Bike Friendly Road? You Decide

Over the past few days, I’ve been mulling over that whole idea of bike friendliness in Nashville. The commute route I have chosen (my secret back ways, as Dottie said) is quite bike-friendly, so I do my best to stick to those roads and not get on a street where I feel at risk. In my neighborhood, I can do that—crossing town, during peak traffic periods, it’s a little more difficult, which was why I was in my car yesterday afternoon.

While looking at the beautiful blue sky and wishing I’d been able to bike (an evening drive in traffic is just horrible when you’re used to biking, but being in a convertible does help) I spotted two cyclists on a road I usually avoid when on my bike. Though Wedgewood is a more direct route to my office, I won’t ride on it between 8th and 21st. The massive amounts of traffic (by Nashville standards, anyway), the hills that slow you down and create blind spots for drivers, and the fact that two people I know have been hit by cars while biking here keep me away.

That did not dissuade these two guys. Would you bike this road?

Brave or foolhardy?

Brave or foolhardy?

You’ve got to love the “Bike Route” sign here. I suppose it’s nice but on a road like this, you need more than a sign to make it bike-friendly!

Then I spotted a guy to my left riding on the sidewalk in the opposite direction of traffic.

He's hiding behind the pole. I too fear minivans.

He's hiding behind the pole. I too fear minivans.

Perhaps deciding there’s safety in numbers, sidewalk safety guy rode across the crosswalk while the light was red and joined adventure man in climbing up the hill.

The dynamic duo. Who's afraid of cars and rush hour traffic?

The dynamic duo. Who's afraid of cars and rush hour traffic?

I’m not sure this car was observing the 3-foot rule.

Look THROUGH the back window to see the yellow shirt guy.

Look THROUGH the back window to see the yellow shirt guy.

Sidewalk safety man turned off somewhere on Belmont, but white shirt guy continued merrily along until about 14th Ave., where he inexplicably got off the road and onto the sidewalk.

Not knowing their departure points or destinations, it’s hard to say if they could have chosen a different route. Certainly cyclists being more visible, and staking out their right to the road, is a good thing. But though I’ve been increasing my comfort zone and traveling to new places, I’m not sure I have the balls to back up traffic for blocks and put up with increased risk (and hills!) to bike a street like Wedgewood. So what do you think? Would you bike this road, or would you go a couple of blocks out of the way to avoid one like it? And if you are white shirt or safety man, say hi. :)

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42 thoughts on “Bike Friendly Road? You Decide

  1. anna says:

    If I look at the pictures than I have to say that I would totally cycle on that road. I ride on roads in Vienna that are even more busy. Although of course you must ride in the middle of your lane to not be overtaken or overlooked, something that these guys probably don’t do right (but it’s hard to judge as I only see the pictures, so I won’t). What about the speed limit? Doesn’t seem too high either (at least not with that much of traffic).
    But well, side roads are better since they are quieter and less stressful, I totally agree on that. Most of the times I just have the problem that I would be too slow if I only cycle on them. And the paving generally is much worse and not so much fun to ride on.

  2. Trisha says:

    Anna, you are hardcore. :) The speed limit is 40 mph, but people are often going faster, especially right at the crest of that hill when traffic usually breaks up some and things are no longer stop and go. The guys were not taking the whole lane.

    Maybe my almost complete avoidance of main roads is why I am not a speedy cyclist! It’s true that when I’m riding with traffic, I am much faster (I do ride on this road, but only after 21st, where it’s flatter, visibility is better traffic seems to be slower).

    • anna says:

      Ok, 40 mph is quite a lot. In Vienna we have 50 km/h (which is 31 mph). Most drivers don’t respect that either, but generally people probably go slower. And our drivers are slightly more used to cyclists on the road. But even if you cycle there, it’s not really much fun. I can see that.
      By the way, we also have bike routes marked like that (without actual bicycle infrastructure), pretty useless such signs as people in cars don’t spot them anyway cause they are too small.

  3. There are different point of view on this. Personally, I am scared to death of large busy roads and would not ride them unless there is a designated cycle path. I especially do not have the nerves to do the “take the whole lane” thing at this stage. So I prefer side streets.

    But several of my friends who cycle have criticised this, claiming that I am more likely to get hurt on side streets, due to a false sense of security and insufficient vigilance. They believe that the safest thing is to go on main roads and take up the entire width of the right lane — this way there is no ambiguity.

