Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pedal power challenges car culture as cyclists seize Los Angeles freeways

Cyclists on a gridlocked Los Angeles freeway show that cycling is faster than driving

Los Angeles, meet the bicycle.

Of all the least-expected consequences of soaring fuel prices, this has to be near the top of the list: swarms of cyclists are taking to the intimidating, multi-lane thoroughfares of Los Angeles, some even defying the law and whizzing between the stationary cars on the gridlocked freeways.

The result is a city of diehard motorists in need of some anger management. Criminal charges have already been filed against one driver accused of deliberately braking in front of two cyclists in the wealthy suburb of Mandeville Canyon — home of the world's most famous Hummer-driving road hog, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both cyclists ended up in hospital.

Meanwhile, pedestrians are beginning to repeat the constant gripe of the modern Londoner: traffic-dodging cyclists are hogging the “sidewalk” and almost knocking them off their feet.

The city is so alarmed by this clash of car culture and pedal power that it has enacted an emergency plan, which so far consists of a Cyclists' Bill of Rights and a public “conversation” about how everyone can get along without killing each other. More meaningful developments are also afoot: the city has hired Alta Planning & Design, a planning consultancy, to revamp its haphazard and under-maintained cycle lanes and come up with cyclist-friendly initiatives.

Even in liberal LA, however, there is an element of political antipathy in this showdown. Even if cyclists do not overtly consider themselves to be combating everything from obesity to global warming when riding on two wheels, motorists tend to perceive their every on-road manoeuvre as holier-than-thou.

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights has done nothing to disabuse motorists of the notion that all cyclists are condescending, Obama-cheering elitists. The document states that cyclists are an “indicator species” of a healthy community, and represent a solution to environmental destruction and gridlock. One pro-cycling group, the Crimanimalz, organises frequent law-defying rides to prove how much more efficient two-wheeled transport can be.

Yet the problems of cycling in Los Angeles go deeper than just dealing with touchy and credit-crunched SUV owners. The summer heat can be unbearable. Then there are the poorly maintained surfaces, the wheel-buckling storm grates and the debris that slides into the road after the occasional heavy rainstorm.

Brad House, a member of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee, speaking at a meeting of the city's new bicycle task force, said: “We are the illegitimate bastard child of the transportation industry.” Having apparently never encountered a London taxi driver while on two wheels, he added: “In Europe, motorists are very respectful of cyclists.”

Monday, July 28, 2008

Memphis roads not friendly for bicyclists

As gas prices rise, more are using pedal power

By Don Wade

Monday, July 28, 2008

For more than a year, Jane Fadgen had been commuting by bicycle from her Germantown home to her job as a registered nurse at St. Francis-Bartlett.

As she would leave early in the morning, well before sunrise, her husband Danny would ride halfway there with her and then return home. Her reasons for making the 10-mile one-way trip by bike were simple: the cost of gas, a love of cycling, and "we're environmentally tuned in."

A few weeks ago, at 4:45 a.m., Jane and Danny Fadgen were riding north on Germantown Parkway. They had just passed the Chick-fil-A on the right-hand side of the road and were crossing the bridge over the Wolf River.

Their bikes were outfitted with blinking red tail lights and each wore reflective helmets. Jane also had on a reflective vest.

"Doing everything we can to be safe," Danny said.

The driver of the car that struck Danny apparently didn't notice. Danny estimates he flew 25 yards after being launched from his seat.

"The soles of my shoes ripped off and were still on the bike," said Danny, who suffered two compression fractures in his back and is in a brace. "I could hear the brakes squealing the whole time I was flying around."

Two vs. four wheels

Danny Fadgen, 47, has been riding road bikes for 30 years. In many respects, the squealing brakes he heard echo throughout Memphis' cycling community and serve as a warning signal to anyone who rides two wheels on the same streets dominated by drivers with four wheels.

By Tennessee law, drivers of motorized vehicles are required to maintain at least a three-foot distance from bicycles.

It's a good law, but it's broken all the time.

"It frightens me when experienced riders are getting hurt," said Clark Butcher, a 24-year-old associate broker with Marx & Bensdorf who rides for an elite cycling team sponsored by the company.

Jimmy Reed, 51, who is president at Marx & Bensdorf and an experienced competitive cyclist, said that metro Memphis drivers, in general, are not cyclist-friendly. "It's just odd," Reed said. "We're viewed as the enemy."

Said Butcher: "In the average driver's mind, the cyclist is in the way and he's using a bike because he doesn't have any money."

Money isn't what motivates Reed and Butcher to ride, and the desire to save a little gas money wasn't the only thing motivating the Fadgens.

But paying more at the pump has begun to have a tangible effect on who is willing to use pedal power to get to and from the office, and more people are viewing their bicycles as means of transportation and not just as an avenue for recreation.

Kyle Wagenschutz, who lives in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and works in the White Station Tower in East Memphis, is readying a bike for daily commutes. He also volunteers at Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop at First Congressional Church.

