Category: Infrastructure

February Cyclist of the Month: Matt Farr

Hi everyone.  I’m proud to post this interview with my February Cyclist of the Month, Mr. Matt Farr.  Matt is the Manager of Education and Outreach at the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, where he has directed the community engagement for the implementation of the Shelby Farms Greenline, designed and executed Bands, Bikes, and Block Parties (the Greenline grand opening event), and developed and implemented youth programs, including the annual holiday bike recycle with Revolutions Community Bike Shop and the YMCA.  He is also a the Community Engagement Chair of the Memphis-Shelby County Sustainability Advisory Committee, MPACT Memphis, the Wolf River Conservancy, Memphis Hightailers, and has lived in Costa Rica, China, the Philippines, and Singapore.  (Busy guy, right?)  He’s also a good friend of mine and is one of the most active people I know in making Memphis and Shelby County more sustainable.  Read about Matt’s experiences biking in other countries and Memphis, and how bikes make cities better places.

BicyclePotato

(Photo credit: Nathan Berry)

1. Tell me about your bike commuting habits these days. Do you bike to work? If so, what route do you take?

I ride my bicycle to work daily.  My commute is about 2 miles and extends the length of the Wolf River Greenway, crossing the new Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge into Shelby Farms Park.  The Wolf River Connector trail then takes me straight up to the Visitor Center, where my office is located.  Some days it’s a leisurely spin, other days, when I’m feeling especially sassy, I’ll ride my mountain bike to work and pop off a few laps on the Tour D’Wolf or Wolf River Trails on the way in.

2. I know that for years you were a bike commuter on the Shelby Farms Greenline.  What was that like? How was it biking on the Greenline at night?

I commuted on the Greenline from its opening in October of 2010 until just recently, when we moved to be closer to the Park.  I was actually the only person on a bicycle at the groundbreaking of the Greenline in February of 2010, so it could be argued that I was officially the first person to ride a bicycle on the Shelby Farms Greenline.  
The Shelby Farms Greenline closes at sunset.  I would never think of riding on it at night O=-)

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

It’s always a thrill to ride downtown.  I especially like coming in on Madison.  When you’re coming down the hill from the over pass at Danny Thomas Blvd., the downtown skyline stretches before you and—if you time it right—you can stretch your arms out just far enough to give the city a big ol’ fat bicycle hug.  (Watch out for the trolley tracks at the bottom of the hill, unless you have a proclivity for making out with asphalt)

4. Given your place of employment, I can guess what your answer to this question will be, but since I’ve asked everyone else, I have to ask you too: On a scale of one to ten, how awesome is the Shelby Farms Greenline?

Um. 10. million.

The trail itself if great, but what excites me most is how the Shelby Farms Greenline has spurred Memphians to re-imagine how their city could look if improved access to bike/ped opportunities started popping up all over the place.  The Overton-Broad Connector, the Harahan Bridge Project, the Chelsea Greenline, the South Memphis Greenline, and the eastern expansion of the Shelby Farms Greenline—these projects didn’t exist prior to the opening of the Shelby Farms Greenline in 2010.  Add on top of that 35 miles of freshly striped bike lanes, and now people are beginning to see how an interconnected network of urban greenways and bike lanes can literally change the face of our city.

The Shelby Farms Greenline and all of the resulting trail projects that have followed represent much more than just a way for people to get outside and exercise.  In an urban landscape marred by socioeconomic segregation, widespread racism, and general mistrust, greenways and bike lanes offer an opportunity for community members to get in front of each other in a low-pressure, non-threatening environment.  As more and more of these amenities come into being, more communities will be connected and more members of the Memphis community will have the opportunity to experience face-to-face interaction with people they may not have ever had the chance or the impetus to get in front of.  For most, the realization will begin to occur that “hey, those folks are just like me.”  I recently travelled to Montreal with some colleagues from the University of Memphis to present a paper on just that—that’s right, legitimate academic research on BICYCLING coming straight out of the 901.  Greenways and bike lanes aren’t a magic bullet, but they can go a long way in addressing many of the societal ills that have kept Memphis down for years.

