Tagged: safety

Bike share programs – UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Weekend wrap-up

People.  I have good news (and bad) for the Memphis biking community: the Shelby Farms Greenline will be receiving $3.3 million to be extended east to Cordova.  This is awesome.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to Cordova in the five years I’ve lived in Memphis.  With this new cycling path, perhaps my visits out east will become more frequent.

But here’s the bad news: $1.1 million for a bike-lane project on Broad Avenue was declined.  I don’t know what this means for extending the Greenline west to Midtown – whether or not other sources of funds for this project have been identified – but it’s a drag to have this initiative not receive funding.

Have you registered for the Bluff City Blues 100?  I haven’t, but only because I’ll be out of town that day.  Get on that ride and support a good cause.

I’m not so crazy about e-bikes – I like an unassisted ride – but if I were to buy one, this might just be the one.


Dear Santa,

I promise I’ve been a good boy this year.  I ate all my vegetables and made my bed every day.  Now just bring me some MonkeyLectric Lights and there won’t be any problems, fat man. Capiche?  Because I’ve got a u-lock with your name on it otherwise.




A bicycle mecca?  Yes, please.  Also, I did not realize that Anthony Siracusa rode across the entire freakin’ US of A when he was only 16.  FTW, Anthony.

Don’t forget that funding for cycling projects is never guaranteed.  It’s a shame that we have to fight for these dollars.  Don’t hesitate to contact your local Congressional representative.

Drivers, be nice out there.

So, what is the difference between cyclists and drivers?  At least in my state we have equal rights to the roads?  Is there any reason to classify us differently?  I think not.

Big thanks to Cort and Ty for helping me promote Bike to Campus Day.  I hope to see you all there.  Let’s all show that Memphis is a cycling-friendly and active town.

Catching up: Round 2

You might have heard about the east Tennessee mom who was threatened with arrest on charges of child endangerment for allowing her 10-year-old daughter to smoke cigarettes and bring vodka to school in her lunch thermos ride her bike to school.  The story appears to have broken on Bike Walk Tennessee‘s blog. (Here’s a follow-up post from the same source.)

Then the story was picked up by Bike Portland’s wonderful blog and a couple of other sources.  The local newspaper reported that the issue had been resolved, a matter that the mother disputes.  The officers in question also claim that “no one has ever told this child she could not ride her bike,” a claim that also appears to be in dispute.  (You can read the full police report here.)

The girl in question had been kicked off her bus for bad behavior – perhaps she was advocating cycling to her seatmate? – and after consulting with her mom and taking a bike safety course, was allowed to bike to her school, which she soon grew to love.  The officer in question observed the girl biking in traffic near a bus and some cars and decided that it was an unsafe situation.  (Never mind that the best way to improve safety for cyclists is not to ban them from the road, but to accept them and create facilities to encourage safe biking and respectful driving.)  That was when the officer paid and visit to the girl’s mother and initiated a Child Protective Services report.  And here we are.

Apparently it is not uncommon for school kids to be forbidden from biking to school.  I remember when I was growing up in west Knoxville wishing that I could bike from my home to school. I knew of a few backyard-short-cuts that could get me part of the way there, but Knoxville, laid out as it is, with one primary east-west corridor, offered few safe routes for young ones to bike around town, outside of their respective neighborhoods.  (I don’t know if Knoxville has changed in the past few years; the time period I’m speaking of here was the early 1980s.)  But given the rampant problem that is childhood obesity – to put this in perspective, when I typed “childhood” into the Google search bar in my browser, “childhood obesity” was the first result that appeared; not “childhood” by itself, or even “childhood games” or someone nice like that, but “childhood obesity” – it seems a little shortsighted to deliberately limit physical activity for our young ones.

I have no doubt that the officer was well-intentioned in his actions, and that everyone involved in this debacle is legitimately concerned about this girl’s safety.  If one is not used to seeing cyclists using streets that they have every right to use, I imagine it could be a little shocking to see a girl biking to school.  But is her biking really the problem?  Is her mother really a bad parent for allowing her daughter to ride a bike on what appears to be mostly residential streets?  Yes, cars and buses also use these streets, but if any roads are to be shared among all users, shouldn’t it be these?

