Letter from the Editor

| July 21, 2011

In last week's Flyer, Eric Vernon of the Bar-B-Q Shop wrote a column in which he stated his disappointment at the process for determining whether bike lanes would be installed on Madison Avenue. Vernon wrote that businesses along the street had been left out of initial planning meetings.

Vernon ended his column in what I'm sure he thought was a conciliatory manner: "Mayor Wharton has helped bring about a three-way dialogue in which the community, the cyclists, and the business owners have been able to meet and reason together about plans for Madison Avenue.

"The city has now added six new options to the original three, and somewhere in the mix there is surely a prospect for a good fit for everybody."

But no. Vernon was vilified in comments on the Flyer website. Several people, claiming to represent the cycling community, urged boycotts of Madison Avenue businesses opposed to bike lanes. Others defended Vernon. The irony of bicyclists trying to hurt the local businesses that keep Midtown thriving — and worth cycling around in — was lost on some commenters.

I favor bike lanes wherever and whenever they are feasible. I think bike lanes on Madison could prove to be beneficial to some businesses, especially restaurants and bars. And I think the business owners ought to drive over to the High Point Terrace shops on a Saturday afternoon to get an idea of how bikes and businesses can help each other.

The High Point Terrace shops are a block or so north of the Greenline. Cruiser's High Point Hub has several bike racks. On weekends, the deck is full of cyclists, spending cash and bringing business to the neighborhood's shops, which include a pub, pizza parlor, hair salon, Cheffie's Cafe, and grocery store. It's a little piece of Portland in Memphis.

Madison Avenue isn't the Greenline, of course. But if Huey's, Neil's, the Bar-B-Q Shop, and other bars and restaurants were to put out bike racks and welcome cyclists, they might generate some good will — and more business in the process.

Conversely, if cyclists want to win over Memphians to the idea of bike lanes, the last thing they need to be doing is demonizing local businesses. Business people have a right to express concerns about their livelihood. And forcing Midtowners to choose between eating at the Bar-B-Q Shop or favoring a bike lane is a lose-lose proposition. I like my bicycle, but I'm not giving up Eric's ribs.

Bruce VanWyngarden


Comments (30)

Showing 1-25 of 30

Agreed 100% on non demonizing businesses. And Madison Ave owners have a right to be leery: see the colossal fuckup of installing the trolley lines. The concept was sound, the implementation... not so much.

For my part, I think bike lanes on Madison would be an improvement both for cyclists and businesses. Crossing that part of town I tend to stay south of Union on residential streets or north of Poplar on Overton Park - not many places along there to stop and spend any cash.

Posted by cr33 on 07/21/2011 at 12:59 PM

I only saw two commenters that were particularly up in arms. Two does not several make. Although, each posted more than once so I see how it could seem like there were several people demonizing business owners and urging boycotts. However, I don't recall either of them claiming to represent the cycling community.
It seems the only people making a big deal of this are the media. The vast majority of the City will happily accept any outcome.

Posted by cdel on 07/21/2011 at 2:47 PM

I became so disoriented reading the comments regarding this issue that I drank an entire bottle of Dancing Pigs while purchasing a vintage Schwinn Continental on eBay.

Posted by DaveC. on 07/21/2011 at 3:49 PM

For the life of me, I'm at a loss to understand why the proponents of bike lanes on Madison Avenue are being vilified because they have proposed taking direct action against their opponents in an effort to change their minds.

Boycotts have a long and storied history in this country in the service of desirable goals, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the United Farm Workers boycott to the boycott that promoted disinvestment in South Africa, and even the threatened boycott that succeeded in getting Glen Beck kicked off of Fox News.

The right to advocate a boycott against the opponents of bike lanes enjoys the very same First Amendment protection as does the right to advocate against the bike lanes. Actions have consequences, and the merchants who are opposing bike lanes must realize that their opposition has consequences too.

Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 07/21/2011 at 5:26 PM

"The right to advocate a boycott against the opponents of bike lanes enjoys the very same First Amendment protection as does the right to advocate against the bike lanes."
No one is saying they don't have the right to boycott whatever businesses they want. Only that it might, in this case, be counterproductive.

Posted by Packrat on 07/21/2011 at 6:13 PM

It is not the businesses on Madison "that keep Midtown thriving"--it is the people who live in the communities that the businesses are supposed to serve.

