A year ago, I would have laughed (no, make that guffawed) if you told me I'd be riding a bicycle to work someday. I didn't even own a bike, and I viewed biking on city streets as certain death.
But something changed after my first walk on the Shelby Farms Greenline last fall, and I found myself yearning to feel the wind in my hair from the comfort of a bicycle seat. This past Christmas, I became the proud owner of a mint-green Electra Ladies' Cruiser from Midtown Bike Company. On Friday, I went on my longest ride yet during the Center City Commission's Bike-to-Work Day.
I was one of more than 220 people to register for the second annual event, which the CCC hopes will persuade more people to ditch their cars for morning bike commutes.
"It's a way to encourage people to use other forms of transportation while they're downtown," said CCC director of marketing Dawn Vinson. "We hope that if people try Bike-to-Work Day, they'll see how easy it is and how much fun it is."
On Friday morning, I joined co-worker Mark Plumlee for the 45-minute ride from my Midtown house to my downtown office. Plumlee knows his way around city streets, and while I occasionally scoffed at his Wayne's World-style direction (calls of "Car back!" and "Clear!" were a little too much like Wayne and Garth's "Car! Game on!"), I appreciated having someone to show me the best way to avoid traffic.
We trekked through parking lots and down back roads, and I saw places, like Pappy's Coffee Service on Eastmoreland and the Orchid Club on Beale, that I never knew existed.
Despite our smooth ride to work, I encountered more than a few problems when I decided to forge my own path on the ride home. On Jefferson, I opted to ride on the sidewalks since the busy street lacks bike lanes.
That seemed a fine plan until I approached the overpass at Danny Thomas. There's no sidewalk on that bridge, so I had to hop over to Madison. Unfortunately, there are areas of missing sidewalk, and parts of the walkway are littered with holes and often blocked with massive street light poles.
I cut back over to Jefferson and gave up on the sidewalks, moving my bike into the far right of the traffic lane. That's when I nearly got sideswiped by a MATA bus. While most cars were graciously going around me, this bus didn't move an inch. I desperately needed a bike lane.
A new plan by the city could make any future biking to work adventures a little smoother. Bike lanes are planned for North Parkway, leading from Overton Park to downtown. Although maintenance of that route falls to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the city may install temporary lanes until TDOT is ready to repave and create bike facilities.
"It's currently three lanes in each direction, and we would be repurposing the outside lanes for the use of bicycles," said Kyle Wagenschutz, the city's bike and pedestrian coordinator. "In residential sections, we would more than likely maintain the parking lanes."
The city's plan to add bike lanes to Cooper has been set back while the city deals with flooding issues, but work should begin soon, Wagenschutz said. Mayor A C Wharton still hasn't settled on adding controversial bike lanes to Madison in Midtown.
Designs are underway for the plan to connect Overton Park to the Shelby Farms Greenline. And the city will soon be adding bike lanes to Chelsea and on South Parkway near I-240.
I may not trade my car for my bike yet, but I would like to try biking to work once a month. As the city adds more and more bike lanes, that feat can only get easier.