I would put forth that the real problem is two-fold.  One, parents today appear to be far less tolerant of risk when it comes to their children than they were even in my youth.  I never ever owned a bike helmet or any protective gear when I was a kid, and while I rode almost entirely on safe residential streets with little traffic, it doesn’t always take a car to cause an accident.  I probably still have scars on my knees from all the spills I took.  Today, I see hardly a child without a bike helmet.  This is of course good, but concerns about safety can be taken too far.

The other and more important issue here is that cycling continues to be marginalized behavior.  Sure, many cities have made great strides in improving cyclist safety and building facilities for bikes.  This is great.  But this is in the face of an ever-greater penetration of the internal combustion engine into our lives and public policies.  Funding for cycling facilities continues to be tenuous and regarded as optional, or frivolous.  Cyclists continue to fight for respect and equal access to the roads, even in pro-cycling regions like Portland.

We’ve seen this here in Memphis, with the continued fight over bike lanes on Madison Avenue.  Cyclists are (wrongly) perceived as being bad for business or as not having a legitimate place on our roads.  It remains to be seen how this particular issue will be resolved, but for the time being, cyclists of all ages will continue to have an uphill battle (or ride) in claiming their rightful place on the streets.

Weekend Wrap-Up

I’ve been meaning to mention how much I love the new Reading List feature in Safari.  It’s made collecting links for my weekly wrap-up considerably easier.  I know, there’s probably some Firefox plugin that does it 10x better, but I am after all a creature of habit.  Safari became my default browser around the time it first showed up in my Dock.  So there.

OK, on with the news.  Pleasanton, California deserves big props for using microwave technology to protect cyclists.  Microwaves: not just for burritos anymore.

The effort to get bike lanes on Madison – seriously, I think those are probably the words most commonly used together on this blog – continues.  Visit the blog and sign the petition if you haven’t, please.  Here’s a great article by the creator of said blog and petition.  Hat tip to Les Edwards everyone.

The Memphis MPO wants your pictures.

It’s good to know that North Carolina appreciates complete streets.  So do Tupelo and Hernando.  Hopefully Memphis will too.

Have you heard of Drag’n Frozen Treats?  No?  Well, you have now.  Hit up the dude for some heat-beating treats.

This is awesome.  (h/t Cort).  So is this.

So it looks like bike lanes aren’t that bad after all.

Haters gonna hate.  Also, biking in a skirt is really, really bad.

Yes, please.

The good people over at Operation Broken Silence are organizing a Ride for Refuge bike ride on 5 November at Shelby Farms.  I hope to be there, but my morning is already booked and the ride leaves at 1:00 PM.  It’ll be a stretch, but if I can be there, I will be.  You should be too.  (h/t Ryan)

And then there’s this.  Suffice to say that I will have more to say in the coming days.  Stay tuned, my people.

(Very delayed) Weekend Wrap-Up

First of all, as I indicated at the end of my next-to-last post, I had planned to participate in a bike polo match for the first time tonight, having been invited by local bike polo aficionado Brett Edmonds.  As it happened, I decided to bow out, instead choosing to spend a day getting stuff done and hanging out with the wife.  It was a day much needed and well spent.  (Even “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was not as abysmal as I thought it would be.)

But beyond that, I have quite a few links and articles to share with you.  So let’s get started.

First, here’s a great letter to the editors of the Commercial Appeal about the need for improvements to Madison Avenue.  While the letter does not explicitly mention bike lanes, the fact that it was written by a Midtown business owner gives it additional credence.  Let’s hope that the writer’s vision comes to fruition.

Did you ever think that Car and Driver magazine would endorse alternate transportation systems?  Well, they have.  And kudos to them for that.

Some really awesome (and adventurous) people are cycling across the U.S. in super-awesome velomobiles.  While they won’t be stopping in Memphis, I am impressed with their efforts. Especially considering this book, which I finished a few weeks ago.  I will likely complain many times about the state of roads in Memphis (Cooper Street just north of Central, in the far-right southbound lane; Linden Avenue heading into downtown … the list goes on), but I will do so with the understanding that many past cyclists had it far worse than I ever will.

This woman is awesome.  I don’t know that I would have had the guts that she did.