I am disgusted to find the editor of our "alternative" weekly wagging his finger at activists who support putting economic pressure on businesses that oppose bike lanes down Madison. Although disinterested in this issue, even I was aware of well-publicized meetings and planning; it would have been easy for any of these business owners to get involved in the process as partners with the community from the beginning. To feign surprise or to pretend they were left out is disingenuous. The families and individuals who make up the cycling community have worked long and hard organizing around this issue; the boycott some are suggesting is one of the few weapons in the grassroots arsenal.

It is a gross simplification to say that the cyclists are trying to "hurt" the small businesses of midtown: some people examine ethical considerations when deciding where to spend their dollars; it is their right not to spend money at a business that is actively hurting their cause. And it is their responsibility to let the rest of us know what is going on. If anyone loses profits over this because business owners are not willing to look at the evidence and listen to their customers, then they are the ones making a bad choice here.

Posted by sm on 07/21/2011 at 6:53 PM

Again... I don't care if there are bike lanes or not, I'll never be able to use them. I've seen them added in other cities with lukewarm results. Non-issue.

What is an issue is the distinct sound of someone's ox being gored.

First, Vernon didn't express disappointment, Vernon lied. Period, end of story. Flat out lied about being 'shut out' of the process.
And it was Eric who threatened his own employees jobs if people were allowed to ride their bicycles on the public streets. Not once have the business owners provided a rational explanation of how that calamity is going to come about.

Then we were fed an alleged list of more owners who were afraid that bicyclists would shutter their businesses... including businesses not even fronting Madison, that couldn't possibly be affected negatively.

How is pointing that out 'vilifying'or 'demonizing'? Is that a new journalist's code word, like 'con - tro - ver - sial' or 'outside agitators'?

John and Bruce's over-reactions can only be explained by one thing, and that's leashes being jerked taut.

Mark my words, in 6 months or a year, local politicians will be trying to buy or sell something on Madison, and then we'll see what this fuss was really all about.

Posted by Neondragon on 07/21/2011 at 8:35 PM

All of this over a bike lane? I wish people would get this worked up over the stupidity in the state house or in DC.

Posted by mad_merc on 07/21/2011 at 10:36 PM

mad merc - the seven people arrested in nashville for getting worked up over the stupidity in the state house were acquitted last week, but the flyer is not going to report on that at the same time they're lecturing us not to offend the sacred business community.

Posted by sm on 07/22/2011 at 10:54 AM

Nashville 7 getting arrested in Nashville and me trying not to . . .

Posted by sbanbury on 07/22/2011 at 12:28 PM

Now, who is being demonized?

I was/am one who proposes boycotts as a way to register my dissatisfaction with business owners interests being put before the interest of the community as a whole.

Clearly, the Memphis Flyer is concerned with advertising dollars, or just protecting the personal friends of the staff from embarrassment.

I stand by my views on the bike lanes and the use of boycotts.

This issue is also about safety, noise pollution, and the overall quality of life on and around Madison. There are many more taxpaying, property owners in this area who want these changes. Many more homeowners than business owners. We are just as important as your friend Eric and his advertising dollars. Although, it's clear you disagree.

Why haven't you mentioned the city traffic counts and the 85% of cars traveling at 41+ mph? Or the cars clocked at speeds up to 75mph....in a 35 zone?

I did not represent myself as the voice for cyclist. I do ride my bike in the area, but my concerns are more for safety and changing my neighborhood into a destination again.

Your buddy Eric referenced all he and the other business owners have done for decades to make Madison what it is today. Hmmm, are we supposed to thank him? I personally feel it's the residents of Midtown that make Midtown and the businesses in Midtown desirable. Look at how hard CVS fought to get here. As well as many local and national chains that see the concentrated and diverse demographics of Midtown as our strength.

Maybe you could use your position to present ALL the facts, in a fair and unbiased way? I'm sure your buddy Eric would understand that you also have a job to do. Outside of holding his hand, telling him what a great guy he is, and praising all he has done for the rest of us in the neighborhood.

Posted by mphsmidtwnr on 07/26/2011 at 1:50 PM

mphismidtwnr, did you actually READ the column? Just curious as to where you see any demonizing of your position.

Posted by sylamore on 07/26/2011 at 2:33 PM

The Flyer ain't Fox and Eric ain't BP. Geezus.

Posted by 38103 on 07/26/2011 at 4:14 PM

Always read before commenting. Saves a lot of face.