5. Madison Avenue has recently been repaved and prepared for the installation of bike lanes.  What are your thoughts on the controversy that surrounded these lanes?

In spite of all of the controversy, I am grateful for the amount of community involvement that the issue rustled up.  Some really great conversations took place throughout the year or so that the bike lanes on Madison were being discussed.  Though both sides of the controversy were guilty of leveling some unnecessary low blows, we ended up coming together and, as a community, envisioning a Madison Avenue that was about much more than bicycle lanes.

One thing is for sure, the bike/ped advocacy community learned a lot from the Madison Avenue dialogue; we have a clearer impression of the learning curve that our community must overcome when it comes to transforming Memphis into the livable, vibrant city that I know it can be.  Though bike lanes and access to safe bicycling opportunities have been proven to improve the health, economic vitality, and environment of cities around the world, I understand that this is a new concept for the Memphis community and it will take some time for everyone to get their heads around it.

6. You’ve lived in quite a few countries, like Costa Rica, China, and the Philippines.  What were your cycling experiences like there? How does biking in Singapore compare to biking in Memphis?

It’s been fascinating to see how bicycles fit into different cultures.  In places like Costa Rica and the Philippines, bicycles provide a livelihood for many people and are an integral piece of everyday life.  That trend has shifted in China; though you still see bicycles around, the old pictures of thousands of cyclists plying the streets of major cities is a thing of the past.  Snarling traffic jams and widespread pollution are now the norm.

Singapore is a great city: super clean, ultra modern, efficient, safe.  But I can’t say it extremely well-suited for bicycle commuting.  For recreational cycling, it’s great, though.  There are miles of multi use trails on the coastlines, and a great national parks system (to call it “national” is a little confusing because the city is the nation).  There’s an island called Pulau Ubin that’s about a 10 minute bumboat ride off the northeastern shore.  The island is the last “rural” place in Singapore and is home to dozens of miles of trails.  The island is also home to a sizable population of wild boar, not the friendliest creatures on earth—I’ve heard stories of boar barreling through the woods and knocking cyclists off their bikes. You usually smell them before you see them.

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

I bounce all over town on my bicycle, so I’m always picking things up or dropping things off somewhere.  I invested in some Ortlieb Back Roller Plus rear panniers last year and they have made all the difference in the world.

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?

Bike shops are great places to gather information; many of the mechanics are commuters themselves and are usually happy to fill you in on the best routes or give you pointers on what gear you might be interested in (and then try to sell it to you).

There are some really great resources out there on the interwebs.  The League of American Bicyclists (http://www.bikeleague.org/) has a great website, as does the Alliance for Biking and Walking (www.peoplepoweredmovement.org) .  A couple blogs that I follow are Taking the Lane (www.takingthelane.com) by Elly Blue and Urban Adonia (www.urbanadonia.blogspot.com) by Adonia Lugo.  Of course, my favorite blog of all time is Biking in Memphis.

I do keep company with a healthy cohort of experienced cyclists in Memphis.  If you’re looking to make some friends in the cycling community, it’s pretty easy. Step 1: get on your bike.  Step 2: ride around until you find some other cyclists.  Step 3: start talking to them.

9. Are there biking experiences you haven’t had but have wanted to try? Bike polo? Cyclocross?

I’ve done the cyclocross and bike polo thing, and excited to see these sports grow.  After coming home once with a mangled hand after an especially vigorous bike polo match, my wife has since put the kibosh on all bike polo activities until I score some gloves.  
I’ve been on a few short tours, but I would really like to go on an extended tour, perhaps along the spine of the Rocky Mountains or across Europe.

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

I have three bicycles.  My Surly Steamroller is a fixed gear that is fun to pop around town on, but not very practical for running errands or hauling cargo.  I enjoy the level of connectedness to the road that a fixed gear provides, and with such a simple and clean design, maintenance is a snap.

My Gary Fisher Rig is a single speed mountain bike with 29 inch wheels (as opposed to the standard 26 inch) and is the most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels.  Most people don’t realize that you don’t really need gears for the trails we have in Memphis; I find that the simplicity of a single speed on the trail gives you the opportunity to really focus on your line and zen out.