It’s hard to believe that the Shelby Farms Greenline is less than one year old.  Honestly, it feels like it’s been around for years, and I haven’t even biked it that many times.  Whatever the case, there is a half-marathon scheduled for Sunday, 2 October to celebrate the one-year anniversary of its (official) opening, plus a day-long party on the Greenline the day before.  I’ll be at the latter for sure, but probably not the former.

Cort over at Fix Memphis continues his heroic and awesome quest to chronicle every bike rack in the whole damn city.  That’s a lot of pedaling.

My wife and I have no immediate plans to have kids, but if/when we do, I want a cargo bike like this lady has.  How ridiculously awesome/adorable is that?

Charles McVean is also awesome.  The CA agrees.  So does this cyclist.

In other Cort news, here’s a great discussion on bike cargo transportation-solutions.  Makes me want a bike trailer even more.


If the Harahan Bridge project should go through, here’s a snapshot of what it might mean for Memphis.  Granted, the mid-south is not the mid-west, but drawing more tourists to the area can only be a good thing.  Here’s more about the project.

I’m glad to see that slow biking is getting some attention.  Granted, I had not heard of this idea before reading that article, but it’s good that some people are recognizing the benefits of biking, in terms of allowing (if not encouraging) us to slow down and take in our surroundings and communities.

The awesome people at Livable Memphis are sponsoring a discussion on Portland, Oregon and it’s livability.  It’s scheduled for Tuesday, 16 August, from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM at the Benjamin Hooks LIbrary on Poplar.  I don’t know if I will be there, but maybe you should be.

Biking to work keeps getting more awesome.

People, be careful out there.

OK, that’s all for now.  I’m heading out of town on Wednesday so my biking (and blogging) this week will be somewhat limited.  But I’ll be back soon.  Thanks for reading.

Mid-Week Interlude

I’m actually working at my office today – those of you who are not academics apparently have to do this every day, correct? That blows my mind … – and since my P.O.S. desktop decided to be barely functional today, thus greatly limiting my ability to actually work on my research, I thought I’d knock out a blog post.

First, I have good news about the cyclist who was hit by a car over the weekend.  Apparently she’s fine, other than some bumps and bruises.  I’m really glad to read that she was wearing a helmet at the time she was hit.  I think the longest I’ve ever biked without wearing my helmet is about three blocks, when I biked home from Victory Bicycle Studios after picking up my bike (I had forgotten to bring my helmet).  It always bugs me when I see people biking without helmets.

Anyway, perhaps not surprisingly, some local cyclists are using the accident as a example of why we need more bike lanes around town.  While I support bike lanes on every street all over town 100%, I don’t think that bike lanes would have helped here.  It looks like the main causes of the accident were driver inebriation – he apparently blew a B.A.C. of 0.155, almost twice the legal limit – and the time of day.  She could have been riding in a bike lane or in the middle of the road, but if it’s late and the driver is hammered, it’s really not going to matter too much.  But yes, we need more bike lanes anyway.  Especially on Madison.  Ahem.

Speaking of bike lanes on Madison Avenue, here’s an editorial from last week’s Flyer about that very topic, written by Eric Vernon, the owner of the Bar-B-Q Shop.  While I agree with many of Mr. Vernon’s statements, particularly that the city could have done a better job informing the business owners about the proposed changes to the street at the outset, it’s hard for me to swallow this:

The reality is that nobody representing Madison Avenue business interests has expressed absolute opposition to the concept of bike lanes.

I mean, maybe that’s not an inaccurate claim because he so carefully chose his words.  “Absolute opposition”?  Maybe, maybe not.  But people who are not at least very opposed to something don’t participate in letter-writing campaigns to local officials to that end.  Especially letter-writing campaigns that are laced with inaccuracies.  I do recall from the meeting back in February that Mr. Vernon seemed like a reasonable guy, so maybe I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on some of his points.  But I find his allegation that “bicyclist and pedestrian groups have been kept informed about plans for bike lanes since 2009 … ” really hard to believe.