    I understand this argument, but I am not convinced: What about curves on the road hills? I can totally imagine a car not seeing a cyclist and hitting them from behind because they could not slow down in time!

    • Doohickie says:

      But several of my friends who cycle have criticised this, claiming that I am more likely to get hurt on side streets, due to a false sense of security and insufficient vigilance.

      That sounds like BS to me.

      If I rode on that road I would definitely take the lane. It doesn’t look like enough room for safe passing.

  4. CJ says:

    I wouldn’t ride that road. I wouldn’t say that they’re foolish for doing so, but definitely much braver than I am.

  5. What is safe? I say as long as you are visible, riding with traffic AND wearing a helmet you are safe. My biggest bike commuting accidents have been on “peaceful” back streets and on a bike path. Riding in traffic is about confidence and being a little bit crazy. I like splitting lanes and zipping around in traffic though. But you gotta have eyes in the back of your head or an uncanny sixth sense. Riding in traffic is’nt for everyone.

  6. Dean Peddle says:

    Trisha, I think as you become more experienced this road won’t scare you as much. I’m with Anna and would have no problem commuting on this road. I’m surprised you said the speed limit is so high cause it looks like a down town area and with all the cars in the way it doesn’t look like they can go that fast. In city streets I find it easier cause the speed of the cars are lower so I never have any fear. If that was a full blown highway then I would feel differently. But Anna is right about taking your lane and knowing how to handle a road like that. posted some youTube links a few months back about commuting in traffic in California which were really good. Maybe Ghostrider will chime in and post the links.

    • Trisha says:

      I guess I should clarify: I would ride it if I had to, but there are so many other (and to my mind, better) ways of getting around town. As Lovely Bicycle said, there are some hill/curve combos on this stretch of road that would make it difficult for cars to see you even if you are taking up the whole lane (that’s the way one of my friends got hit). And since 90% of the people I pass seem to be on their cell phones, it doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in their reaction time. There are roads with traffic that I feel capable of riding on; this isn’t one of them.

      (Of course, it’s hard for you guys to tell all that from a few pictures…)

  7. evie says:

    The thing that amazes me about the pictures is the beautiful quality of the roads. Riding on a road like this, even in traffic, is a breeze compared to trying to do the same thing on the shameful roads in Chicago. I always say — it’s not the traffic as much as the giant potholes… if you try to avoid them, you could get hit. If you don’t, your tires are not long for this world.

    • sarah says:

      yeah i spend a scary amount of time have to just watch the stretch of pavement immediately in front of me for the pot holes every 18 inches and giant shards of glass. frankly some designated bike routes in Chicago are kind of a wasteland when it comes to road quality.

    • Trisha says:

      You’re right, we’re lucky in that regard. I guess the milder winters and lower traffic volume mean roads last longer.

  8. These are the types of roads that people do get killed on. The cars are going very fast and there is no protection of any kind for bikes. I would ride it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It sure would not be the part of my bike ride that I would look forward to. Our city does that lame “bike route sign” without a bike lane. That means that this city is recommending that cyclist ride on this street. As for taking the lane. That works better when the cars aren’t going 40+. You’re asking to get creamed by the carphonie texting xxxoooxxx.

    Look at all that space for cars and pedestrians. And none for cylcist(except the gutter!). Looks like they need apply some traffic calming stategies. How about narrowing those car lanes and building a bike lane next to the sidewalk? At least they should paint a bike lane.

  9. Rich says:

    I commute everyday through this same part of town. I think we live in the same general area. I commute from the Melrose area (near the Melrose Pub) to the L&C Tower downtown. I generally stay away from Wedgewood. There are enough smaller connector streets in the area to avoid the hassle. To me it’s not completely a safety thing but more of a stress while riding thing. I go through the intersection in your pictures everyday, but I’m crossing wedgewood in a bike lane headed down music row. I would rather ride a little longer and have a peaceful low stress ride on side streets.

    On the times I want to ride over to the Vandy area or further that I still take back streets and enjoy the ride more. There is no reason to invite a bike/car interaction when you don’t have to.

    • Trisha says:

      Hi Rich! Yep, sounds like we are neighbors. I am guessing after you leave Music Row, you take Demonbruen and then go up one of the numbered avenues to get to your building? I have a friend who works near there who’s been considering bike commuting.

