Nashville is known for many things: country music, Southern gentility, comfort food, and Nicole Kidman sightings. Cycling is not among these distinctions.
When people speak of bike friendly cities in the US, they speak of Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Boulder, Davis, San Francisco, Madison, and Chicago. I am quick to extol the virtues of Chicago’s efforts to promote cycling. Does it follow that Chicago is bike friendly? Usually I think so, at least for North America, but riding in the chaotic and congested city is often stressful and occasionally scary.
Back to Nashville. In contrast to Chicago, there are very few efforts to accommodate cycling. Maybe three bike lanes, virtually no bike parking, barely any other cyclists, and a population that never considers cycling as transportation. When riding around in a car, the roads are intimidating and crowded with fast traffic. Does it follow that Nashville is not bike friendly? Not so fast. During my visit last weekend for our friend’s wedding, I had an eye-opening experience. Once I got on a bike and followed Trisha around to brunch and a couple of shops, taking her secret back routes, it hit me that Nashville can be great for cycling.
The secondary streets are totally peaceful, with very little traffic and practically no parallel parking (the bane of my Chicago cycling existence). Cars give a ridiculous amount of room when they pass, perhaps not knowing what to do with a bike on the road. Finally, although not nearly as dense as Chicago, the distance from place to place is not so bad.
I always wear my helmet in Chicago and I was really surprised by how safe and comfortable I felt riding around Nashville without one (let’s not debate helmets right now, m’kay). Granted, I rode on a Sunday and I know it’s not always so peaceful, but the experience made me rethink what I consider a bike friendly city. The main ingredient missing in Nashville is people cycling (and boy does Trisha stand out with her flowing hair and flapping skirts!).
So what do you all think? Do you consider your city bike friendly and what makes you say “yes” or “no?”