Monday, December 27, 2010

Riding bike around world -- how's that for challenge?

Like Forrest Gump's run across the United States, once Robert Hirsch began riding his bike, he just couldn't stop. "When I started in British Columbia, I had no idea how far I would go."

Now 5 1/2 years, 60 countries, and 3 Kona bicycle frames later -- Hirsch has returned to his hometown of Memphis to be with his mother for Christmas.

"When I finished college, I said maybe I should go to med school or law school. Not that those things aren't challenging, but I knew I could do them all."

Drawn to bigger, self-propelled challenges, Hirsch walked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.

While walking the Pacific Crest trail, he received word that he'd been accepted into the Peace Corps to serve in Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

During his service in Vanuatu, Hirsch sent an e-mail to the Kona Bicycle Co. "I said I was a kid with a dream to ride my bike around the world, and they said, 'If you can get to Vancouver, we'll get you a bike and a trailer and a waterproof bag."

Immediately after he completed his Peace Corps commitment, Hirsch set out for Vancouver.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bike to work: Two-wheeled commuters boast of lifestyle's benefits to themselves, community

By Brent Manley - Special to the Commercial Appeal

Four years ago, Brent Barrett moved from Harbor Town to Germantown, increasing the distance from his home to work from about 6 miles to 20.

The 45-year-old owner of Bluff City Sports on South Cooper quickly discovered that getting to work by car was a tough job. The heavy traffic he encountered was a major annoyance.

Fortunately, Barrett is fit and healthy and, as a veteran triathlete, owns a good bicycle. Nowadays, he makes the 20-mile trip to work on two wheels just about every day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Memphis Stagnant? Hardly.

Is Memphis really a stagnant urban area

This Commercial Appeal headline is dubious at best.  Case in point?  The very first article linked to this "stagnancy" article is a piece about the new Electrolux plant headed to Memphis.  

Memphis is far from stagnant, especially when it comes to quality of life issues and culture. The recent opening of the Shelby Farms Greenline, the opening of the new Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge, pledges of bicycle lanes most recently installed on Southern Avenue, and headlines for amazing local dance and art programs in the Washington Post and the New York Times prove that Memphis is far from "stagnant."  Memphis Mayor AC Wharton's efforts to hold property owners presiding over blighted and neglected properties accountable for the negative impacts of such properties on our communities demonstrate that even amidst serious problems the response is far from "stagnant." 

This headline is an excellent example of how many reporters have been reporting bad news for so long that they've lost their ability to provide nuance to their arguments to help Memphians understand why this era is so special in Memphis' history.  They just assume they can report that Memphis is "stagnant" alongside some numbers from the past ten years and provide an accurate appraisal of the city's state of being.  And that is just patently false.  Not to mention this kind of press is headlong in the opposite direction from where we need to move with press coverage about the city.

With the exception of the building boom in the first 20 years of the 20th century, or maybe the post-war era, Memphis has never been further from stagnant than it is right now.  
In addition to the great national press we've received and the local efforts to promote livability, Auto Zone recently reported big profits, we landed Pinnacle downtown, the Electorlux factory is coming, and economists boast that 2011 is expected to be an excellent year.

Stagnant?  Hardly.  Flood the Commercial Appeal with the "good news" about all the wonderful things happening in our city.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bicycle-shop owner sees momentum for lifestyle

By Anthony Siracusa
Monday, December 13, 2010

Memphian Hal Mabray's inspiration for a lifetime of bicycling was unexpected.

"My deranged friend, Jess, came screamin' up to the end of my driveway one afternoon wearing blue-jean cutoffs with a bandana around his head, and was spouting something about having just rolled about 10 feet on his front wheel trying to stop because a Memphis motorist had just cut him off. That seemed exciting and like something I wanted to do, so I asked my parents for a Sears road bike."

Mabray, now co-owner of the Peddler Bicycle Shop, grew up in the Oakhaven neighborhood near Memphis International Airport. He bought his second bike, a purple Gitane French racing bike, brand new from the Peddler Bike Shop on Southern Avenue. "I treated it with kid gloves," he remembers, "and did most of the work myself."

After a "truly horrible" day on the job at a plumbing supply warehouse here, Mabray reconsidered his life's work.

"I was picking up my Torpado racing bike from the Peddler one afternoon, and I asked, 'Are y'all hiring?' Within a week, I was sweeping floors and building new bikes for Dan Lamontagne (former owner of the Peddler). I told him I was going to be one of his managers within a year."

