The Madison Avenue Bike Lanes



Say this for the proposed bike lanes on Madison Avenue: This is no MATA trolley.

The "road diet" outlined this week by bicycle rider/researcher/proponent/coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz is a modest proposal for a couple of miles of an east-west street in Midtown. It will cost thousands of dollars, not $60 million like MATA's east-west trolley line or $450 million like MATA's proposed light-rail from downtown to the airport. It paints bike lanes and reconfigures parking and car traffic on an existing street. Completion time is a few months, not two and a half years like the Madison trolley.

At best it will create more interest in restaurants and businesses along Madison from Overton Square to Cleveland and encourage new development and give people something to talk about. At worst it will, in the opinion of the owners of Huey's and Mercury Valet cleaners, hurt business and clog traffic.

"Businesses in other cities, and locally, have found that being located next to roadways with low traffic speeds and increased usage of bicycles has benefitted sales, revenues, and patronage," according to the report, which includes the names of proponents and opponents.

"Madison Avenue will link bicycle facilities planned for McLean Blvd, Cooper St., and Overton Park to others planned for Peabody Ave., and North Parkway."

Peabody, the preferred east-west route of some bicycle riders whether there are bike lanes or not, is still in the game.

"Creating a single east-west route for cyclists to use is unrealistic," the report says.

Bicycle lanes, the report says, will "encourage or enhance the economic viability of Madison Avenue."
They are preferable to "share the road" alternatives and are already having some impact on Broad Avenue east of East Parkway, a wide street that was largely abandoned after Sam Cooper Boulevard was extended to Overton Park.

And furthermore, "The contemporary economy thrives on land use patterns that combine city centers, corner stores and streetcar suburbs — a mix of uses that Madison Avenue currently has. Interaction of multiple modes of transportation, including pedestrian and bicycle activity, is key since the new economy thrives on accessibility, networking, and creativity."

And this, I say, is where the bike report runs off the rails, or outside the lanes, as it were.

For better or worse, the contemporary economy thrives on cars, Union Avenue, Poplar Avenue, and Germantown Parkway, as well as Kroger, Home Depot, Target, malls, and chain restaurants. Madison Avenue from downtown to just east of Cleveland is a mess in part because of the stupid, wasteful trolley. That section is dangerous to bicycles because of the tracks, the empty trolleys, and the cars.

The part of Madison from Overton Square to Cleveland is mostly wider and safer, but I don't think bike lanes will make much difference one way or the other. A dedicated path for bikes and pedestrians like the new Greenline is one thing. It is safe, scenic, and connects to Shelby Farms. With a little imagination, you can get to Overton Park and points west, south, and north.

The bike-friendly cities I have lived in and visited are bike friendly because they have (a) thousands of college students and (b) parking that is scarce, off-site, and expensive and (c) high density or (d) all of these things. A car can be an inconvenience just as a bicycle can be a convenience. So there are bike paths and bike lanes.

Memphis has, for the most part, wide streets, low density, and lots of free parking. It's a car town. As a practical matter, biking and walking are much praised but little practiced. We walk for exercise but we drive to the grocery store, the drug store, the movies, the next class, the zoo, and the bars and restaurants. Even Rhodes College and the University of Memphis are jammed with cars.

If bike lanes help Midtown businesses and promote new investment, it's fine with me, but I think the impact will be small. I don't see anyone riding a bike and carrying a sack of groceries, but I do see a lot of people, including myself and my friends who ride bikes for fun, driving a few blocks to get some place we could walk to in 15 minutes. As long as there is free parking, I don't expect that to change.

Here is a link to the report.


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