Thursday, October 22, 2009

Re: Value DNA

Over on Pedal Power, Anthony has a post quoting someone that claims that Americans (and British) have a different "Value DNA" when it comes to things like Bikes, and that this is the main reason there hasn't been/won't be a culture shift in the direction of a more bike-friendly society.

While I think Anthony does a good job of responding to this, I have to say, in Memphis at least, I have to at least partially agree with the Value DNA Theory. It isn't that it's wrong to say that Political Will is required to increase ridership; it's just that this willpower has to stem from the people, and Memphians in general don't seem to really WANT more bikes on the road.

It seems that in Memphis, many people have a bit of a stigma with respect to Bicycles. Sure, people can ride them for transportation, but when people have a choice, they'll use a car. That belabored guy riding his clunker on the sidewalk would rather be rollin' in a caddy any day. While utilitarian at times, bikes are usually seen as either (at best) a novelty or (at worst) a nuisance.

On the novelty side are the people that simply gape and exclaim, "Y'all are ridin' bicycles?" While not as overtly hurtful as the people that curse and swerve at you, they still carry the undertone of, What the fuck are you crazy kids doin'? with heavy emphasis on the kids part. Once, upon rolling up to a convenience store around one in the morning, I was met not only with the typical incredulousness, but the clerk out and out said, "Man, you guys are young." And here's the kicker - he was 24! For the record, I'm 25 myself. Yet because we rode bicycles he assumed we had to be younger than him. While some may see that as a sort of compliment, it implies much more than youthfulness; to me, it implies that we can't be taken seriously.

And then, of course, there are those that honk/swear/try to hit you simply for being on the road. Nothing more really needs to be said about them. They're uneducated, yes. But more to the point, they're actively hostile to bikers, who they see as encroaching upon their turf. Just last night, while we stopped to get some beers, someone actually said without the least provocation they'd run over our bikes on purpose if we weren't there watching them. Double-you tee eff!

To sum up, Memphians attitudes need to change before there can be any social change with regards to bicycles. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that this attitude is as entrenched as DNA, I do say that it'll be quite difficult to change people's outlook. I don't think just providing the facilities for biking in Memphis is enough. The only approach I can see working is a personal one, changing people's outlooks one at a time. Either that, or a cataclysmic "disaster" that makes people stop driving their cars and start looking for other ways to get around.

It's a little bleak and I don't like that, but I just don't see how to change things in Memphis - yet in spite of that, I can't help but TRY and change things.


  1. I have to admit that I'm grateful to have a commute up north to Millington. What's ironic is that I hear of bicycle thefts in Memphis all the time, like you can't get a coffee without your bike being stolen - when it's locked. I just have to ask (no one in particular) if bikes are so childish, why are they so hot for thieves?

  2. ...because it's faster than running...