      • Rich says:

        Yeah, Demonbruen down to 8th then down to Church St. The bike lane ends and Cummins Station so at that point I become a car and go with traffic. In the downtown area you can easily keep up with traffic since there are so many stops and lights. I’ve found that I have to stay away from the right side of the lane and just ride down the middle of my lane like a car. If you stay on the side, folks will try to squeeze by you. That’s when you get clipped by a mirror or bumper. Also since there are sidewalks, curbs, and stormdrains downtown you have no where to escape to. It’s worked out fine and had no problems over the past 3 to 4 years that I’ve been riding to work.

  10. I ride roads like this daily in front of my home, but I am completely comfortable with taking the lane. There is more than one lane on this road, so drivers can pass without a problem. I am also really comfortable with giving the back off signal- left arm out, palm back, fingers splayed. It works very well to get people to give more space.

    I think one of the things that cyclists need to get past is feeling badly about slowing others down. Many cyclists actually feel like they are in the way. We don’t feel that way about older people or children when they are slower, we should give ourselves that courtesy.

    • Trisha says:

      A very good point, Adrienne. I have been trying to remind myself of this. (And thanks for the signal description—hadn’t seen that one!)

  11. Greyhound says:

    Whether to ride that particular road would depend upon whether a better route existed. If not, sure, I’d do it. But if you ride a road like that, act like a vehicle, which actually, you are. Get smack dab in the middle of the outside lane, making absolutely clear that you expect overtaking traffic to exit the lane to go around you. Likewise, when you come up to a traffic light, don’t start passing cars on the right to get to the front. Take the lane, wait in line, and help prevent the “right hook” type accident.

  12. Jen says:

    Although I try to avoid busy roads whenever possible, I used to ride a road in Florida that was similar to this one. Speed limit 45 mph. The key is to take the lane especially when approaching intersections. If you stay to the right as the guy in the picture,you are setting yourself up for an accident. Cars turning right won’t even realize you’re there if you want to go straight. I stay slightly to the right so traffic can flow and as I approach a light or intersection, I look in my mirror, wait my turn, merge into traffic and fully take my place in the lane. Once I’m through, I move toward the right again. I think it takes a certain amount of confidence to really claim your place on the road. I act as though I am a vehicle most of the time but I also show courtesy to drivers to allow them to pass. Sidewalks almost scare me worse because cars pulling out of businesses don’t expect you to be there.

  13. sarah says:

    I think we have to redefine “friendly”. Backroads aren’t “bike friendly,” they’re just not very busy. You wouldn’t say your neighbor was “friendly” if you never saw him and the few times you did, he didn’t say “hi.” Same with roads. Bike friendly roads should be neighborly. They should be convenient, safe, and take you where you want to go efficiently. That means dedicated bike lanes, respectful drivers (no double parking, reduced chance of dooring or people swerving into the lane), safe car speeds. Otherwise roads are just bike neutral; not overly averse.

    • Trisha says:

      Eh, I consider my neighbors friendly as long as they don’t do aerobics over my bedroom…but I see your point. Back roads are not intentionally friendly, but I do consider most wide roads with little curbside parking and low traffic volume to be bike friendly whether that is their intention or not. But it would be wonderful to have more purposefully bike friendly routes like the ones you’re describing.

  14. kim says:

    i live less than a mile from the spot in Trisha’s photo, and i don’t generally ride Wedgewood if I can avoid it. i will cross Wedgewood to go down music row, just as Rich does, but i generally go back roads instead of riding on Wedgewood if i can help it. yesterday, after i left work (by bike), i went over to the wine shop on 12th to get a bottle of wine (the nitto hourglass shaped bottle cage holds a bottle of wine very nicely). on my way home, i realized i would be holding traffic up if i sat in the middle of the road waiting to turn left on my street (it was rush hour on 12th), so i went past my street, made a right turn and circled back.

    at home later, thinking about the ride, i chided myself for not ‘taking the lane’ and waiting my turn to turn left. it hit me that if i’d been in my car, i’d not have thought twice about turning left (while others waited behind me).

    i say this to say Adrienne’s correct that i often ‘feel bad’ about making people wait (if i’m on the bike), whereas, if i were in my car, i’d not think about it at all. if we cyclists obey the rules of the roa and ride responsibly, we have just as much right to the road as the folks ‘riding’ automobiles. i’ll keep telling myself this!

    the more we take our rightful place, the faster folks will get used to us and will accept our presence on the roads.