Posted by Chris Davis on 07/26/2011 at 4:29 PM

I would suppose it is as much a right for individuals (cyclists, representatives or not) to suggest using their hard earned pay to support whatever cause they find appropriate as it is for certain business owners to threaten immediate layoffs of their employees should the bike lanes be striped. Expressing absolute opposition to either bike lanes or shared lanes before the first meeting was even held is not “expressing concern”. It’s expressing one’s stubbornness, ignorance and inflexibility. I see a direct relationship between the two positions and seeing as the layoff threat occurred first, then I see no reason why supporting (or not supporting) a business should not be in the cards as well. People choose not to spend their money at certain places all the time for various reasons. The fact that some business owners and certain editors believe they can take very vocal positions regarding public projects and still be immune to impacts on their patronage is unrealistic. Maybe you guys’ parents forgot to mention this as part of that little package of life’s lessons, but sometime there is no compromise and you have to make a choice. Those choices carry certain consequences. It is immature of these business owners to think they can vocally- and sometimes aggressively- oppose a certain measure on behalf of their business and not expect an impact on their customer base. It is naïve for cyclists to think that business owners will readily except anything that alters the environment in which they built their business. I assumed that these business owners were smart enough to take customer reactions into account before they made their public statements and decisions especially in the wake of the CVS demolition and in light of the degree of support the bike lanes have garnished.

Forcing Midtowners to chose between installing bike lanes and eating at the Bar-B-Q Shop is not lose-lose. It is likely that those same individuals will still choose to eat bar-b-que or something else, at a local shop. It might even be just a block down at one of the other restaurants that have shown support for the bike lanes. That will afford more business for those owners who might need to hire additional staff and perhaps expand their space to accommodate the increase in business. One man’s loss…

Posted by barf on 07/26/2011 at 6:14 PM


And you think the Flyer exists on good karma and moonbeams? Have you seen their advertising rates lately?

They have a hell of a lot more in common with Rupert Murdoch than they do with Charlotta Bass.

Posted by Neondragon on 07/26/2011 at 9:14 PM

I have it on good authority that their editors walk around growling with perpetual scowls on the faces like RM. That might just be the indigestion from the Big Frank Burger at the Green Beetle, though.

Posted by Packrat on 07/27/2011 at 9:11 AM

I would think more likely from too many exploited laborer burritos at Chipotles.

Posted by Neondragon on 07/27/2011 at 9:33 AM

@BVW - Are you serious? This entire column oozes condescension towards Memphians acting in the interest of the community rather than their own pocketbooks. You say those advocating a boycott miss the "irony" of their position; you glorify your small business buddies over the lowly people who actually patronize their shops, saying that their profit motive is what makes this part of town so vibrant. You completely ignore threats of layoffs, which is pretty much torture these days, and the failure of the "business community" to get involved with the bike lane planning with the rest of us mere mortals.

You suggest the proper approach is just to play nice on their terms (since they weren't interested in playing on the people's terms). Your attempt to be pro-bike lane and pro-anti-bike-lane-small business is a perfect example of why politics in this country is so hopeless; corporate democrats may say they hold certain positions, but when it comes to putting in the messy, hard work, y'all prefer capitulation in the name of "pragmatism" and mock those who actually act.

Posted by sm on 07/27/2011 at 9:41 AM


Yeah, he is quite serious.

This would be the same Bruce who devoted an entire editorial to whining about how put upon he was when he tried to ride the trolley to work one day and the uppity d.....
...river refused to carry exact change for Bruce's convenience.

Posted by Neondragon on 07/27/2011 at 10:25 AM

And Neon would be the same anonymous fellow who hates the Flyer and everyone who works here so much that he feels compelled to come here several times a day to let everyone know how much an anonymous fellow named Neondragon hates everything the Flyer does. How sad.

Posted by BruceVanWyngarden on 07/27/2011 at 10:45 AM

If you want to look through my posts, you'll see that I'm quite open that I enjoy coming here to skewer bigots, racists, homophobes, hypocrites, and lackeys for ignorance, dogma, and the status quo... especially the ones who deny what they are.

In your case, it is fish in a barrel.

So I understand that you find it 'sad' when us uppity types dare to make fun of you.
I understand that you don't want 'my kind' on the pages of 'your' precious paper.
That puts you firmly on the same side as CHG, and you deserve the same ridicule.

Feel free prove me right by banning me.

Posted by Neondragon on 07/27/2011 at 12:58 PM

as far as your macho crap about 'anonymous', you have my email... come on down to Orange Mound and say it to my face.

Posted by Neondragon on 07/27/2011 at 1:01 PM

As Lance Russell used to say to Dave Brown, "Whew, we've got some rough and tumble action today Davey"

Posted by Midtown Mark on 07/27/2011 at 2:24 PM

Bruce, you've been double dog dared. Teh spirit of TV lives on.

Posted by Jeff on 07/27/2011 at 2:35 PM
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