Mabray approached LaMontagne about buying the business in November 1990. "Dan was looking for a change when (my partner) John McCombs and I approached him about buying the business.

"I was fortunate to work side by side with Dan for the time leading up to the buyout, while John was growing the Germantown store. I learned a lot during that time."

Mabray has observed a number of changes for bicyclists in Memphis since that first driveway encounter.

The OPEC crisis of the 1970s generated what bicycle historians have called the "Bicycle Boom," a time when national bike sales skyrocketed from 5.5 million in 1970 to 14 million in 1972. Mabray recalls the gas shortage created such a demand for bicycles in the United States that "bike manufacturers couldn't keep up."

Street conditions have also changed as the Memphis region has expanded. "Historically," Mabray remembers, "you could leave Christian Brothers High School and see very few cars while riding out through Fayette County. Now with all the growth ... you have to go farther out or get up really early to get in a safe ride."

In business terms, Mabray notes that bikes now compete with "the XBox, golf clubs and jet skis. As a bike shop owner, I know we need to create more excitement and events for bike riding to get the novice out and on a bike."

And for the Peddler and others, the recent openings of the Shelby Farms Greenline and the Wolf River Greenway have been just the catalyst required for an increased interest in bicycling.

"These trails have been the best thing for our business since $4-per-gallon gas. People see how easy it is to access the bike paths using on-street bike lanes, and thanks to the efforts of A C Wharton, Memphis is becoming a destination for young people looking to start a new family or move with their company."

Mabray likened the grand opening of the new Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge to "the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Greenline has had a direct influence on our bottom line."

And while Mabray says "it looks like a better world for bicyclists" in Memphis, he is also quick to point out that "cyclists have been riding the streets the whole time. You have good days and bad with motorists. Texting has created a new dilemma," he says, an observation confirmed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's data that shows distracted driving was responsible for more than 6,000 traffic deaths in 2008.

But Mabray believes the recent increase in trails and bike lanes will only continue to improve our city's quality of life. "If people decide to use the bicycle as alternative transportation, still the world's most efficient machine, this city will be a better place to live. People will not only want to stay here; they will choose Memphis over Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville or Little Rock.

"Bike parking racks in front of every large building and public facility would be a necessity, and it would take more cars off the streets and make it easier to park for the cars that are out there."

Mabray's dream for Memphis? "In a perfect world, I hope for medians that separate the cyclists from the automobiles." While Mabray is quick to concede that such protected bike lanes seem unlikely, the new separated bicycle lanes on Broad Avenue are a beacon of hope for others who share Mabray's dream.
Ultimately, for Mabray, the bicycle is more than a business venture. "I couldn't think of anything I would rather be doing. Making a livelihood out of something you love is taking a chance on heartbreak. But you still take the chance."

Anthony Siracusa, a native Memphian, is the community service coordinator at Rhodes College. He serves on the board of the Greater Memphis Greenline and is a daily cycling commuter. Contact Anthony through his blog at

Monday, November 8, 2010

Anthony Siracusa: Broad Avenue facelift puts possibilities into reality

You've probably seen the old water tower from East Parkway. Or maybe you've had a cocktail at The Cove after enjoying a slice at Broadway Pizza.

But have you heard about the protected bike lanes, the on-street landscaping or the art-centric pedestrian walk?

Broad Avenue, once known as home to the Beer Joint and a handful of building supply companies, is experiencing a rebirth. With the UrbanArt Commission and more than a dozen art studios, galleries and businesses now calling this old urban thoroughfare home, the Broad Avenue of today bears little resemblance to past incarnations -- unless you count the roadway itself.

On Nov. 19 and 20, the street itself will be transformed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Walk Bike Memphis

Livable Memphis has begun to beef up it's Walk Bike Memphis program.  Part of that work includes a blog to cover bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure developments, policy improvements, and ongoing educational outreach into the greater Memphis community.   Their latest post is about the new bike lanes on Southern Avenue. 


If you've been on Southern Avenue between Perkins and Cooper in the past month you probably had a bumpy ride.  But soon enough Memphis bicyclists will enjoy some smooth sailing.    

View Southern Avenue Bike Facility in a larger map

Monday, September 27, 2010

LiveStrong Helps Hightailers Help LeBonheur

Life Cycles: Livestrong gives boost to 100-mile bicycle ride

By Anthony Siracusa
Monday, September 27, 2010

For nearly 15 years, the Memphis Hightailers have hosted an autumnal bicycle ride offering participants the chance to complete 100 miles in one day. Called a "century ride," the Bluff City Blues 100 is a staple for many recreational cyclists.

