Thursday, October 22, 2009

The South Will Ride Again?

via The Bike Blog Book

Why are all the cities with high ridership up North? Just about all of these cities are plagued by overcast skies, profuse rain, frigid temperatures, and even snow (gasp and clutch the pearls) in the winter. I read in a pop psychology book about the "Yankee self"--a less self-involved frame of mind that's more focused on things greater than itself--but I just shrugged it off as the author's bias. Are we Southerners more decadent than our Northern neighbors? After all, we did give the world Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Little Debbie's. On the other hand, we're probably the largest consumers of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Little Debbie's so we should be among the early adopters of utility cycling in North America. On a positive note, we have more than bearable conditions for riding in Fall and Winter--ample sunshine and milder temperatures. Another plus, we like to be flamboyant (we coined the term, "bling," and we're overly fond of gold teeth). At this stage in its development, cycling in North America will probably get you as much attention as a monster truck or a mullet, but these monstrosities outnumber bicycles at the local strip mall by huge numbers.*

We also have gastronomic incentives. Many of our traditional foods are perfectly respectable, they just get a bad rap because everybody's wide butt is taken as evidence to the contrary. We know that most of us don't have deeper fryers in our homes and that a cast iron skillet and a modest amount of oil suffices for fried catfish, fried chicken, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, etc. Moreover, we're not frying everything all the time. With the proper amount of exercise (even if that includes riding to your local seafood or chicken shack once in a while), you can regain a healthy figure and tell all those nay-saying nutritionists to kiss your grits.

Additionally, we are widely reputed to be polite. Unlike other American motorists, Southerners tend to act like they have some home-training behind the wheel. I can count on one hand the number of times I've heard a car horn in Atlanta (where you'd expect a lot of exasperation). Oftentimes, the car horn is used for the staccato "toot toot" of recognition and greeting drivers give people on the street. I've already touched on my concern that many Southerners will interpret hand signals as a friendly wave. Hopefully, cyclists will benefit from these good manners on the streets--they may not get a wave or a toot, but perhaps they won't get the finger.

* I can make such a joke because I'm part of the family, so to speak. Do not attempt if you're not from the South. You may irritate natives or, worse, get them heated. This may result in the offender being blessed out. (This will sound nothing like anything you have ever heard from a member of the clergy).


2whls3spds said...

Interesting commentary. Having ridden in several of the northern cities and a few of the southern cities, there is almost no comparison. I have not ridden in the Atlanta area, but I have in Mobile, Charleston, Savannah and a few smaller ones.

The cycling infrastructure in places like Minneapolis and Iowa City is phenomenal and growing every year. We have little to none of that in the south, and while it is not a prerequisite for cycling it certainly makes it more enjoyable.

Unfortunately the part of the south I live in has had a huge influx of driver's from other areas of the country and world; they have yet to learn how to behave properly on the roads, which due to funding cuts are getting more crowded and in poorer shape every year.

But at least we can ride most of the year!


RidingPretty said...

Your observations are so wry and funny. Seriously only one southern to another can ever really know the gut feeling 'whys and wherefores' of what makes one want to ride a bike. I wish I could jump in and offer possible anecdotal theories, oh but I can't. I did live in the South (Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky,North Carolina) from the ages of 3 to 13 years old. What fond memories of riding my bike as a child!

Anyway what a thoughtful piece. Maybe there is a funded study going on and already in place? I know these kinds of studies happen here in CA. I've researched /requested the results of these studies when when made available to the public. Maybe you could look into it in your area and neighboring southern states? Just a thought.

2whls3spds said...

@Riding Pretty

I am southern by birth (Long Beach, CA) spent my early years all over the midwest and moved to NC in the early 70's and have been here ever since. I was recently appalled to discover that my local DOT (Department of Transportation) district was spending ZERO dollars on anything pedestrian or cycling related. I sent an email to the local funding coordinator and got a canned reply in response. I am sending a genuine letter requesting a more detailed explanation. The largest town to the south of me, has a population base of over 122,000 in a county of around 306,000. They have ZERO cycling infrastructure, and no plans that I can discover to address the problem. There is one sort of an MUP that runs along the river from one park to another, but you have to drive to get to it.

