one morning as the mayor of Memphis, what would you do in that day to further the cause of making Memphis a more bike-friendly town?

I’d love to see a bike share program here. I travel a lot and am in awe of the programs recently introduced in Paris and London. DC now has an impressive program and New York is about to come online. Smaller cities are rolling out similar programs – even Chattanooga.

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

I have not done much in the way of running errands on my bike, but I do have a bike with a rack and panniers (albeit 20 year old panniers). I’m sure the newer ones have more bells and whistles and I’ll probably check out the options soon.

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 use your blog for one. It’s really excellent for finding out about what’s happening in the area and the links are good. I also view a few other sites like www.bikecommuters.com and read Bob Mionske’s columns on bicycling and the law. Bicycling Magazine and the League of American Cyclists Magazine are both helpful.

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

I enjoy going on the group rides offered by the Hightailers and have ridden just about everywhere in the metro area. When I travel, I like to rent a road bike and explore. This year, I did some nice cycling in Paris, Oklahoma, San Diego, Orlando and Puerto Vallarta. I’m getting ready to buy a Brompton folding bike that is small enough to fit in luggage so I can do more cycling in new places.

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

The main bike I ride is a Giant Defy 3. As I noted above, since I sometimes ride in the dark, good lighting is key and I’ve put on a high end front light and am about to add a high end tail light. I have an iPhone bike mount and a new dual water bottle rack behind my saddle that also has a spot to screw in extra CO2 cartridges. And I have a Bento box on the top tube where I keep my sunglasses, dog pepper spray (I haven’t had to use it, fortunately), and a spare battery to recharge my phone if need be. I keep my tools in a cloth case that is shaped like a water bottle and fits in my bottle rack. I also have a Cannondale mountain bike and a Bianchi hybrid if I feel like riding off road.

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

Surprisingly friendly. I have only had a few unpleasant encounters after a lot of time on my bike. People seem to respond well when they see you’re trying to obey the laws, be courteous and signal what you’re about to do. A lot of people probably recognize me now given my riding to and from work is usually around the same time each day. I think when people see the backpack and know I’m commuting, they try to cut me some slack.

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

The only thing I’d like to add is how impressed I am by the progress Memphis has made in the last few years in cycling. Going from one of the worst places to ride to a community that is bike friendly in a matter of such a short period of time is not easy and it’s a credit to a lot of activists in the community, some forward thinking local organizations and several leaders like Mayor Wharton. Kyle Wagenschutz, Anthony Siracusa, and Mark Hicks are all terrific and deserve a special shout out.

Agreed 100% Greg, especially on that last point.  Memphis is really lucky to have so many people committed to making our fine city more biking-friendly.  Thanks for the props on my blog and for the interview.