When plans for this year's event were announced in July, Memphis Hightailers president Paul Rubin received an unexpected phone call: "We planned the ride for Oct. 2, which by coincidence was the day Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation called and essentially asked if they could sponsor the event."

Rubin said, "Livestrong simply wanted to promote a ride that raises awareness of healthy living. So we were happy to accept their sponsorship."

Livestrong is sponsoring 462 events in 375 cities across 50 countries on Saturday. In Memphis, Livestrong will provide a support vehicle for riders and 100 onsite volunteers at the event.

Healthy living is the recurring theme of the Bluff City Blues 100.

Since 2007, Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center has been the beneficiary of the event. The Le Bonheur Club, originally a ladies sewing circle that created clothes for orphaned children in the 1920s, began tending to orphaned children's medical needs in the 1930s. In 1944, the Pediatric Society approached the women's club about raising money to build a children's hospital. Le Bonheur officially opened its doors in 1952, and has provided medical services to children since then.

"We've made the Bluff City Blues 100 our premier event of the year," Rubin said. While the club hosts two other major rides annually -- the Red, White and Blue 4th of July ride and the Charles Finney Fundraiser Ride for the Church Health Center -- the Bluff City Blues 100 is the cycling club's largest event, with an expected participation of 500 riders.

"Finishing a century ride is a significant accomplishment. The Hightailers want the Bluff City Blues 100 to be a celebration for those who accomplish such a tremendous personal feat. At the conclusion of the event, we'll recognize by name those who finish their first century and provide medals for each rider."

Rubin says interest in the long-distance cycling event is growing. Forty riders, most of whom had never ridden a century, signed up for the Le Bonheur 100 Team. Since July, Susan Struminger and Mitchell Lansky have led the team on training rides that increased in distance from 30 to 80 miles. Cycling coach Clark Butcher provided participants with tips on nutrition, stretching, endurance training and basic bicycle maintenance.

In addition to the 100-mile ride, a 20-mile ride, a 40-mile ride and a metric century event -- a 62-mile ride -- will be available to participants.

The club has asked a few special guests to kick things off. Grizz, the Memphis Grizzlies mascot, will start one of the shorter rides, while Memphis Mayor A C Wharton will launch one of the longer.

"We've never had a mayor come out and support a bike event," Rubin said. "Conditions for bicycling in Memphis seem to be improving."

Anthony Siracusa, a native Memphian and graduate of Rhodes College, has just completed a 12-month study of bicycle policy, advocacy and infrastructure across four continents. You can read about his travels at and

Ride details
What: The Bluff City Blues 100, to encourage bicycle riding in Memphis and raise money for Le Bonheur Children's Hospital
Who: The Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club
When: Saturday; 100-mile ride, 8 a.m.; 62-mile ride, 8:15 a.m.; 40-mile ride, 8:30 a.m; 20-mile ride, 8:45 a.m.
Where: All rides leave from Mud Island River Park at the Old Memphis Belle Pavilion, 101 Island Drive
Cost: $45 for non-Hightailers members, $35 for members; $10 T-shirt fee (in addition to registration)
Register: Advance registration recommended, but participants can register day of event.

Mayor Wharton Speaking at Otherlands on September 20, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wharton pedals better health as a life cycle

Wharton pedals better health as a life cycle

Bike-friendly plan praised for greater access and appeal

By Tom Bailey, Tom Bailey Jr.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mayor A C Wharton this week gave some political advice to dozens of cyclists who overfilled Otherland's coffee shop to thank him for his recent actions and pledges to make Memphis more bike friendly. 

A member of the Memphis Hightailers bicycle club asked what cyclists can do to help Wharton make the streets more accessible for bikers. Wharton urged them to couch their advocacy in terms of wanting better health for themselves and the city instead of simply demanding more bike lanes.

Livable Memphis hosted the meeting to thank the mayor, who has just hired the city's first bicycle/pedestrian coordinator and pledged to add 55 miles of bike lanes over the next two years.

But Wharton said his ears were still ringing from criticism he received earlier Monday from city labor leaders for his hiring of a "high-priced" bike coordinator at a time when Wharton has ordered budget reductions.

Other constituents, he said, criticize him for caring "more for folks riding bikes than people getting a job."

Bicycle retailer Joe Royer of Outdoor Inc. told Wharton that bike-friendly streets are a critical piece for the city's growth "so we can pay union employees more. This is good for business."

Wharton agreed, saying safe, appealing streets for bikes and walkers make Memphis more appealing for the lifestyle choices they offer.