I put most of my miles on my Kona Sutra touring bike.  I purchased this bike last year from Victory Bicycle Studio and the fit is absolutely amazing.  I’ve been riding bikes for decades, but after I got fitted on my Sutra, it was like “man, so that’s how riding a bicycle is supposed to feel.”  My Sutra takes me everywhere, and though it’s heavier than your standard road bike and not quite as nimble as a fixie, it’s built to take a beating and can haul whatever you can throw at it.

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

I treat Memphis drivers like snakes: I don’t mess with them, and they usually don’t mess with me.  There are a couple of rules that I follow.a) Assume everyone is texting and driving, because they probably are.b) Make eye contact with motorists at every opportunity.c) Never place yourself in a position that you can’t bail out of.

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

I could sit here and tell bicycle stories all night long, but those are best told over some adult libations.  I’ll leave it with this.  Memphis is capable of great things, but we’ve got to bring up our collective self esteem in order to do so.  I firmly believe that before we can really hammer out any of the (many) challenges out city faces, we’ve got to start viewing our city and ourselves in a more positive light.  There will always be jackasses and naysayers, but as a city, we must start taking pride in the place that we live.  Bicycles are a great way to build pride of place.  The psychological benefits of the healthy lifestyle that cycling provides does wonders for one’s individual outlook on life.  Whereas automobiles separate you from the city, riding a bike is a much more intimate experience—you’re able to actually see what your city has to offer, rather than mulling around in your misery from the driver seat of a car while the city blurs by.

Think about it—the inherent nature of automobiles is loud and abrasive: honking horns, screeching tires, etc.  Now think about how personal interaction takes place on a bicycle: you actually see the faces of the PEOPLE that you pass by, you might smile, wave, offer a passing hello.  In terms of building a community, bicycles offer more opportunities for positive personal interaction between community members.  Everyone’s heard of road rage. Ever heard of bike rage?  Didn’t think so.  Bikes make cities happy.

>>>>>>

There you have it, people.  What a great interview.  I’m planning to resume writing this week, as the hellishness of the past two weeks has subsided.  Until then, keep biking in Memphis.

 

End of the week links

It’s been a really busy week here at Biking in Memphis.  Despite the fact that I am teaching one fewer course, my work load hasn’t dropped a bit.  If anything, it’s increased significantly, but in new and exciting areas.  All of this is due to my new job, about which I am so excited.

Anyway, I plan to write about my experiences towing a trailer later this weekend, so in the meantime, here’s a few links I ran across this week that I really liked.

Cycle Pub?  Yes, please!  We need one of these in Memphis.  (h/t Tom)

The Joy of Biking in Mexico City.  Lovely.

Memphis has made great strides in becoming more bicycle-friendly in the past couple of years, a fact that we can all applaud.  Read about what Long Beach, California is doing. Big props, LBC.

You should read the stories linked in the first paragraph of this article before you finish it.  Everyday that I bike I try to stay aware of traffic approaching from ahead, behind, and the sides, but I know that I will never be 100% safe.  Collisions between cyclists and cars are all too common, so it’s interesting to hear the perspective of a driver (now cyclist) who was involved in a hit and run accident while behind the wheel. Chilling and telling.  I think it says a lot about human nature.

Speaking of human nature, it’s good to know that our best instincts kick in when they’re most needed.

OK, my people, I am overdue for some relaxation.  Stay safe out there my people, and I’ll write more soon.

Quick links

My people.  I feel like I haven’t blogged in weeks because, oh yeah, I haven’t blogged in weeks.  So to remedy that situation, I present to you the following links that have been occupying my browser’s tabs for the last week or so.

Ahem.

Handmade bike bags?  Yes, please! (h/t Leah)

I’m not going to argue that the number of used bikes for sale in the local Craigslist (per capita, that is) is the best way to measure the “best” cities for cycling, but it is interesting to see that Portland is only number 3 on the list.

Speaking of used bikes, curious about what that old Bianchi in the garage is worth?  Here you go.

