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.
Which leads me to put on my Dr. Phil face and say what has to be said: It's time for Memphis and Shelby County to start seeing other people. We've tried for years to patch things up, to come to some sort of mutual understanding, but we need to admit that we have irreconcilable differences. We don't even know each other any more ...