Besides, the city needs the exercise, he said. The economic and human costs of the city's obesity rate should pull at "your purse strings if it doesn't pull your heartstrings."

The city will focus on creating logical bicycle and pedestrian connections instead of just "chalking up" miles of striped bicycle lanes that may or may not be meaningful, Wharton said.

For example, cyclists should have good routes from Cooper-Young, through Overton Square, to Overton Park, he said.

The route from the University of Memphis to Tiger Lane west of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium should offer a bike connection, Wharton said.

But don't expect him to create a bike lane down congested Union Avenue. "We're going to use common sense," he said.

Livable Memphis, the coalition for sustainable neighborhoods, gave Wharton some requests as well as support.

Program manager Sarah Newstok told Wharton the coalition would like to see police training on the new bike laws passed this year.

It also wants the city of Memphis to adopt a plan for providing better access for cyclists and pedestrians.

And the coalition wants more enforcement directed for the safety of pedestrians.

-- Tom Bailey Jr.: 529-2388

Monday, September 13, 2010

Victory Bicycle Studio Built on Founder's Passion for Bicycling

Victory built on founder's passion for bicycling

By Anthony Siracusa
Monday, September 13, 2010 

For Clark Butcher, a love of cycling started with hamburgers and hot dogs.

"I was a Boy Scout as a kid, and one weekend, I volunteered to serve food at a mountain bike race at Arkabutla Lake," he said.

After the inspiring event, Butcher began saving money for his first mountain bike.
Butcher, who completed his first triathlon at age 7, has been racing bicycles for 12 years. He is the city's only Category 1 racer, a class reserved for semi-pro riders, and he has coached cyclists of all skill levels across Memphis. He serves as a consultant for bicycle team training camps and organizes a handful of local races annually.

When Butcher's part-time interest in bicycle coaching began to blossom into a full-time commitment, he called his friend Robert Taylor -- a real estate agent with Raspberry CRE -- to ask about acquiring office space. Taylor, who had spent his 20s and 30s as the general manager and head buyer for a local outdoor retailer, was also looking to move his continued client base back into a brick-and-mortar 

"We started brainstorming and decided that, since I needed a space and Robert's maintenance and fittings needed to move from his house, it just made sense to get a little storefront."

The duo tapped professional bicycle mechanic Michael Crum, acquired a 500-square-foot storefront on Young Avenue near East Parkway, and decided to open a small shop in the heart of Midtown. They decided to call it Victory Bicycle Studio.

"Victory Bicycle Studio is a specialty retail store with a focus on cycling enthusiasts, weekend warriors and racers," says Butcher. "Our goal is to provide exceptional service, support and expedited maintenance time. Between Robert, Michael and myself, there is 30 years of experience in the bicycle industry. Our goal is to over-service people."

Beginning a bike-based business in the midst of difficult financial times may appear risky. According to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, total bike sales declined from 18.5 million in 2008 to 14.9 million in 2009. But specialty bike stores catering to a particular niche -- such as elite racers or daily commuters -- experienced a slight growth in market share during 2009. This is largely because specialty bike dealers provide a high volume of parts and accessories, a market niche not filled by big box retailers.

Still, the lifeblood of a locally owned bike shop is its service and maintenance commitment. This, Butcher says, is Victory Cycle Studio's No. 1 priority.

"We're doing so many fitness assessments and seeing folks not riding the right bikes. At Victory, we don't want to sell you a bike that we have on the floor. We want to see you on the absolute right bike. We want to be a sort of liaison for finding the best possible bicycle. If someone says, 'Hey, so and so online has the best bike for the best deal,' we'll sit down with them, take measurements and make sure that they have the best stem, the best handlebar and the best bike fit."

Butcher believes bicycling is growing in Memphis. "The opening of the Shelby Farms Park Greenline, the creation of designated bike lanes, the growing number of charity rides and races in town, the weekly group rides with as many as 80 people showing up ... there is just so much going that can cater to any level of cyclist in Memphis. I was the only kid racing in high school, but now there are all sorts of individuals riding bicycles in the same group. There is a student with two part-time jobs riding next to an orthopedic surgeon."

Butcher is particularly excited about the opening of the Shelby Farms Park Greenline on Oct. 9. "The greenline is what is attracting people who haven't ridden bikes before. They're dusting off their bikes and checking this out. The growing number of group rides keep people engaged. It's fun, it's a low-impact sport, it's social. It's cool."