Speaking of used bike prices, turns out that the cities with the highest used bike prices also have the lowest used car prices.  Neat.

OK, the indices are getting a little ridiculous, but here’s one measuring the hipster quotient of the five New York boroughs by, you guessed it, the number of fixies for sale in each of them.  I assume a skinny-jeans index is not too far behind.

Here’s a great article about how to normalize cycling, courtesy some guy named Anthony you might have met.

Green bike lanes?  I’d vote for Tiger blue in Memphis, or maybe blue and gold (for the Grizzlies), or maybe barbecue-sauce red.

Down with cycling myths!

OK – that’s all for now.  More next week I promise.

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.

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.

Biking in … other cities?

I’m finally digging myself out of the back log of work from my ridiculously busy October.  As evidence, here’s a couple of articles I bookmarked from late-September that are somewhat less than relevant today, in terms of being breaking news.  Good news, to be sure, but no longer front page, above the fold.

As part of the super-busy October (and November) I have done a bit of traveling.  The trips were around 50-50 work/fun and most of them involved two or three nights in a major American city.  And so today I’m going to share some pictures and a few comments about the cyclists, bicycles, and bicycle facilities I saw in these three cities.  First stop: Chicago.

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I was in Chicago in mid-October for a conference, followed immediately by a guy’s weekend.  It was a really great trip; I never knew how much I loved Chicago-style pizza.  I was really impressed with how active the city felt.  At all hours of the day and night, people were on the streets, going to restaurants, bars, shops, and so on.  Granted, we were in the part of downtown Chicago nearest Michigan Avenue, but still.  It was really exciting.

I also saw numerous cyclists of all varieties.  I didn’t take too many pictures of them – too busy eating pizza I guess – but I did run across this website about Chicago’s cycling infrastructure.  The bravery of the cyclists really impressed me.  Biking along with traffic on a super-busy street didn’t seem to faze them, even without bike lanes.  I did snap this picture, though.

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Lovely fixie.

And this one as well.

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Here’s a few more shots from Chicago.

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On top of the world at the John Hancock Center.

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Drinks on top of the world are even better.

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NOM.

Next stop was Washington, D.C., where I attended yet another conference a couple of weeks ago.  I stayed near the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, which I thoroughly loved.  D.C. also has quite an extensive cycling infrastructure, including a city-wide bike rental program.  Here’s a few shots of what I saw there.

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My hotel.

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Bike share!  Not the prettiest bikes you’ve ever seen, but I saw lots people riding them.  Here’s a map of the system.

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And here’s a couple of additional shots I took.

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Bike parking near a Metro station.

After leaving D.C. I headed to Baltimore where my friend Jason lives.  It was my second time there, other than the hours I spent watching “The Wire.”  Upon arriving at Jason’s house, I saw this on his kitchen window sill.

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Yes, a penny-farthing pizza cutter.  Le swoon.  We soon left for dinner, and I saw these amazing bike racks outside the restaurant.

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Maybe the coolest ever.  I wonder what Cort would say?

I didn’t get to see much of Baltimore’s biking infrastructure as I was only there for one day.  Fortunately, on the flight home I got a free upgrade to first class!

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A free gin and tonic always makes flying and grading papers much more fun.

That’s all for now.  Look for a post soon about the beginning of my winter cycling adventures.

My response to John Branston

Good evening Mr. Branston,

I just finished reading your article in the Memphis Flyer about the MPO’s plan for our region.  My response follows.

No one should be afraid of planning.  Memphis, as you likely know, was originally a planned city.  (Please click here for a map of the original plans for downtown Memphis.)  I was in Washington, DC over the weekend and was impressed by its beauty and livability, much of which we can credit to its being a planned city as well.  All aspects of our lives require planning.  A household budget is nothing more than a financial plan, one that covers goals for spending, saving, and debt reduction.  The extent to which that plan is successful depends on how closely the members of a household adhere to its recommendations.