Much room for improvement! I have also spent the past few years working in the Charleston, SC area, they are making huge inroads over the past year or so, even to the point that there will be a major car free street closing in the downtown historic area. Two thumbs up!


RidingPretty said...

Is it only some local DOTs that are so non responsive?, or does it get any better at the State level? So nobody is funding any studies let alone actual $$$ improvements for creating a better cycling pedestrian infrastructure?
Thumbs up for closing down the street in the historic district of Charleston!!!
No wonder there is a Charleston Cycle Chic blog with interesting cycle chic activity to report!

2whls3spds said...

@Riding Pretty,

There are multiple Divisions in the NC DOT 10 IIRC. County road maintenance was taken over by the state back in the 1930's. Other divisions are spending money on cycle and pedestrian infrastructure, just not the one I live in. However it is still a joke. They are spending $400,000 which is a fraction of a percentage point of the total budget of $4billion. There has been a state level bicycle coordinator for years, I have not met the current one, but the last one quit after his budget was continuously being slashed.

Unfortunately this state still funds sprawl, any time and every time anything to do with mass transit or pedestrian/cycling facilities comes up for vote it gets turned down. But they continue to build 12 lane roads and bridges to "ease congestion".

I suspect eventually they will wake up, but it may be to late by then.


The Bronze Bombshell said...

Aaron: That's the thing that amazes me about the lack of bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure in the South--the weather would allow us to get tons of use out of (if it existed). It's great that Charleston is going to get some car-free space. I bet that will foster tourism and perhaps when people return home (to other Southern destinations) they will want the same thing for their town.

I feel your pain on the "congestion-easing" road construction. Officials around here don't understand the importance of alternative transportation at all. Clayton County is even going so far as to
discontinue their public transit service
due to budget constraints. If they think they're budget is wrecked now, wait until they see what happens when a significant amount of their citizens can't go to work and businesses in the county start to lose man hours and income.

Riding Pretty: Thanks for the compliment. You have a really interesting idea about seeking out studies on the subject. I'll definitely look into that. And it's so funny that you mention Charleston Cycle Chic because I just saw that blog last Friday or so. I'm all about supporting my fellow Southern chic cyclist since we seem to be such a rare breed.

Christa said...

Fascinating post - great historical and cultural commentary.

I imagine that just one bike-friendly city (ie Charleston) in the region could inspire other cities in the region. It just takes time to spread.

My narrative is a perfect example: I experienced the bicycle lifestyle while living in a bike-friendly city during college. It changed my attitude toward urban cycling - and now I'm addicted to cycling.

My theory is that urban cyclists and bike-friendly cities are, or will become over time, more socially attractive (a mark of health).

Also, I hear that New Orleans has a lot of chic cyclists. Where's the New Orleans Cycle Chic blog?

The Bronze Bombshell said...

Christa: Thanks for the compliment! I hope that you're right about the slow-working allure of bike-friendly cities. I guess the effects of a slow bicycle movement aren't exactly what you'd call, "fast-acting."

I don't think there is a fashion-specific cycle chic NOLA blog, but Kate takes the most engaging photos of the city of New Orleans from here bike on the blog, "What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today."

Anonymous said...

I loved bikes since childhood. Now at middle age still have 3 bikes and ride them in South Florida over the Okeechobee Lake LOST Trail like 120 miles a week at least. I wonder exactly the same as you said. Logic tells me that South climate is a blessing for biking; however, it seems that the cold north is more smart tan us on that, and they are building bike-roads, etc.

As another pointed here in the South there is zero cycling infrastructure and no plans that we can discover to address the problem. It is a pity because bikes do nothing but good + good, and good.

Found this site by chance as I lived a couple of yrs in Atlanta.

Courtnee said...

ARG: Welcome to the party! I'm glad you found me.

I think that Northern city governments seem to be full of people who want to make their mark and innovators--like the people who move to/live in Northern cities. Southern cities attract people who want to be comfortable or be who they really are, especially here in the gayest city in America. I hear more about voting on Sunday alcohol sales than infrastructure. We're more concerned about social issues and I think our mayors tend to be charmers and coalition-builders rather than visionaries. There are a lot of sharp folks living in Southern cities though. I think there's growing public will for smart solutions so it's only a matter of time before we get mayors with charm and vision. (I'm influenced a lot by this article).

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