Victory Bicycle Studio, 2294 Young Ave., 729-2229,
Anthony Siracusa, a native Memphian and graduate of Rhodes College, has just completed a 12-month study of bicycle policy, advocacy and infrastructure across four continents. You can read about his travels at and

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A City that Achieves

This morning, I heard one of my friends was working at a Steak and Shake in New York City.  He has taught Spanish at Rice College in Houston and, most recently, took a break in earning his Ph.D. at U. Penn.  Now, he’s working at the Steak and Shake.  He’s brilliant, charming, funny and ambitious.  But I guess the real question is how good is he at making malts.   

Meanwhile, here in Memphis it’s hot as Hades.  The ambiance is thick--day after day—and only rarely in the last two months have we seen a break in the daytime heat.  And by break I mean a drop from triple digits to lower nineties. 

It’s amazing how unrelenting difficulty can enhance one’s appreciation for brief moments of ease. 

It’s also an exciting time here in Memphis.  This city appears to be on the verge of making sustainable infrastructure development a priority, and NGOS, non-profits, and the municipalities all appear to be falling in line—offering their political support and often financial support for the creation of bike facilities, sidewalks, and greenlines. 

The City of Memphis will announce it’s new bike and pedestrian coordinator in the coming week; The Shelby Farms Greenline will open in October; Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton has committed to creating 60 miles of bike facilities within the next 18-24 months, and Walk Bike Memphis is working to fund bike paths through Overton Park, along Broad St., and on into the Shelby Farms Park Greenline. 

The Greater Memphis Greenline will begin work on acquiring and developing three new greenlines while maintaining a long-term focus on the acquisition of right of way for more than 400 miles of MLGW utility easements.  And The Wolf River Greenline is progressively heading west: the connector from Shady Grove to Walnut Grove is currently under construction.    

A new bicycle shop, Victory Bicycle Studio, is set to open on Young Avenue September 1st.  The Peddler Bicycle Shop has become an exclusively Trek store while Outdoors Inc. and Midtown Bicycle Company continue to serve bicyclists between Highland and the River.  Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop is continually growing in it’s ability to work with community partners: its latest project—in addition to its ongoing effort to help Memphians construct their own affordable bicycles—is a partnership with Leadership Memphis that will afford students in the leadership class the chance to work with youth to build a bike.  Revolutions continues to inspire with its ability to build bicycles while building community. 

It’s an exciting time to be a Memphian.  And, considering the last 10 years spent working on these issues, it’s thrilling to see a very different city being built before our eyes.  Southern Avenue has become my own personal symbol for this progress: I spent hundreds of hours speeding up and down Southern Ave. on my bicycle, navigating the narrow stretches of roadway with experience and caution. 

But within the month Southern will have bicycle lanes. 

It’s unclear just how much of the street will have bike lanes—we’re hoping the entire stretch from Cooper to Goodlett will receive lanes this month—but to have a dedicated bicycle facility on this critical corridor of connectivity between Midtown and the University lifts my heart. 

Memphis is on the Move.  And it reminds me of a speech the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered on the steps of the Alabama capital in 1965.  Marchers had just trod from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate support for the federal Voting Rights Bill that would be passed in August of that year.  King could clearly see a break in the heat—it was that ebb of days in the low 90s amidst the sweltering oppression of ongoing racial injustice.  And King knew that the freedom struggle was at its height; most importantly, he knew no-one could turn the movement around.  He said: 

We’ve come a long way since that travesty of justice was perpetrated upon the American mind. James Weldon Johnson put it eloquently. He said:

We have come over a way 
That with tears hath been watered.

We have come treading our paths

Through the blood of the slaughtered.

Out of the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam
Of our bright star is cast.

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, today I want to say to the state of Alabama, today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now.

Yes, we are on the move...Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us.  We are moving to the land of freedom.

The stakes were higher in the Civil Rights movement than they are in the movement to make our streets safe for bicycles and pedestrians. 

But the stakes are equally as high for Memphis generally.

And maybe, even when seen in this broad way, our city is indeed on the move.   

But questions persist: will we stave off poverty for a third of our population, end the brain drain, improve education, work with our homeless brothers and sisters, end the bloodshed in the streets, and build a sustainable city—a city that has a sense of destination in 10 years, a city that enjoys a reputation for being a forward thinking place that learns from the past and forges a bright future?

I think so.  But, as with King, I’m a “prisoner of hope,” one bound to a commitment for a city that succeeds.   So maybe I’m not the best judge. 

