A Bike Plan Too Far

It isn't government's job to get people to ride bicycles.

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Sometimes government makes it easy for people who think government needs to go on a diet. Case in point: the Metropolitan Planning Organization's (MPO) Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

After I read its hundreds of pages of observations and recommendations, I felt a little like a Rush Limbaugh fan, which I definitely am not. Still, I had to conclude that this report and this agency are as bloated as Rush himself.

I have watched with interest as Memphis adds bike lanes to Madison Avenue, North Parkway, Front Street, and other streets. I thought it would be simple, but I was wrong. People were passionately for it and against it. This week, Mayor A C Wharton announced that he couldn't find a consensus so he is forming a Madison Avenue committee, a sure sign that this is a big deal.

I have a bike. I like to ride it once in a while. I rode it for fun 60 miles last weekend. It was harder than watching football, and I won't do it again soon. I drive to work. It takes me eight minutes. I like having heat in winter and air-conditioning in summer, and I need a car to get to appointments. I would drive about as much even if gas cost $5 a gallon. Whether or not you ride a bike is, needless to say, up to you. It's no one else's business.

I like to walk. I don't need signs to point me toward the sidewalks. I know what a sidewalk looks like. I appreciate crossing signals. Beyond that I don't need much help, thanks.

The MPO, however, has other ideas. Biking is a learned behavior. Government is the teacher and motivator. How to convert drivers to bikers and walkers? The answer is invest in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, coupled with education programs, public service campaigns, and policies that support and encourage safe and efficient biking and walking.

A few excerpts from the report:

"The intent of the plan is not to secure funding for every project, but, instead, to identify the opportunities that are available." Sure.

"Census data show that less than two percent of work commute trips in greater Memphis were made by bicycling or walking." I bet it's more like point-two percent.

"A 15-minute bicycling or walking commute can provide the physical activity that is necessary to remain healthy. You can lose 13 pounds, reduce the risk of heart disease 50 percent, and burn 508 calories in an hour if you peddle 14 miles an hour." Which is a pace that only the fittest cyclists can maintain.

"By simply replacing an automobile with a bicycle to conduct a four-mile long round trip, approximately 15 pounds of pollutants can be kept out of the air." The appeal to guilt.

"Every street should accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists and transit users of all abilities and ages." Madison Avenue multiplied by 1,000.

"Support National Bike to Work Day and National Walk to School Day. Have the mayor and county commissioners proclaim May as Bike Month and October as Walk Month." Only if they wear biking shorts to work, I say.

"All development plan submittals and future transportation plans should be reviewed for compliance with the plan." Says who? And if they are not in compliance?

"Develop a GIS-based inventory of all existing pedestrian facilities including, but not limited to, sidewalks, curb ramps, overpasses, off-street connectors, parks, recreational walkways, and hiking trails. Once the data is collected and a thorough analysis is completed ... ." We can retire on a pension.

"Address the issue of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act." Simple? See Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

"Expand end-of-road facilities." Also known as bike racks.

"Increase the amount of way-finding signage around the community."

And so on.

Once again, I like to bike. I love the Greenline. Bike lanes on some streets are worth a try. I'll believe we need them when I see more bikes and fewer cars at hospitals and college campuses. Exercise is good. Health is good. But so is common sense.

Being a functioning citizen means taking responsibility for your choices and learning how to cross the street. You can't choose your parents, but you can make a choice to be fit or fat, to walk or ride, to find your way. It requires a little effort. If you don't know that by now, it won't do any good for government to tell you.

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