Tagged: bike commuting

Close call …

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

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

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

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

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

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

The miles keep adding up

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2013 02 11 at 10 30 58 PM

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2013 02 11 at 10 38 19 PM

Another 14.5 miles.  Awesome.

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

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

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

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

End of the week wrap-up

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.

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.

 

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.

 

This week so far

People.  It’s been a good week so far.  I’ve biked to campus the past two days, rather uneventfully I must say, and I ran a couple of errands yesterday.  Here’s my ride from Tuesday.

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“There and Back Again: A Cyclist’s Tale.”

Yesterday I biked to campus and back again and ran a few errands after.  Here’s that ride:

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The first of the two errands was the package store on Madison and McLean for some vino.  (I do love those bike lanes on Madison, but lately I’ve become much more aware of the likelihood of getting doored.  Got to keep my eyes open.)  The second was to the home of a certain Kyle W. (last name omitted to protect anonymity) to borrow a certain piece of biking hardware, otherwise known as a trailer.

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Boo-yah.  Imma haul some sheet today, boyee.  More on my trailer adventures later.

Also, don’t forget about tonight’s Tweed Ride!

Another quick one (before I leave)

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

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

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

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

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

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

December Cyclist of the Month: Steven Wray

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

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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.

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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.

Wednesday’s commute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading.  And riding.