An editorial in the Memphis Commercial Appeal last month boasted Memphis’ ability to effectively strive towards positive development, noting the inherent good resulting from this striving.  King may have agreed.  He claimed “unearned suffering is redemptive,” assuring freedom fighters enduring physical and emotional beatings that none of their efforts were in vain. 

But Memphis ought to move from a city that strives to a city that achieves.  It’s my contention that we’ll know we’re on our way—not just on the move, but on our way—when Memphis becomes a city of achievement.

As it is, I think I’m due to call my friend in New York.  We need to catch up about our lives, sure.  But as I seek to find my place in this forward movement for a city that still struggles to offer opportunities, I’m interested in what it’s like to work at the Steak and Shake.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Feds-and Memphis-Innovate on Bike Facilities

For many years, municipal engineers and planners around the United States have been limited by outdated design standards for bicycle facilities in the United States.  

Currently, due to outdated federal standards, many bikeway designs that are common in Europe and Canada -- like bike boxes, colored pavement markings, bike-only signals, and buffered bike lanes -- are still considered "experimental" in the U.S.
U.S. bikeway design guidelines are outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), a document that, amongst other recommendations, specifies that bike facilities should *stop* 20 feet in advance of intersections (the place where 50-70% of all collisions occur) and specifically prohibits "separated" bike facilities (the design norm in cities where mode shares tower in the double digits).

One of the major problems with outdated federal standards, as cited by Bike Portland, is that municipalities can't use federal money for improvements if they're not in compliance with the MUTCD.  Another problem is tort liability: many engineering divisions fear being held liable for accidents in facilities not specifically recommended by the MUTCD.   While few municipalities have been sued, and even fewer held liable, the concern is oft cited. 

But according to Bike Portland, these traditional American design standards could be changing.  And soon.  

Mike Wetter, Senior Advisor to Portland Metro Council President David Bragdon, 
says that in part due to Metro's work in raising this issue to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood's office last fall, the US DOT may soon give 'interim approval' to (innovative) designs which would expedite their use across the country.
We here in Memphis have recently felt these waves of change welling out of Washington.
You may have read about Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton's 2010-2011 Bike Facilities Program announced a couple weeks ago, or read about the first installment in that campaign: The Horn Lake Bike Lanes.  The kinds of recommendations in that article, painted stripes at high conflict points, are exactly the kinds of facilities that the DOT hopes to encourage.  

Perhaps most excitingly for Memphians are plans currently under consideration to implement world class bike facilities in the heart of the city.  In the past month, building on more than 2 years of work and innovation from community partners and business leaders, plans for a series of world class bicycle facilities have been proposed for Cooper St. in midtown Memphis.  

The plans, which are far from finalized, are based on input from community residents, business owners, and bicycle riders.  They propose implementing facilities which have been proven to increase the number of riders in the roadway while decreasing net injuries, and they have been reviewed by City Engineers and representatives of Mayor A.C. Wharton's staff.  The Mayor's staff has continually emphasized the Mayor's interest in seeing innovative bicycle facilities implemented in Memphis.  

Because the proposed facilities are still outside the jurisdiction of the MUTCD, a Request to Experiment (RTE) must be filed with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of the facilities.  The RTE also ensures the blessing of the Federal government. 

City Engineers have expressed an interest in working with local advocates to assemble the RTE, and in an amazing demonstration of interest, the plans received attention from the FHWA.  A call from the FHWA this week outlining their interest in working with Memphis to assemble an RTE was a sign that the federal government has a keen interest in implementing these innovative and effective bicycle facilities.  

Bike Portland reports that standardization of bike boxes and painted bike lanes may be imminent.   Portland transportation officials 
want the US DOT to work in cooperation with the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO, the city version of AASHTO), provide interim approval for several new (in the U.S.) bikeway designs, work with NACTO to develop the forthcoming "Cities for Cycling Urban Bikeway Design Guide" and implement the findings of an FHWA-sponsored fact-finding mission to bike-friendly cities in Europe that took place in May 2009.
Finally Earl Blumenauer, an Oregonian congressman second in the pantheon of great congresspeople only to Memphis' very own Rep. Steve Cohen, has been in productive dialogue with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on advancing bike design standards.  Blumenauer said
As the Secretary himself has noted, we’ll have to move beyond current design standards if we want to create truly livable communities, where people can walk and bicycle safely.
Things are happening fast now, fair readers.  Stay tuned.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Momentum Building for a World Class Bike Culture in Memphis

Memphis has long enjoyed a strong recreational bicycle culture with dozens of races throughout the year.

