Forward Commute | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Forward Commute

For the past year, I have embarked on what I call the backward commute. I worked in Ridgeland at the Madison County Journal, but lived in downtown Jackson. A Florida native, I had envisioned myself living and working in a "progressive" city after college. Life didn't go according to plan, and I ended up in Mississippi by chance¬óswearing I would be out of here within a year.

Despite protests from family members and co-workers I made the decision to live downtown last November. The so-called threat of crime initially made me wary, but the desire to obtain a slice of city life was just too great to ignore. With museums, nightlife and restaurants within walking distance, I knew downtown was the best place for me.

What happened over the next year would surprise me, as well as those who knew me. Instead of meekly telling people I lived in Jackson and avoiding eye contact, I began calling myself a Jacksonian. Instead of focusing on a plan to escape, I began to enjoy myself.

One night I sat on the roof of my apartment building with a friend, admiring the view of the city. Suddenly, he exclaimed, "What more could you want, just look at this city!"

I agreed with him wholeheartedly and knew that it was an exciting time to live in Jackson because I personally had a stake in the progress of this place. I wanted to stay.

Recently, I gave up the backward commute, and I now work five miles from my apartment. Most everything I want or need to do is now in a 10-mile radius.

But even with everything so close, people all around me drive constantly. There is little walking or biking to actually get somewhere.

It seems pretty absurd that I would still need to depend on my car for transportation. I find this sentiment shared between myself and several other city dwellers. So why aren't we riding our bikes to the farmers' markets, work or museums?

Sadly, a cycling community Jackson is not. The thought of riding my bike up State Street to work invokes visions of a game of chicken with cars, trucks and SUVs that ends in death. Potholes, and broken sidewalks abound, and bike lanes are scarce.

The good news is that all this can change if a small group of determined cyclists and the city work together to promote a bike-friendly community.

The League of American Bicyclists, a national non-profit that promotes cycling, ranks Mississippi number 47 out of 50 for the league's ranking of bike-friendly states.

Last May, Oxford became the first and only city in the state to gain bike-friendly status, and Ridgeland is currently going through an extensive application process to receive the same recognition.

To grant a city bike-friendly status, the league measures a community's implementation of education, engineering, enforcement and encouragement of bike safety.

Ridgeland Mayor Gene F. McGee, an avid cyclist himself, has worked closely with a task force made up of community members, the city engineer, parks and recreation services, and the local police department to promote and establish Ridgeland as a biking destination.

The city currently has plans to expand its multi-use trails, and each year it hosts several biking events such as the Natchez Trace Century Ride and the Mississippi Heatwave Triathlon. These events not only promote fitness but also draw thousands of visitors each and give the city's tourism economy a boost.

Josh Sullivan, president of Jackson Metro Cyclist, and Jayce Powell, president of the Ridgeland Cycling Club, are two proponents for creating a biking community within Jackson and the Metro.

Sullivan works with beginner riders to get them accustomed to riding on roadways. He said that perception plays a large role in a biking community. It takes bikers and drivers becoming aware of each other as the first step to achieve a bike-friendly community. The hardest part is getting people to overcome their fear and get on their bikes.

Jackson Metro Cyclist are currently working on getting a bill through the House Transportation Committee that would define the relationship between cyclist and motorists. The bill would require motorists to maintain a safe operating distance from cyclists and make it illegal for motorist to harass bikers in any way. It would also outline safety standards for bikers to adhere to.

An avid cycling community will attract a progressive and vibrant population that will help Jackson reach its full potential. I realize that with all the current issues the Harvey Johnson administration is facing, cycling is likely to take a back seat. That's why it's important for us to take our bikes out of our garages and start pedaling.

Not only will the independence from our vehicles provide a certain freedom, but we will have the opportunity to break the stereotype that Mississippians are sedentary and obese.

In the coming weeks, I plan to dust off my 10-speed, put on my helmet and make the trek up State Street to the Jackson Free Press office. The best part about city life is the proximity to all the great offerings the city has. Jackson isn't perfect, but we each have a stake in making it a thriving community. Sometimes, it just takes one small action to put progress in motion.