  15. Charlie says:

    This is the only type of road I could bike commute on, and that’s why I haven’t attempted it yet. The speed limit is 40 mph but 50 mph is the normal speed.

  16. dottie says:

    I totally agree with those saying that a cyclist would have to take the lane on a road like this. I take the lane when I need to in Chicago. But I can’t help thinking that a cyclist taking the lane on Wedgewood in Nashville would have several people honk at her and some people whip around her dangerously – enough to make her blood pressure rise during each commute. Am I judging Nashvillians too harshly? I don’t know, I lived there for three years and can see this happening because most drivers don’t think bikes belong on the road.

  17. I would and would not ride the road you have pictured.

    To me it all depends on how I feel, the weather, debris near the curb, the traffic volume, the time of day, or if I get a “funny feeling” that I should not ride on that street. Oh yes – if you ever feel that feeling don’t ignore since it may save you from whatever that feeling could be. I know, I know sounds crazy – but I get that feeling every now and then and I am extra careful.

    I am sure every city has a road like that – busy during the peak hours. I have a street like that and every morning I do not ride on the street since the direction I go is East, in direction of the rising sun so I have that going against me meaning the same side traffic are going the speed limit, with sunglass on perhaps (or not and squinting and or using one hand to block out the rising sun), some women perhaps putting on last minute make up, teenagers and yes older people texting, drinking, eating, waking up, etc. I know for a fact I have those things against me as a biker making my way on the street. I am not going to play the odds nor tempt the biking gods. I also will not ride into the vehicles lane’s on a heavy street traffic since that is more likely going to piss off someone that morning – I stay as far right to the curb as I can.

    However, Sunday/Saturday mornings and after the morning and evening rush hour I will ride in the street. Heck, I am fast enough to be in line with other vehicles so I ride in the lane as a regular motorized vehicle.

    But then again those time I will ride on the sidewalk. States, towns, cities have ordinances for riding or not being able to ride on the sidewalk so take heed. Even if I could not legallly ride a bike on the sidewalk I still would for safety, though I would not make that a common thing for me. And yes I would not scare or intimidate a pedistrian should I meet on the sidewalk. The pedistrians have the right of way.

    I would find another route to bike on. After all, the world is full of side streets and better to be safe than sorry on a heavy volume road, street, Blvd, circle, avenue, etc.

    P.S. even being in a bike lane is not safe – and this article was on one of my alternate “safe” routes that I bike ride on in the Denver suburbs –

    A teenager who was text messaging when he lost control of his vehicle and struck and killed a cyclist has pleaded guilty to careless driving causing death, reports The Denver Channel.
    “District attorney spokeswoman Kathleen Walsh said the 17-year-old was sentenced to four years probation. He will not be allowed to operate a motor vehicle or possess a cell phone during that time.
    The teen will be in home detention, be required to wear an ankle bracelet, and serve nine days in jail. The teen must also perform 300 hours of community service, pay $2,600 in fines and court costs.”

    Sorry for the long comment and I hope not too boring


    • Dean Peddle says:

      Great comment….you are not alone. I find myself doing the same things on certain types of roads. On the same road I will sometimes ride the sidewalk and on other days I will ride in the road…..because just like you said….It’s the way I feel that day.

  18. Sooncheol says:

    i definitely would ride on that road.
    it’s all about how we treat ourselves and our bikes. a bike on the road should be treated same as any other vehicles on the road. and cyclist should act as a driver of the vehicle.
    we just need to take the lane and control the lane. either in a car or on a bike on the road, you are still vulnerable. people get a false sense of security in a car and reality is thousands of people die in their well protected vehicles in traffic accidents.
    i ride a road bike on 2 lane highway with speed limit 70 miles and no shoulders in rural Oklahoma. i just focus on shifting and pedaling. all i can do is i drive mine(bike) responsiblily and hope others will do the same with their multi- thousand lb vehicles. not much i can do about their driving.
    i strongly believe we need better driver education than any other bike infrastructure such as bike lanes. ANY UNRESTRICTED ROAD IS A BIKE LANE.