But in my journey studying bicycle communities across four continents this past year, I was inspired by the diverse qualities of urban bicycle cultures. The opportunity to visit cities replete with bike commuters, bike-based musical events and innovative bike sports illustrated that urban bike cultures are quickly growing across the world.

And Memphis', it seems, isn't so far behind the curve.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Minneapolis is on the Move

This morning, the USA Today published an article about commutes to work in downtown Minneapolis.   Inspired largely by the wait-time involved in car dense commuting corridors, the article focused on increasing incentives offered by employers whose commuters choose to bike, walk or bus to work.   The accompanying video has a couple nice interviews with commuters, including a bike-powered attorney riding into the office:

Because congestion alone often isn't enough for many commuters to consider an alternative to the car, many companies are developing innovative incentives to get people thinking about using the bike or walking. 

Merete Wells, 25, a senior associate with the Minneapolis public relations firm Carmichael Lynch, takes advantage of an unusually creative option offered by her company: a 'shoe incentive.'  'They will give you $50 toward the purchase of a new pair of shoes a couple of times a year if you walk to work,' Wells says. 'It's a nice little incentive.' She used to drive to work from St. Paul. However, when her old Volvo started to wear down, she decided to move closer to work instead of buying a new car. Now, instead of a 30- to 45-minute commute in summer, which stretched to 60 to 90 minutes in winter, she walks 10 minutes to work.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a faith-based financial services organization, is providing commuter rebates for employees that don't use the car: 
Almost all of its 1,200 Minneapolis employees participate in the incentive program, which offers $50- to $100-a-month credits in pre-tax dollars, which the employees can use to pay for parking, a transit pass, and carpool, motorcycle, biking or walking costs such as shoes.

Good work, Minne.  Here in Memphis, we're aspiring to follow in your footsteps....quite literally. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Memphis Update: The Horn Lake Bike Lanes

Well gentle readers, I've made it safely back to home...this strange southern town long-filled with potential that now appears appears to be in a process of actualization.

Part of this actualization includes creating more space for bicycles on public roads.  A local advocacy committee, Walk Bike Memphis, has been working over this past year to update bicycle ordinances, create a bicycle pedestrian coordinator position within the municipality, and establish more on-street bicycle facilities.  Each of theses three campaigns have come to fruition in the past months.  

For a full explanation of how the advocacy community has influenced local politics in Memphis over these last few months, have a look at my new blog, Community Powered Cycling

Today's update deals largely with the first project in Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton's 2010-2011 Bicycle Facilities Program: the Horn Lake Rd. bike lanes.   On Friday of last week A.C. promised to begin striping bike lanes on Monday morning (today), and sure enough, a quick trip out to Horn Lake Rd. showed new facilities in-progress.   Here the team is hard at work striping the new lanes--and being mighty friendly with courteous waves (which is something of a southern tradition, I might add.  Seriously, in all my travels I've never met people as nice as southerners.)
By the time I arrived around 3 p.m. this afternoon, the lanes were almost complete--and in use. 
This gentleman was pumped when he passed me--smiling broadly and enjoying the 95 degree heat saturated with 100% humidity.  Welcome home indeed.  

So how'd the City do?  Is the facility good, bad, irrelevant?  To find an answer we need to have a look at the lanes section by section.  

First, the area we're dealing with is Horn Lake Rd. from the I-55 bridge on the north to Mitchell Rd. on the south.  Have a look at this map: 