I also don’t think the portrayal of the controversy about the bike lanes to be the media’s fault.  (It’s a common response, it seems, to blame the media when statements made by you or your allies incite the very reaction a reasonable person could have guessed they would.)  I have no doubt that the businesses on Madison have in fact “spent decades developing long-lasting relationships with families in Midtown.”  But Mr. Vernon fails to describe what about the reporting was inaccurate.  Frankly, I can’t recall a single public statement issued by the concerned businesses on Madison where bike lanes were ever presented as a reasonable alternative.  It’s always been shared lanes, i.e. the status quo.  If I’m wrong here, please correct me in the comments.

In other local cycling news, this letter appeared on the CA’s website this week.  It’s loaded with common misconceptions: cyclists don’t obey the law, cyclists don’t pay for roads.  The fact of the matter is that, yes, cyclists do obey the law (at least, as much as drivers do) and we do pay for the roads, via state and local sales and property taxes.  Just because we don’t pay gas taxes … oh wait, we do, because almost every cyclist I know also has a car.  And drives it.

Meanwhile, here’s a much nicer letter explaining why we need bike lanes in Memphis.

I’ve discovered a couple of new biking blogs you should check out.  The first is Bike Fancy, which is mostly a photo blog of stylist people on bikes.  The second is Bike Commuters, which appears to be a catch-all site for (duh) bike commuters.  I’ll be digging into each this week.

Also, it’s time to vote for the Best of Memphis over at the Flyer.  You can do so here.  I’ve already cast my vote for best local bike shop (top secret!) and favorite local blog (same!).  This blog is not listed in the blog category, and I’m not saying you should write it in and vote for it, but you certainly can.  Just sayin’.

Alright people, that’s all I have for now.  See you all soon.

New Bike/Pedestrian Crossing Signals for the Greenline

Check out this video describing the new bike/pedestrian crossing signals on the Shelby Farms Greenline.

This is really great news for the Greenline.  The signals will be installed at Highland St. and Graham and should improve cyclist and pedestrian safety.

I do hope that the city rolls out a serious public education campaign about how these signals work.  Some aspects of the signals are familiar enough to drivers – the use of yellow to indicate caution or the need to slow down and red to indicate stopping – but the difference between the flashing yellow and solid yellow lights and especially the flashing red and solid red lights will no doubt cause some confusion.  At the very least, the lights will draw more attention to the intersections and the cyclists and walkers using them.

By the way, did you hear that funky ass, honkin’ sax solo at the end of the video?  I’m not at liberty to reveal who played that solo, except that his first name rhymes with “tile” and his last with “cragenshutz.”


Follow up

I haven’t written anything since last week for a few reasons.  First, today is only the second day I’ve biked since Thursday of last week, as I was out of town this weekend attending a quite-fun family reunion, and I elected to drive to work on Friday in order to hasten my departure from Memphis.

Second, I was so completely taken with my nephew and nieces this weekend and had such a wonderful time spending hours with the progeny of my siblings (both birth and in-law) that I could barely think of anything else.  Except drinking scotch with my brother once said kids were in bed.  (Twelve-year-old Caol Ila if you must know.)

Mostly though, I wanted some time to reflect on my last post, which, perhaps not surprisingly, generated a bit of discussion.  This is nice, as most of my entries inspire nothing in the way of comments.

But I wanted to address a few points that I didn’t earlier, ones that should provide a bit of clarity about the degree of my lawlessness.

First, I rarely violate the rules of the road.  As I’ve written before, I believe it necessary for cyclists to be on their best behavior when sharing the road with drivers and other people, if only to diminish the belief that cyclists are members of some privileged community to whom the rules don’t apply.

As an example, consider the intersection of Southern Avenue and Hollywood Street.  Not the most attractive intersection in Memphis, but one that at least contains bike lanes on one of the two streets.  I pass through this intersection at least once a day when I bike to work.  Whenever I encounter a red light at that intersection I always come to a right-foot-down stop, regardless of what same-direction or cross traffic looks like.  Same with the intersection of Southern and Greer Street, and every other traffic-controlled intersection in my daily commute.

Or, consider the intersection of Walker Avenue and my street.  This intersection is governed by a stop sign, not a traffic light.  Oftentimes I’ve found myself cruising toward that intersection from the north after a night out with friends, heading downhill on my street, and wishing I could just sail through the stop sign and further hasten my arrival at home.  But I can’t do that safely, as it’s a blind intersection.  In fact, heading north on my street I run into the same concern, and I always come to a complete stop at that stop sign.  Better safe than sorry.