Previous Comments

ID
150824
Comment

Welcome, Lacey! Thanks for enduring the Jackpedia hazing in my absence. See you soon. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-08-12T19:13:39-06:00
ID
150826
Comment

Hi Lacey! I too am commuting backwards, in a way - I live in Flowood but hope to move to Belhaven by December, and I work in Madison, but I do everything else in Jackson. One of the things I admire about Ridgeland when I drive to/from work every day is how bike and pedestrian friendly most of it is. There's no reason Jackson can't be the same way within just a few years. I hope to get a bike soon and join the others pedaling bravely around town. It would be so nice not to be tethered to a car all the time!

Author
andi
Date
2009-08-12T21:02:59-06:00
ID
150831
Comment

Lacey, Good for you. I'm an old friend of Donna Ladd's and found this post through her Facebook page. Right now I'm the editor and community manager for the Streetsblog Network, a national network of bloggers who are thinking the same way you do about biking and other forms of alternative transportation. It's a great resource and a great community. You can find us at http://streetsblog.net. I also write a daily post at www.streetsblog.org rounding up some of the stuff that's going on around the network. Just for fun to get you started, there's a great blog in Birmingham, AL, written by a couple of young women who are commuting by bike and have started a bicycle co-op. It's called Bike Skirt (http://bikeskirt.com/). Also, I am just loving this video, "Thoughts on My Bike", which I stumbled upon recently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDqUKj1GwJY Have fun riding and I'll follow your progress! Know that there are lots of people around the country who are thinking like you.

Author
Sarah Goodyear
Date
2009-08-13T08:15:30-06:00
ID
150835
Comment

The concerted effort Ridgeland city government is making to gain the bike-certification status should serve as a wake-up call to Jackson city government. I love living in Jackson, but if the city wants to retain cool young people, at some point the city government is going to have to enthusiastically get behind and bolster the efforts that individual Jacksonians have been making for years.

Author
darren
Date
2009-08-13T08:53:48-06:00
ID
150838
Comment

i agree completely. i LOVE riding my bike downtown after 5...mainly because it's all mine. it also helps that it is a lot flatter than belhaven. it seems like fondren got behind the bike lane idea. the stretch of old canton road between duling street and meadowbrook has one, but that is the only one i know about. ...and while we're talking about bike lanes, why not talk about some bike trails around mayes lake and the natural science museum. why not extend those trails far south into downtown? the area around the pearl river near belhaven (while probably flooded at the moment) would be perfect. and, how cool would it be to have nature trails that close to the most urban area in mississippi? answer: really cool! ...and lacey, i'm glad i could have a small part in converting yet another jacksonian!!! [c]

Author
C Myers
Date
2009-08-13T09:21:30-06:00
ID
150841
Comment

Rules of the Road Here's a link to my recent newspaper column entitled "Take a Bike" going over some of the basic rules of the road for urban bicyclists. I hope this is helpful. http://newamericanvillage.blogspot.com/2009/05/take-bike.html James Polk, Architect and Neighborhood Planner

Author
Skyscraper
Date
2009-08-13T10:08:46-06:00
ID
150844
Comment

Hey, Sarah! Thanks to you and others for joining in here. Everyone who thinks Lacey should blog about the trials and tribulations of riding her bike in Jackson raise your hand!

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-08-13T10:58:46-06:00
ID
150876
Comment

i live in fondren, and frankly i won't live anywhere else in jackson. i absolutely love it here. for all the crime i've heard about (friends adjacent to me joke that they can't fall asleep until they've heard two gunshots behind my house) i haven't experienced any thus far, and it's been nearly three years. i can tell you "horror" stories loosely related to me however. biking is definitely something that i know people here are interested in. the buses leave MUCH to be desired. i think that potholes and lack of bike lanes aren't the reason that more people don't bike or walk here - it's heat and humidity. it doesn't make much sense to drive two miles most places, but when it's 95 degrees and 80% humidity, well, we stop thinking green and start thinking "does my office have a shower?"