View Horn Lake Rd. Bike Lanes in a larger map
 (A shot of the factory on the West side of I-55, or a common sight in this part of the dirty dirty)
This shot was taken from the I-55 bridge facing north towards downtown.  It's fairly representative of the bike facility generally: the bike lane contains frequent bike emblems with a directional arrow between a 6 inch white stripe on the traffic side and a raised curb on the right side. The bike lane is accompanied by signs that say, shockingly, "Bike Lane."  Now, the lane is 6 feet wide throughout its entire length, which is a nice width...but there is small issue...  
The 6 feet includes the gutter pan (the brownish color asphalt)...which is approximately 2 feet wide.  So, there is actually only 4 or so feet of bike lane on the asphalt-proper.  If two bikes attempt to ride two abreast in the lane, the far right rider will be forced to ride in the gutter pan.   
The narrow width also produces a second difficulty: the outside lane of car traffic is between 14 and 18 feet wide, meaning the traffic calming that often emerges from creating bicycle facilities is much less likely to occur on this stretch of Horn Lake Rd. because the cars have an incredibly wide lane outside lane.  If the bike lane had been made wider and the car lane reduced, its likely that significant traffic calming would have emerged. 
This photo shows three facilities created specifically for bikes on Horn Lake Rd.: a bike lane sign, a bike friendly storm grate, and a stripe separating the bikes from auto-vehicle traffic.  These are nice facilities, but there are a few places where more appropriate facilities should be added to the bike lane.
First, the junctures where auto-vehicle traffic merges from side streets onto Horn Lake--or primary conflict points between bikes and cars--currently has no facility. 
The hashed line on the right of this photo represents the bike lane boundary with traffic.  One easy way to improve the safety of this juncture is to hash the bike lane on the rider's right side and paint a colorful stripe to designate the bicycle's place in the juncture.  This picture provides an example from Victoria, Canada that could be applied here:
The second place where the facility can be improved is at the intersections.  Here, cars are expected to cross the bike lane when making right turns--as indicated by the hashed line.   
Here again, a painted stripe in green or blue or red could be used to alert drivers to the presence of bicycle riders.  This would also provide riders with a sense of comfort as they pass through a high-conflict juncture.  This is an example of a painted intersection from Eugene, Oregon: 
This is the intersection of Brooks Rd. and Horn Lake.  
Here, the facility simply stops in advance of the intersection, the point with the highest potential for conflict between car drivers and and bicycle riders. And again, a painted bike lane could orient drivers and bike riders as they clear the juncture.

At this intersection we have a similar situation:
Finally, just before the intersection at Mitchell the bike lane just stops.  Now, we can only anticipate that this facility is the beginning of a longer facility that will connect communities to....well, something.  Anything.  

But at the moment, the facility runs from the I-55 bridge to Mitchell Rd., meaning it provides no significant connectivity for community residents.  Future facilities ought to be planned with a strong focus on how the facilities connect people to places.  Otherwise, we'll simply end up with un-used bike lanes that go nowhere.  

Here in Memphis we have an opportunity to make world-class bike facilities from the start, and though this is only phase one in Mayor Wharton's plan to develop bike facilities across the city, we ought to ensure that future lanes are developed with an eye to enabling the youngest, oldest and most vulnerable road users to comfortably  utilize the bike lanes.
On a side note, I had a very Memphis moment on my way down south.  I saw a car without wheels being towed with a iron link chain by a sorry looking red truck.  Upon first encounter, the car was fishtailing out of control (as tends to happen on cars without wheels?).  On my way back to downtown, I noticed the whole shenanigan had been abandoned--which provided me an opportunity to snap some photos.  Welcome home indeed.      

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pecha Kucha from Velo City 2010

The video begins in the midst of my opening comments, but its still a nice documentation of the Pecha Kucha presentation I delivered at Velo city Global 2010...which, for those of you wondering what the heck that is, Pecha Kucha presentation are presentations based on 20 slides designed to automatically change every 20 seconds.  Essentially, the presenter carefully narrates a series of photographs.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Velo City Global 2010!

If you haven't made it over to Community Powered Cycling yet to read about the conference, take a moment to catch up.  The conference has been absolutely amazing, and there is a well of inspiration being developed on the site. The best part: there is only more to come in the next few days.  Have a look, and be inspired!  

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Month? Really?!

Gentle readers, I apologize for the delay in recent posts.  I like to keep the blog as tight as possible, with at least weekly updates despite being halfway around the world.  In this regard, I have failed at Pedal Power these past few weeks.  

Why?  Well, preparing 700 bikes for the Velo-City Global 2010 Conference is one big reason.  I blame Baisikeli.  Check out this video to get a sense of why this might be so...and practice your Danish before you watch.  If you just can't be bothered to watch all thirteen riveting minutes, there is a very silly interview with me at around minute 7.  

The bikes have been prepared, of course, for the Velo City Global 2010 conference, the largest conference on bicycling in the world.  All of Copenhagen has been busy preparing the city for the largest influx of cycling experts in history.  

Finally, one of most exciting excuses for my recent lapse in posting is the creation of a new blog.  It's called "Community Powered Cycling," and it's a joint effort between myself, Joshua Gorman, and Kyle "Wild Arms" Wagenschutz.  As the Watson winds down (I will arrive back in Memphis in two weeks!), I will begin to post more and more to the CPC blog. 

Finally, I have of course been engaged in a ridiculous amount of bicycle polo here in Copenhagen.  This week, in conjunction with the Velo City Conference, we will play a polo tournament in the City Center to determine who in fact are the grand masters of the Copenhagen Polo Universe.  Stay tuned for results, but in the meantime check out this video about CPH Bike Polo.