"We've seen a huge increase in the past six months in the number of bicycles being repaired or built up," Wagenschutz said, adding that bicycle riding seems to be gaining traction in this economic recession.

"Age, gender, race . . . it doesn't seem to be escaping any demographic," he said.

Count Brent Berry, 34, among those committed to commuting by bicycle.

Three days a week Berry commutes from his home in Cordova to his job as a sales manager at Bluff City Sports in Midtown. He leaves at 6 a.m.

"On my morning route, I usually see 10 other bikes," Berry said. "A month ago, I probably saw three."

It's a 16-mile trip one way and his is not a route for the faint of heart -- especially when returning home during rush hour.

"I probably hit three of the five busiest streets in Memphis," he said. "And if you're an experienced rider, not timid, it's not a bad route."

Berry's homeward path has him starting out in Cooper-Young, making a right on Central Avenue and then a left onto Goodlett, which is almost always highly congested.

He makes a right turn onto Tuckahoe which turns into Shady Grove, and then turns right on Humphreys Blvd. Humphreys becomes Wolf River Parkway, from which he turns left onto Germantown Parkway -- the busiest and probably the most dangerous intersection on his route.

Next, he travels across the very bridge where Danny Fadgen was hit. Berry makes a right on River Bend, a right on Walnut Grove, where the speed of traffic is fast and there's nowhere for a bike to hide, and follows that to North Forest Hill Irene and his home in Cordova. "Friday afternoon's the worst time," he said. "Everybody's ready to get home."

On the road again . . .

Reed said the three most important reminders for any cyclist are: wear a helmet, wear bright clothing and pick the safest routes possible. It's also crucial to know when you have to maintain speed.

Jane Fadgen learned this lesson riding home on Germantown Parkway. She won't ride during rush hour, but even in the mid-afternoon Germantown Parkway is hazardous: Some portions have no shoulder.

"I'll sprint as hard as I can" to get through those spots, Jane said. Once, as she was pushing to get to the next stretch of shoulder, a woman behind her hit the horn.

"There was nothing either of us could do," Jane recalls, "but she didn't want to wait 50 yards."

Since Danny's accident, Jane has not been able to bring herself to ride. But Danny, with a generally good prognosis that does not include surgery, still speaks of the two of them making cross-country bike trips in the next few years and taking their son, now 11.

Danny said with confidence: "You can't be scared by one freak accident."

But you can be educated.

So, Jane wonders if some of the very people who honk at cyclists now might opt for two wheels if gas climbs to $5 or more a gallon.

"I'd like to think I'd see them on the road one day," she said. "Maybe they'll be a little more sympathetic."

The economic crunch

This is another in an occasional series looking at the effects of the economy on everyday people. Know someone, or a business, hurting or benefiting from the current economic climate? We'd like to hear about it. Contact reporter Don Wade at or by calling 529-2358.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop needs volunteer mechanics

Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop needs volunteer mechanics

If you have spent some time working on bicycles in a professional shop setting, or you've learned the basics about bike repair from reading repair manuals and practicing at home, Revolutions needs you to help out in our shop! Revolutions is open two days a week for repairs and services: Every Thursday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and every Sunday from 2-5 p.m. If you would be interested in helping us repair bicycles as a volunteer, we would love to have you. Contact Anthony at or 901.949.1201 for more information.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Don't ride too fast tomorrow--

Or at least, if you do ride fast, hold your breath!

From the National Weather Service



Common sense rules in sharing road

This was published in the CA letters to the editor section today:

Common sense rules in sharing road

The bicycle is often my means of getting to work, school, the theater and church. I can stop by putting my foot to the ground if my brakes fail at 10 miles per hour. I can see, hear and sometimes smell cars approaching. I don't have a radio, cell phone, beverage or children to distract me.

I regularly travel on Linden Avenue, one of the few thoroughfares actually wide enough to accommodate bicycles. Yet drivers seem insistent on making it a four-lane road. (Sometimes there are even three cars side by side headed west at the intersection with Pauline Street.) The bicycle has been a means of transportation since the late 18th century, yet some drivers seem to think that cyclists ought to be put on reservations.

Comparing bicycle laws to motor vehicle laws is complicated. Common sense tells us that bicycles are permitted in many places cars are not and vice versa. However, in answer to the writer of your July 10 letter "Cyclists have responsibilities, too," my only problem with stopping at a four-way stop is that if I arrive at the intersection first and come to a complete stop, guess who thinks they have the right of way? Yep, the driver, who usually didn't come to a complete stop. Rolling on through an intersection, if it's clear, seems to be less annoying to all parties.

Ron Gephart


Monday, July 14, 2008

WREG-TV Memphis - Man to serve 8 years in prison for bicyclist death

MARYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - An eastern Tennessee man has been sentenced to eight years in prison in the death of a bicyclist.

Tommy Lee Carroll pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide in the 2006 death of Jeffrey Roth and was sentenced Monday in Blount County Circuit Court.

