Category: Infrastructure

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

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.

Bike racks on Madison

Hey everyone.  This link is a little too long to share on facebook (just click on it and you’ll see why), but I wanted to share the following good news from the Mid-South Regional Design Center.  It looks like Madison Avenue is getting some free bike racks – 25 of them, to be precise.  This is great news for anyone, like me, who’s biked somewhere on Madison and then found themselves scouting a sign post or tree in the absence of a proper rack.

The good people at the Peddler Bike Shop are donating three racks, the rest coming from the city.  I’m really excited about this.  It’s one thing to have bike lanes or sharrows, but to really be a bike-friendly city, we need to mind the details, like the end-to-end concerns potential and current cyclists might have.  Parking is inevitably one of those concerns, and the more bike parking we have, the more biking we should see.  Which is good for all of us.

Important meeting

Hey everyone.  There’s an important Public Review Meeting concerning proposed bike lanes on Tillman and Broad on August 16, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, 2835 Broad St.  At the meeting various issues surrounding extending bike infrastructure from the Greenline west to Overton Park will be discussed.  I plan to be there; hope you can be too.

Biking to Germantown

Have you read this article from the Commercial Appeal?  Pretty exciting stuff.  It looks like the connection between the Greenline and Germantown is completed.  The 1.25 mile section has apparently been unofficially open now for a couple of weeks.  This means that one could bike from Tillman to Germantown on bike paths without interruption.  Here’s a map of where the newly completed segment lies.

Screen Shot 2012 07 22 at 11 26 02 AM

You can the connection between Shady Grove Rd. and the Poplar Estates neighborhood on the map, bottom center.  I’m not sure if that’s exactly where the path lies, but it would appear to be.

I haven’t had the chance to go exploring out east in some time.  Anyone else ridden this new segment?

” … my right.”

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

Screen Shot 2012 07 18 at 11 09 00 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.