I've lived one block off of Madison Avenue for 17 years. I walk, bike, and drive Madison, and I shop often in the neighborhood. One of the many great things about living in Midtown is the abundance of independent businesses, and the relatively small number of chain stores.
When I first heard about the proposed bike lanes on Madison — between Cooper and Cleveland — I was thrilled. I've been to neighborhoods in other cities that had bike lanes, and I've seen firsthand how they make those neighborhoods great and how the businesses embrace them. There are a few streets in Memphis that beg for bike lanes, and Madison is one of those streets.
At the August 2nd National Night Out Party for my neighborhood, the proposal for dedicated bike lanes on Madison was a topic of discussion. We had heard that hundreds of people had supposedly sent postcards to City Hall opposing bike lanes, yet we had not met any Midtown residents who were against the lanes.
We were aware that many Madison Avenue businesses opposed the lanes, but we were puzzled as to why the businesses would think that they would lose customers if the "three-lane option" was implemented. Were we out of touch, or did the merchants just not understand how great this could be for our neighborhood and for their businesses? I decided to try to find out if there was support for bike lanes from the customers of Madison Avenue businesses.
With $25 and no experience doing anything like this, I created a website called MadisonBikeLanes.com, and linked it to an online petition. Since the residents of Midtown are the customers of the Madison Avenue businesses, I addressed the petition to the business owners and crafted a pro-business message: "We value and patronize the business owners along Madison." I stated the facts about the three-lane option that had been presented at the public meetings held at Minglewood Hall in June and July:
• On-street parking would increase to 344 spaces from the current 204
• Average traffic volume has been 12,500 vehicles per day since completion of the trolley construction in 2004, with little or no growth since then. Traffic engineers have stated that the three-lane option will accommodate 17,000 vehicles per day. Even under the most aggressive growth projections (2 percent per year), the three-lane option would easily handle traffic through the year 2026.
• Average speed on this stretch of Madison was recently measured at 41mph; the speed limit is 35mph. A national study done in 2007 documented that four-lane to three-lane conversions result in a reduction of 5 mph in average speed. Cars traveling at the speed limit would be good for business, and would certainly be safer for the customers of those businesses.
• There is no incremental taxpayer cost to add bike lanes to Madison; the street is being repaved and the decision on striping is cost-neutral.
The online petition is run by a third party entity called Care2, and it requires signers to provide their names, physical addresses, and email addresses. A confirmation email is sent upon signing.
I chose this particular petition site because it seemed credible and immune from manipulation. I was hesitant, however, because the Care2 site allowed signers to make comments. I had seen the unpleasant online comments that were made in response to Eric Vernon's piece that recently ran in the Flyer. I didn't want hateful comments on the petition site, but there was no way I could opt out of the comments feature. I crossed my fingers and put up the site.
I'm happy to report that, as I write this, almost 1,100 people have signed the petition supporting the three-lane option. My fears about nasty comments were unwarranted; the comments have been insightful, positive, and supportive of the Madison merchants. I encourage you to visit the site and read the comments.
One final comment from me: Yesterday I rode my bike east on Madison from Belvedere to Cooper. I ride a lot in Midtown, but not so much on Madison. My ride yesterday confirmed why: It's a very dangerous street for cyclists. Traffic was fast and furious, and one driver laid on his horn as he approached me from behind. I hugged the parked cars on my right, but I had nowhere to go but straight ahead. Bicyclists really do deserve a lane of traffic wherever it makes sense. Madison Avenue makes sense.
Les Edwards is a CPA, a Midtown resident, and a bike-rider.