Author
ladylamia
Date
2009-08-14T00:49:16-06:00
ID
151034
Comment

Lacey, I started commuting into downtown Jackson from Clinton about a little over a year ago. It changed my life. Starting with a mountain bike b/c of the cratered streets I am considering a move to a road bike now that paving is a happening. I love my ride and look forward to it everyday. I sleep better than I ever have and I am in better shape than I have ever been. It is my fortress of solitude. Good luck on your commute and please let me know if you have any questions. BTW if it's 40% or greater chance of rain then drive until you REALLY feel confident.

Author
wade G.
Date
2009-08-19T15:13:22-06:00
ID
151038
Comment

a few years ago I biked from Belhaven into downtown Jackson...wasn't too bad after clearing the Belhaven hills. I've been meaning to get back into it, but I can't seem to find the motivation. Maybe I can use this thread to keep me motivated enough to try it again. I have a helmet and a bike. I used to love the refreshed feeling I got, both directions - a way to create a natural transition between home and work. the heat didn't bother me too much if I made time to sit for a few minutes outside before going into work.

Author
Izzy
Date
2009-08-19T17:56:35-06:00
ID
151039
Comment

Also, want to say that this, too, is an area that perhaps is going to reach a kind of critical mass. I'm glad that bill is in the legislature. And I LOVE the idea of trails along the river, to and frmo different areas of town. Familes could enjoy that, as well.

Author
Izzy
Date
2009-08-19T17:57:40-06:00
ID
151041
Comment

Agreed, Izzy. Access to good outdoor trails and green space is *vital* to smart development of the city and attracting (and keeping) young professionals. Beyond being common sense that a young, vibrant work force cares more about outdoor amenities than, say, a gray-haired Two Lakes development plan, Carnegie-Mellon professor Richard Florida has done the homework and written the books to provide us a roadmap -- if our old fogies will allow us to follow it to eco-devo success: The Kids Are All Right How do you build a truly creative community---one that can survive and prosper in this emerging age? The key can no longer be found in the usual strategies. Recruiting more companies won't do it; neither will trying to become the next Silicon Valley. While it certainly remains important to have a solid business climate, having an effective people climate is even more essential. By this I mean a general strategy aimed at attracting and retaining people---especially, but not limited to, creative people. This entails remaining open to diversity and actively working to cultivate it, and investing in the lifestyle amenities that people really want and use often, as opposed to using financial incentives to attract companies, build professional sports stadiums, or develop retail complexes. The benefits of this kind of strategy are obvious. Whereas companies---or sports teams, for that matter---that get financial incentives can pull up and leave at virtually a moment's notice, investments in amenities like urban parks, for example, last for generations. Other amenities---like bike lanes or off-road trails for running, cycling, rollerblading, or just walking your dog---benefit a wide swath of the population. There is no one-size-fits-all model for a successful people climate. The members of the creative class are diverse across the dimensions of age, ethnicity and race, marital status, and sexual preference. An effective people climate needs to emphasize openness and diversity, and to help reinforce low barriers to entry. Thus, it cannot be restrictive or monolithic. Openness to immigration is particularly important for smaller cities and regions, while the ability to attract so-called bohemians is key for larger cities and regions. For cities and regions to attract these groups, they need to develop the kinds of people climates that appeal to them and meet their needs. Yet if you ask most community leaders what kinds of people they'd most want to attract, they'd likely say successful married couples in their 30s and 40s---people with good middle-to-upper-income jobs and stable family lives. I certainly think it is important for cities and communities to be good for children and families. But less than a quarter of all American households consist of traditional nuclear families, and focusing solely on their needs has been a losing strategy, one that neglects a critical engine of economic growth: young people. As for the Pearl, green space is one of the most important things we can insist on in order to build Jackson's future.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-08-19T18:38:56-06:00

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