And then there’s the intersection of Fenwick and Lombard, which lies at the western border of Chickasaw Gardens.  Heading west on Lombard it’s a blind intersection, so a near full stop is almost inevitable.  (This reminds me of one of my favorite experiences as a Memphis cyclist.  I was biking home, approaching this intersection from the east, knowing that I would likely have to stop very soon.  But, there was another cyclist coming from the opposite direction who reached the intersection before me.  Just before he said anything, I thought for a moment how cool it would be if the guy called out whether or not the cross street was clear, and then he did.  I was unaware of cyclist lingo at the time but very appreciative that this fellow cyclist was considerate enough to let me know about the state of traffic.  To this cyclist, whoever you are, I say thank you.)

Biking home tonight I hit about 3-4 red lights and stopped at all of them, so I’m hardly a scofflaw.  My post last week about cruising through the stop sign in Chickasaw Gardens was really just about that one experience.  Not surprisingly, the comments from my fellow cyclists were generally supportive, while the comments from the relatives/spouses of cyclists were more cautious.

Whatever the case, I will continue to exercise caution at all intersections, as all cyclists should.

Cyclists v. Drivers, or, Class and Transportation

I’ve been really fortunate in my time as a commuter cyclist in Memphis in that I haven’t had one single accident, be it single-vehicle (i.e. me alone) or due to a car driver’s error.  I’ve had a few close calls, one of which I wrote about at the end of this post, but mostly I’ve been fine.  And I’m happy to write that the vast majority of drivers are generally pretty cool and give me the three feet of clearance required by law (and common sense, even if they don’t know they are supposed to), if not the entire lane, when I am biking on streets without bike lanes.

I’ve also become a lot more bold about “taking the lane” and thus requiring passing cars to wait until the next lane (whether the traffic in that lane is moving in the same or the opposite direction) is clear.  Granted, I still make efforts to ride as much as possible on residential streets, even when a more direct route on a four-lane road is available.  Nonetheless, I haven’t really encountered much overt car-on-bike hostility in the past three years.

All of that said, when I saw this article come up on my blog reader, I immediately copied the URL to save for a later read.  I’ve just read the article for the first time today, and I very much appreciate the points raised about how drivers and cyclists interact on the road and how each perceives the other.  I especially agree with the quotation about how the car, especially one that is single-occupant, decreases the interaction on roads and the resulting cooperation that can occur when people make eye contact.  (This is why I always stare directly at the driver of a vehicle waiting to turn left across my lane.  If I see them seeing me, I figure they are less likely to run me over.)  Also, when individuals assume that their behavior is largely anonymous, it further encourages unfriendly driving habits.  (Trolling in a car?  Sounds about right.)

But what really resonated with me are the perceived differences in class between drivers and cyclists, and how these differences vary depending on who is driving the car or riding the bike.  To the wealthy suburbanite driving the SUV, maybe I appear to be a loser who can’t afford to drive (although I’m not, and I can).  To the wage earner just getting by in an old beater, maybe I appear to be an elitist who decision to bike only acts as an impediment in an otherwise hectic day.  (It should be noted that I’ve never actually surveyed any non-cyclists about their perception of cyclists, and that I have had pleasant bike-related conversations with both wealthy suburbanites – which I wrote about here – and wage earners – which I wrote about here.  Also, I’m not trying to lapse into stereotypes about the attitudes of suburbanites or wage-earners, just speculating.)

To be fair, I can see how someone might perceive me to be an elitist when I’m cycling.  My bike is not especially fancy or expensive, but the replacement value of the frame, wheels, tires, and all the bells and whistles I have attached to the frame would easily be $1000 to $1200.  That’s some serious bank when you’re just getting by.  It’s not as though I slowly saved enough money to buy my bike over the course of months or years, or bought a used bike at a pawn shop.  I just went to the bike shop one day and bought the thing outright.  And whenever I see a new toy I can’t live without, I buy it.  End of story.

(As for the “loser” epithet, I’ll just leave that for Hollywood to perpetuate.)

