I’m so proud of Memphis and all we’re doing to become a more sustainable city.  But an event last week had me wondering if we’re  really ready to become that city.

A friend of mine was recently pulled over and given a ticket for three Class C Misdemeanor charges. No big deal, right? This happens every day. Yes, but he was on a bicycle.

My friend “Bill” was on his way home from work one night last week. It was 5:45 p.m. and he chose to bike down South Main due to lack of traffic and safer conditions than other main roads, despite the treacherous trolley tracks. A Memphis Police officer stopped Bill and cited a city ordinance that says bicyclists must ride as close to the right side of the street as possible. Bill kept riding as close as he could to the right without crashing into parked cars or getting his tire stuck in the trolley tracks.

Within seconds, the officer was on his bullhorn stating that if Bill didn’t pull over, he would lose his bike. The officer reminded Bill that he had told him to ride as close to the right side as possible and, since he didn’t heed his request, he would receive a citation.  Bill explained to the officer that he was riding as close to the right side as safety would permit but was riding on the left side of the tracks because a trolley stop and parallel-parked cars prevented him from riding to the right of the rails (the trolley stops are built as close to the rails as possible, so a bike can’t fit between the rail and the trolley stop).

That’s when the officer threatened to take Bill to jail for disorderly conduct and asked for his driver’s license.

The officer then pulled out a book of Memphis City Ordinances and informed Bill that he was in violation of three of them:  (1) riding too far from the right side of the road, (2) riding without a reflector (even though it was broad daylight), and (3) riding without a bell.

The TCA (Tennessee Code Annotated) requires that cyclists riding at less than the normal speed of traffic ride as close as practicable to the right hand curb, except when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions, including fixed or moving objects. This is both a right and an obligation. It sets the standard of conduct for cyclists statewide, and Memphis recently adopted a new ordinance consistent with this state law. Neither law enumerates reasons that might make riding against the curb impracticable.

Additionally, Memphis recently updated its ordinances and no longer requires bikes to be equipped with a reflector during the day. Nor do they have to have a bell. It appears that this officer had an out-of-date set of city ordinances.

If we’re going to be a more sustainable city, if we’re going to build more bike lanes and encourage people to bike more often, we need to all be on board. That includes the Memphis Police Department.

While Bill was receiving his three citations, for ordinances that no longer exist (a good 30 minutes) the police car was left running, doors open, air conditioning blasting.  Not a great example of sustainability.