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Friday, May 3, 2013

Tennessee now rated 17th on LAB's Bike Friendly State Rankings???

League of American Bicyclists  Rankings
My first thought when reading this after just returning from a ride from Hendersonville, TN to Kingsport, TN, was, "How can this be?"  TDOT has effectively killed any realistic chance for a USBR 80 by rumbling the only unrumbled road, TN 62, to connect Wartburg to Oak Ridge.  US 70 was already rumbled and other alternates reqire many miles deviation.  TDOT was apprised of the critical nature of TN 62 several years ago but they have either forgotten, that TDOT division did not get the word, or they just don't care.

On further reflection, I must admit that Tennessee's major cities have all made significant progress. That is where most people cycle. One more reminder of how marginalized is the touring cyclist.  Andy Clark, League President, had a reply to several howls of protest in the comments section. It further clarifies the process and admits that all states have a long way to go.  My current thought is that the rankings are about right and Jessica Wilson deserves our thanks.

One more reminder of how important is our state wide advocacy.

Below are Andy Clark's remarks. Note, he will be at the TN bike summit. A chance for some of us to give him a  piece of our mind. Just kidding, Andy.

Andy Clarke Says:

Wrapping up a few of these comments…
As a general rule States ARE a long way behind cities in terms of looking out for bicyclists and if we used the same bronze, silver, gold categories for the states as we do for cities there wouldn’t be a lot of shiny metal handed out at all. So Washington is the best but we have a long way to go everywhere. That’s especially true of the state DOTs.
Because we look at all 50 states (rather than the BFC program that is an opt-in assessment) we have to ask questions and collect data that is as objective as possible – if the state decides not to fill out the form, we will do it ourselves and have to be able to get the data! So the fact that there are some great places to ride in West Virginia and some dodgy places to ride even in Washington is tough to capture. We ask a lot of questions related to laws, policies, programs,facts and figures that can certainly mask the reality of what is happening on the ground.
We also ask about the culture of cycling – is there a statewide advocacy group, are there major events and tours – across road, mountain and trail riding. There is some credit for having Bicycle Friendly Communities in the state, but we also know that progress can sometimes happen despite the state rather than because of it (Austin, Texas, maybe!).
New Jersey has a lot of good policies and programs in place – hopefully the feedback we provide to each state will capture those places where local advocates feel as if those policies are not really being followed and there needs to be a little more accountability.


  1. I seem to recall that Gov. Haslam represented himself as a bicycling participant in a publicity photo at a BRAT a year or so ago; has any effort been made to contact him directly regarding these concerns? One would think his office could do much to enhance cycling culture via his personal example and his influence with the various State agencies, esp TDoT.

  2. The best one could expect would be a promise to consider the matter. I believe Sarah Lovette did ride with Haslam briefly while on one of the BRAT rides and reported he also did not like rumbles. Resisting rumbles is difficult because 1) it is a perceived big plus for safety and 2) it's free Federal money. Till we change these rumbles will always win. In fact I'm ready to throw in the towel till the Feds quit feeding the monster.

    Certainly for any future USBR planning I would suggest using only state roads that have already been rumbled but have adequate shoulder, very quiet state roads where a rumble would be of little concern, or non state roads. The problem is that many of the best roads for a cross state route are state roads with moderate traffic and 18 inch shoulders. Any rumble ruins these for a suggested route.

  3. Since I was involved in both these topics, I thought I would comment. First, regarding Andy Clark's comments on BFS status. In 2010 Tennessee enjoyed a 19-point jump in its ranking. Wow! What did TN do differently in that one year? Nothing of significance for bicyclists. Jessica Wilson just completed the LAB survey. It was very time consuming with over 60 questions. TN did make some progress with Rumble Strip policy, we establish a statewide advocacy group, and Jessica energized state efforts on biking, but nothing worth a one year jump from 43 to 24. I suspect it had to do with the effort Jessica made in submitting the survey in better form than other state DOTS.

    In 2013 TN jumped to 17'th. Why? Probably a lot to do with image and TN's willingness to complete the survey versus what other states do. However, TN did have many highly visible accomplishments in 2012. Initiation of a State Bike Summit by Philip Pugliese of Chattanooga, huge new focus on bike/ped in Memphis including winning some major grants, and Nashville achieving BF City status. The willingness of key cities to continue the Bike Summit will be necessary to maintain that ranking. I don't think state improvements alone outside these cities justified the 27'th (2012) to 17'th rise. The question is what happened in other states to which TN was compared. TN probably ought not pat itself too strongly on its back and advocates must actively participate and endorse TDOT work.

    The issue of rumbles on TN62 was disappointing. It once was the best candidate for the east-west USBR. Sections of this road recently received the new bike-friendly style and tolerable rumble. The road from Clarkrange to Morgan County unexplicably recently received the old style rumble thereby destroying its suitability as a bike route. On the positive side this section of road has low traffic levels consistent with county roads that typically have no shoulder. My concern -- has TDOT become less considerate on how it applies rumbles and making it far less bike friendly regardless of LAB rankings.

  4. Tom,
    You are right on, have insight into the process, and deserve a lot of the credit for our high ranking. Our big jump came the first year primarily because Tennessee actually completed the survey. You were a big part of that. A couple of year's feedback has made us even better at completing the form.

    That does not detract from the great strides in our big cities. Big city mayors see better than most the cost of car culture suburban sprawl. The state is less aware.

    1. I think urban politicians are beginning to realize that attracting a highly educated, mostly young, demographic is a key to restoring urban growth. The dynamism evident in neighborhoods like Germantown, East Nashville and 12 South in Nashville all exhibit a significant bike culture. I was at a well attended kickoff event for bike month last night in East Nashville and I was obviously the oldest participant by about 2X! Nashville's bike lanes and greenways help attract the creative class that bolsters an urban community. This realization is not manifested in the policies of state government and probably never will.

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