  19. Jessica says:

    Ooh riding on Wedgewood is my nightmare – heck I try to avoid having to drive my car there at rush hour! There are quite a few intersections I can think of where whipping out around the backed up turn lane is common practice, and drivers don’t look to see if there is a bike taking the lane like it should. I think those of you saying the bike should ride in the full lane on large roads are completely right, but I want to second Dottie – Nashville drivers don’t really have a clue when it comes to that. Wedgewood and Edgehill are the only streets that run directly from my neighborhood to campus, and I always opted for Edgehill (but pretty much only in daylight). Even then I had a driver lean across her passenger seat to roll down the window and yell “Get off the road!!” I think generally the north-south roads (Music row, 12th south, Belmont) are more bike friendly – at least the painted bike lanes remind drivers the whole way that someone might be riding a bike on the street.

  20. Trisha says:

    Redhook, good point about weekends being different.

    Dottie & Jess, no one honked at them that day, but it would not be surprising at all. I got honked at the other day on 12th Ave. for taking the lane to turn left. Not sure what the driver expected me to do to avoid inconveniencing him/her…

  21. susancyclist says:

    I’ve ridden a lot of streets in Nashville (even straight down Broad) but not Wedgewood. Generally, as Rich says, if there is a parallel street I’ll take that.

    I would also point out that the riders pictured are on faster, mor agile bikes. That makes a difference also

  22. tsalyards says:

    Nope. Wouldn’t go near it based on the pic.

  23. Dean Peddle says:

    I have a story of opposites for you. On my bike route home….not the same types of roads as in the photo but I’ve always opted to take the back side roads instead of the major highway road for just like your original post said….take the “less” travelled road. Now mind you this is in the country but after many years of building houses the busy highway road added many street lights and traffic is a little more congested so all these cars have ventured onto my side roads (don’t these people know I own them :) ). So anyways, I was riding home the other night and said to myself “you guys have pissed me off riding on MY back roads so what the heck…..I’m going to piss you off now and ride on your busy highway and slow you down”. Funny thing was it was a lot more enjoyable because the busy highway is so congested now that the cars are going slower and the road is actually wider so I think I’m going to stay on this road all the time now :)

    Great post Trisha… a lot of action !!! I think you hit a cord in lot of people.

  24. Darren Alff says:

    I too would ride this road. I’d cycle any road as long as it was legal. When you are commuting day after day then it’s easy to find out what the best paths are, but when touring or exploring someplace new, the only way you find the best paths are by riding the bad ones. You don’t really get to decide, “Should I go down this street or try to find an alternative route?” You simply come across a new street and go for it! When touring, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a road I intended to travel and then changed my mind because of traffic. I just sucked it up, rode defensively, and mustered my way through it.

  25. Zweiradler says:

    “Sidewalk safety man”? Your made-up names are hilarious. :D I would try to find another route. That road looks too bad for (relaxed) cycling.


  26. Sox says:

    While I am not the least bit hardcore, I don’t think that road looks too bad. It seems to be quite wide and in good repair. I usually try to avoid heavy traffic so I may stay off it for that reason.
    I would be thrilled if that road were an option here compared to the condition of some of the streets which I cannot avoid, I suspect the wide range of temperatures (-40 to ~+40) would play havoc with any paved surface.
    It looks like a lovely place to live.

  27. Karen says:

    Hmmm… that road really looks congested. Maybe I’d love the challenge but not until I had a real sense of the usual traffic conditions and the route. During the summer in Flagstaff, Milton Avenue is much less congested than from fall through winter. Since I am usually on the road between 6:15 and 6:30 there are far fewer cars. Still I only stay on Milton as short a time as possible. I take a short cut that runs parallel as soon as it is available. I pretty much try to stick to streets with bike paths, the urban trail system, and narrower roads with less through traffic. Most American drivers still have a way to go in sharing the road since most of the them don’t pedal anywhere to speak of. And to be honest I have a way to go with my own skills on my bike. Good topic.

  28. Steve A says:

    The KEY is the third picture down. Look how all the cars are moving over to make room while passing white & yellow shirt guys, and the left lane is leaving room for the motorists to move further. Drivers do this routinely to avoid crunching into all kinds of things, not just cyclists.

    White (and yellow) shirt guy is taking a chance, however. Sooner or later, some driver may misjudge things or be distracted and not notice him, not move over, and clip him. The rider would be safer and better off, as would the motorists passing him, if he were riding further left to help them realize EARLY that they need to move over, lessening THEIR lane change risk.

    I don’t recommend you start out riding further left all on this road at once. Try it when traffic’s light & work your way up as you learn the finer points of helping the other traffic do the right thing.

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