The 48-year-old Friendsville man struck Roth while he was riding on U.S. 321 near Maryville.

Carroll's attorney, Steve Ward, says his client may have been suffering a seizure at the time of the accident. Carroll was not taking prescribed medicine to prevent seizures because he could not afford it.

Life Cycles: Time has never been better for cycling

By Anthony Siracusa

Monday, July 14, 2008

About 30 years ago, Lewis O'Kelly started riding his bike to work.

By car, it took 15 minutes, he spent another 15 minutes finding a parking space and then needed 10 more minutes to walk from his car to Manning Hall at the University of Memphis, where he taught physics for 34 years.

The entire affair took 15 minutes on the bike. "I've been near-frozen and almost drowned. I've done the trip when it was 10 degrees. It got easier over time, but the problem was I kept getting older." Now 76, O'Kelly doesn't ride anymore. He had one knee replaced years ago, and the other one continues to give him problems. Though he no longer spends time on the bike, O'Kelly remains a passionate cyclist.

His love of cycling in Memphis grew after joining the Memphis Hightailers in 1983. He started riding as many as 50 miles a week. He rode everywhere on a bike, and spent his free time on the weekends riding with the Hightailers.

"It's nothing to get from East Memphis to Downtown on a bicycle," he says. He and the Hightailers would ride a still frequently used "East-West Passage" from Audubon Park to the river. "We rode in Raleigh and Frayser, and even had a route down McLemore all the way to Martin Luther King Jr. Park."

Riding bicycles is as much about socializing and building relationships as it is working out and burning calories. O'Kelly remembers that his friend Charles Finney encouraged him to stay in the saddle. "Charlie would ride by my house at 6 a.m. and whistle just to make me feel guilty for lying there."

Finney, who I knew as "Mr. Bicycle" during my early days as a Memphis bicycle mechanic, founded the Memphis Hightailers in 1963. Finney has been cycling since at least 1938, when he was hired to work as a delivery man for Western Union. He was riding his bike everywhere anyway, so why not get paid for it? After starting a family, Finney put the bike away for awhile, only to find his love for cycling was rekindled after a ride to Sardis Lake with his son in the 1950s.

When Finney founded The Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club, it was a resource for bicyclists. In the 1960s, only one bicycle shop was operating in Memphis and riders had to help one another plan routes, find equipment and complete repairs. The foam bicycle helmet common to our time had not even been invented.

O'Kelly and Finney are in the company of more than a century of bicycle commuters. While bicycling is nothing new in Memphis, today more Memphians are looking to the bike as they look away from the gas pump.

The gas crisis actually offers Memphians an opportunity. O'Kelly and Finney fell in love with riding when bikes were heavy and a comfort bike was an oxymoron. Today, the equipment is better than ever, we have actual helmets, and in Memphis it is possible to take back roads almost everywhere.

In fact, though Memphians have been bicycling for decades, the time has never been better to be on a bike.

Memphian Anthony Siracusa is a student at Rhodes College, a member of Memphis' Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, executive director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop and a daily cycling commuter. Contact him at

Your turn

Got a comment for cyclist Anthony Sircusa? Have something to say about biking in Memphis? Do you commute by bicycle to work? Share your story.

Go to our Healthy Memphis blog at and join the conversation.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

At the bike lane meeting

Kinda boring so far... nice ac, though.
sent via Treo

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Let's Roll--- CBHS, tomorrow!

Let’s roll to CBHS!

Tomorrow night (Thursday) at CBHS there will be a meeting regarding the installation of bike lanes on parts of Shady Grove Rd and on Brierview.

The meeting is at Christian Brothers High School at 6:30 pm. City officials and engineers will be there.

Some of us will ride our bikes to the meeting. Here are some options for you to pick from if you want to ride with others.

From east Memphis, cyclists will gather at the Super Lo parking lot at 5:45 or so, with a roll out no later than 6 pm. We’ll try to stay together so we arrive together. The pace won’t be fast. It is only 4 miles or so to CBHS from Super Lo. Mountain bikes, commuter bikes, recumbents, fixies, and even high dollar road bikes are all welcome to join in this bike caravan.

From Midtown, there is a ride organized by the cyclists at Revolutions. The ride will leave from Revolutions (First Congregational Church, 1000 S. Cooper) at 5:15 p.m. in order to make it to the meeting by the start time of 6:30 p.m.

Or, if you just roll down Shady Grove, my guess is that you will eventually hook up with someone else going to the ride.

By the way, headlights are required by TN law after dark, and they really increase your visibility. And, a red rear blinky taillight is a must after dark. Helmets are a smart choice, too.

I don’t know anything about bike parking at the meeting – I don’t think they’ll have valet bike parking—thus we might need 5-10 minutes to lock up or otherwise secure the bikes. Some might prefer to freshen up, especially if it is 95 degrees like it has been lately.

Hope to see a lot of y'all there!

Cliff H.




attachment cycling - Tom Z

Memphis Critical Mass

Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club