COMMERCIAL APPEAL | Doug Carpenter
In 2010, Kyle Wagenshutz was named the city of Memphis' first Bike/Ped Manager.
Early in his role, Kyle made a conscious decision to pursue a bike-lane installation along Madison Avenue, knowing that he would face opposition from the private and corporate leaders of that area. His thought was that if he could overcome the opposition on Madison, the road would be paved for easier progress in other areas.
He was correct. Madison Avenue bike infrastructure was fought, objected to, misunderstood and, at minimum, controversial. More than 60 business owners on Madison Avenue opposed bicycle lanes, citing it would hinder vehicular traffic and hurt business. But he was also correct in his instinct and his strategy; he was beyond successful.
Studies prove that bikers spend more money as they pass and interact with storefronts more frequently, and properties near bike paths increase in value by an average of 11 percent. This shift has turned some of those very Madison Avenue business owners into vocal advocates for future bike-lane expansion.
That initial efforts set in motion a movement to become a more bike-and-pedestrian-friendly city.
Since 2010, Memphis has grown from being named one of the worst bike cities in America to frequently being listed as a city with one of the most improved and fastest-growing bike infrastructures. Just last week, Memphis was named the #1 “up-and-coming city” in the U.S.’s Best Destinations to Explore By Bike. Since 2010, bike-lane mileage in Memphis grew from 1.82 to 77.55 miles, a 4,160-percent increase that will increase even further to 129 miles by end of 2017. Off-street bicycle and pedestrian trails grew by 56%, from 19.96 miles to a projected 57 miles by 2017. These additions, along with other on-street bicycle routes, bring the total miles of bike infrastructure to over 331 miles projected by the end of 2017.
Current Bike/Ped Manager Nicholas Oyler is continuing to champion the cause for increased infrastructure and bike culture. Nick’s newest development is the Great Streets Pilot Project, which has begun installation and will be fully in place next week, in time for the International APBP (Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals) 2017 development seminar here in Memphis.
The Great Streets Pilot Project will provide an east-west cycling and pedestrian connection from the riverfront to east of FedExForum. The area will be transformed by the installation of bike lanes and a wide pedestrian plaza filled with outdoor dining, pop-up vendors, and local art programmed by Urban Art Commission.
Performance metrics adopted by City Engineering on the themes of safety, usage, and economic development will quantify the impact of the pilot project. If the performance metrics indicate positive results, the City will apply for Federal transportation grant funding to fully re-construct the corridor and permanently implement the project’s design or some variation of it.
What’s notable is not just that there will be more bike lanes or pedestrian-friendly infrastructure; it’s the corporate support behind the idea. Where there once was vocal opposition for what then was a new and unknown notion, now there is corporate buy-in coupled with progressive, proactive, engaged company culture. Companies including FedEx, IKEA, AutoZone, First Tennessee, the Memphis Grizzlies, Baker Donelson, and Looney Ricks Kiss, among others, have pledged support for and dollars toward the project.
It is quite profound that what was controversial fewer than 10 years ago is now fully embraced by much of the corporate leadership of our community. These companies can see the value of biking and walking for Memphis in terms of recruitment, retention, and culture.
Maintaining the momentum now falls to all of us; from the personal utilization of bike lanes, to corporate support of biking culture, and employee incentives related to commute options including biking and walking.
The hard work has already been done. Let’s follow their lead—It’s up to us to keep the wheels turning.