But I think there’s something else at work here.  I’m reminded of a story a fellow Memphis cyclist told me about a friend of his who noticed an increase in anti-cyclist hatred three years ago when gas prices spiked so rapidly over the summer.  Maybe this perceived increase was due to observation bias, that the first act of antagonism only served to increase awareness of future incidents which might have been otherwise ignored in different times.  Whatever the case, the feeling of a lack of control over one’s life can cause one to lash out at the perceived causes of (or beneficiaries of) this feeling.  I’ve heard feelings of frustration and helplessness cited as a potential cause of young men to sympathize with, if not engage in, terrorist activities and organizations.  (No, I am not comparing angry drivers with terrorists, just commenting on how those feelings can drive people to behave badly.)  So the driver, feeling ever more pinched by rising gas prices and with few options other than to drive, sees the cyclist tooling down the street, oblivious to the vagaries of the market for gasoline, and feels his blood begin to boil.  Certainly, it’s not the cyclist’s fault that gas prices are so high – indeed, if more people biked, this would reduce the demand-side pressure which tend to keep fuel prices high – but that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the perception that this cyclist is “above” the concerns of the common person.

This feeds the belief that cyclists are elitists and exacerbates perceived class differences between cyclists and drivers.  Not only do we have the flexibility to avoid higher gas prices, but we also have fewer concerns about how we look when we arrive at our destinations as well as the option of adjusting our schedules to fit our desire to bike.  It is as though the strictures of regular life don’t apply to this special class of people: ironically, the very ones who have the least amount of protection from injury on the roadways.

The perception that cyclists live by different rules is not helped when we do things like running red lights or failing to signal when we turn.  I know that I might catch a little flack for that – no one should try to blame the victim – especially considering that I myself have done both of those things.  Yep, I’ve run red lights (although very rarely) and failed to signal properly.  So am I a hypocrite?  Yep.  And apparently I’m part of the problem as well.

But let me be clear: regardless of how often cyclists violate the rules of the road (and I have a bit more to say about that in a moment, so be patient) or the extent to which we are regarded as elitists, this in no way justifies any act of violence or aggression against a cyclist.  Ever.

(Plus, as this article reports, research indicates that in many if not most cases, accidents involving a car and a bike are the fault of the driver, not the cyclist.  Side note: the commuter cyclist featured in that article is my new hero.)

Unfortunately, simply because we are the exception on the roads, cyclists will likely continue to be perceived as “elitists” or “the problem.”  It’s been my experience with people who are, shall we say, biased against certain demographic groups, that those people only really notice the members of the group when those members do something inappropriate (or which is perceived as such).  I call this “having a book.”  Here’s how it works:

Imagine an average driver tooling around Memphis on an average day.  Very likely that driver will encounter other drivers engaging in defensive driving practices, as well as some drivers who violate the rules of the road.  In the first case, the well-behaved drivers are barely noticed; in the second, the poorly-behaved drivers, if noticed at all, are usually dismissed with a curt rejoinder and then forgotten.  Driving, being the default mode of transportation, is all but invisible to drivers, whether that driving is respectful or not.

Now imagine that the driver in question happens upon a cyclist fully obeying the rules of the road.  Likely the cyclist will be passed with little thought and soon forgotten.  But if the driver sees a cyclist, say, running a red light?  “Oh HAIL no!  Just look at that arrogant cyclist who does he think he is elitist spandex sidewalk!!”  Or something like that.

My point is that the driver keeps a book in which s/he records the interaction s/he has with other travelers on the road,  But, only the negative behaviors of the “other” – in this case, the cyclist – are ever recorded in the book.  Poor decisions by the “norm” are not recorded, nor are good decisions by anyone.

The result of this is that some drivers have a biased perception of how cyclists behave on the road, who has the ultimate right to occupy our streets, and who is to blame when cars and bikes collide.  This bias is made easier to maintain by failing to recognize that there is an enormous amount of variation in the cycling community.  If a driver lumps all cyclists into one bucket, then bad behavior by one cyclist applies to all cyclists.  This generalization is not applied to drivers, of course.

So what do we do with this?  Hopefully as more cyclists take the road, we will be recognized by more drivers as legitimate users of the road.  Increased enforcement of existing laws by local law enforcement will also help.  But I think we are looking at a long-term project, where each successive generation becomes ever more likely to support cycling.  Creating more facilities for cyclists can only hasten this trend.