My employer, the University of Memphis, has many plans for the future of its campus and the broader community.  One goal is to improve the Highland Street corridor by attracting new businesses, redeveloping underused land, and making that avenue the true entrance to the University.  Indeed, my school also has an excellent Department of City and Regional Planning, one of whose graduates, Kyle Wagenschutz, is now the City’s first Bike/Pedestrian coordinator.  We should be proud of that department for producing such a capable and successful city employee.

Planning, above all, requires coordination.  In order for our financial goals to be met, my wife and I must coordinate our spending behavior.  We also try to coordinate our goals with conditions within broader financial markets, albeit without much success lately.  (Bank of America, you have been warned.)

Perhaps you should ask military leaders what they think about plans.  Our armed forces are known for producing all manner of plans, both small and grand in scale.  Indeed, one could regard the Allied invasion of Normandy as the execution of a particularly bold plan, although with many more guns and explosions that the MPO’s plan.

Speaking of explosions, you are correct that the bike lanes on Madison Avenue incited quite a bit of controversy, much of which was unnecessary.  As I wrote in a recent blog post, once local businesses see that the installation of bike lanes did not cause the death of the commercial activity on that street, we will all breathe a big sigh of relief.  And of course, we have the redevelopment of Overton Square to look forward to.  We need not expect “1,000 more Madison Avenues,” unless we want all other commercial corridors in Memphis to be as successful as I know Madison soon will be.  Interestingly, Loeb Properties seems to share my opinion.

What plans like those produced by the MPO allow us as a region to do three things.  The first is to recognize the resources we have at our disposal, the second to acknowledge what limitations we face, and the third and most important is to figure out what is the best way to put those resources to productive use.  Local government will inevitably play a role in this, but so will many other rational economic agents, such as developers, households, businesses, workers, commuters, cyclists, pedestrians, and other members of the community.  What the MPO’s plan represents is not a hard and fast set of rules; the MPO itself has little in the way of “teeth” it can use for enforcement.  Rather, the plan contains a vision for what our region can, and should, look like in the future. And that plan is explicit that our streets should be made safe for all users: drivers, cyclists, the disabled, and pedestrians.  I believe that by presenting the best plan possible, the MPO stands the best chance of eliciting “buy-in” by all residents of the Memphis metropolitan area.  And I believe that this plan can and will do just that.

Whether the MPO’s plan is successful depends on the coordination between local governments and all users of land and roads in the area.  This is not the “government [as a] teacher and motivator.”  This is how thriving cities are made.  Ever been to Houston, Texas?  That’s a city without a plan, indeed, without even any zoning restrictions.  Sure, it’s big, but big in terms of sprawl, not big in terms of ideas.

You are correct: it is up to the individual to decide how best to act.  And I do believe that the government should involve itself as little as possible in many of those decisions.  But just as our federal government has carved out space via the First Amendment for journalists such as yourself to produce such (ahem) thoughtful commentary as in your recent column, our local governments must carve out space for our roads to be safely used by all travelers, be they on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike, or in a car.  The way that that is done is via the installation of bike lanes and curb cuts, the improvement of sidewalks, and the creation of proper signage which clearly delineates who may be where and when.  We need our city to work for all of us, not just drivers.

In closing, I will note that while I am an employee of the University of Memphis (a proud one at that), I am not writing this on behalf of anyone but me.  This semester I am teaching a course on Urban Economics, one that discusses many of the issues covered in the MPO’s plan.  In fact, Kyle Wagenschutz himself was kind enough to visit my class as a guest lecturer and talk about the economics of biking.  (I hereby bestow upon Kyle an honorary PhD in Awesomeness.)  I am fairly knowledgeable about these issues, both from a professorial and a personal perspective.  You see, I am also a regularly bike commuter to campus and other points around town.  And I know what it means to have bike lanes available to me.  The lanes on Southern Avenue make my commute so much safer and enjoyable, and not just to me, but to the drivers with whom I share the road.  I have my lane, and they have theirs.

Sir, you have my best wishes for a happy and warm holiday weekend.  I also hope that you begin riding your bike more than “once in a while.”  Memphis is becoming quite the bike-friendly city.  Really, you have no idea what you’re missing.

Best regards,

Doug Campbell

www.bikinginmemphis.com