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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Transportation plans in Memphis will continue to expand to include cyclists and others

Transportation plans in Memphis will continue to expand to include cyclists and others 
By:  Michael Lander

Cyclists, like these in the Cooper-Young neighborhood, are a common sight in this
and in other areas throughout the city of Memphis and the number of cyclists
is expected to only increase in the years ahead as more is done to accommodate
them and pedestrians in and around the Memphis metropolitan area.

Cars and trucks have ruled the roads for decades.  They have, in many ways, played a big part in helping America become what it is today. 

From being one of the primary means of transportation, and an integral part of our business and commerce, automobiles have long been at the center stage and focus for local, state, and federal government.   Each have concentrated a lot of their time, attention and budgets to addressing and resolving issues that might impact or impede traffic and commuting. 

Fast forward to today, and you will find cities like
Memphis that are now, more than ever before, making plans and focusing a lot more time and attention on cyclists and pedestrians.   Even though this will be a huge benefit to those who ride a bike or who chose to walk, ultimately, it should also provide a big payoff to everyone else in the community as well.

Memphis has been called "America's Distribution Center" and a commercial and transportation hub because it is ideally located in the middle of the country, along the Mississippi River, and in a place where many railways and highways converge. 

This month, the
Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), (which is a regional, multi-jurisdictional agency responsible for planning and programming of long-range transportation facilities in the Memphis metropolitan area),  completed a draft of its Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan.

Cycling is not only a healthy activity, but it is also a great alternative when
there are few other options that exist, aside from motorized vehicles.  It is
also a much more environmentally-friendly option to consider over vehicles
with a combustible engine. 

What is significant about this plan is that it has the potential to forever change in a positive and dynamic way how we move and get around our city.  We will no longer be constrained by what currently exists today, but we will have alternatives and choices and ways to switch to various modes of transportation, which will open opportunities that have not yet been fully realized. 


As with previous incarnations of the regional bicycle & pedestrian plan, MPO's latest version of this plan remains consistent in its stated goals, which are ambitious and far-reaching. 

With this plan, MPO acknowledges the need to balance all available modes of transportation and to create an integrated, multi-modal strategy that will allow residents in Memphis and surrounding communities an array of means to get around other than the limited options that we have today.

With the ever-increasing rise and use of motor vehicles, walking and cycling have literally taken a back seat and have been overlooked as a viable and an alternative means of transportation. 

That has slowly begun to change and Memphis is now looking to encourage and enhance bicycle and pedestrian travel, which it recognizes as a way to improve public health and reduce the negative environmental impact of vehicles with a combustible engine.

In order to achieve any goals of integrating cycling and walking into a workable and practical transportation plan, however, the city knows that it must resolve some of the obstacles and road blocks that might hinder this from actually coming together. 

The Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is doing what it can
to promote both cycling and walking in the city and it is striving to transform
Memphis from a place that has focused exclusively on motor vehicles to one
that is now receptive and conducive to alternative modes of transportation.

The two main areas that it knows it must look at and address are the issues of connectivity and accessibility.  Any plan must provide a network that allows cyclists and pedestrians to efficiently travel from one place to another throughout the city, and there must be modes of travel that are adequately integrated with other modes of transportation.   


For cyclists, it would also help to have more dedicated and protected bike lanes, more bike stands or racks outside businesses, more investments in bike-related facilities, a bike share program, and businesses supporting and encouraging their employees to commute by cycling.  It would also not hurt for there to be public service announcements (PSA's) to promote and inform the public of how and why they should ride a bike.

For some, commuting may simply begin by just riding for fun and recreation and later developing into something more from there.  Having an ever-increasing number of bike lanes and interconnecting trails, and projects like the creation of a bike and pedestrian pathway on the
Harahan Bridge, over the Mississippi River, may be what spurs some people to eventually begin riding for more practical reasons such as traveling to and from work and making trips to the grocery store and so on.


The need for "cleaner" and "environmentally friendly" options, like cycling and walking, in any comprehensive transportation plan could not be any more obvious than they are now.  As stated in MPO's bicycle and pedestrian plan, U.S. motor vehicle emissions account for about 31 percent of carbon dioxide, 81 percent of carbon monoxide, and 49 percent of nitrogen oxides.  These emissions are known to contribute to lung cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma, and various other lung and respiratory illnesses. 


Cycling is expected only to grow in the years ahead in Memphis and the city
is looking to do what it can to promote this for the health of its residents and
to help reduce air pollution from motor vehicle exhaust.

Memphis has earned the unenviable position of being ranked among the top 20 places in the U.S. that have the greatest amount of pollution from cars and trucks that regularly contribute to a ground level ozone.  Because of this, in 2010, the American Lung Association gave the Memphis area a "F" grade for air quality.

MPO sees bicycling and walking as a possible solution for helping to improve our air quality.  Short distance trips on a bike or on foot could help to reduce some of the vehicular traffic congestion that Memphis area drivers frequently experience.  This, inarguably, wastes both time and energy resources for everyone involved.

According to MPO, roughly 40 percent of all trips are less than two miles in length and they contend that this distance could easily be traveled by most during a ten minute bike ride or a 30 minute walk.

Other than the health benefits of it, MPO believes that one of the distinct advantages of bicycling and walking is that both are the most affordable means of transportation for most people.  The average family, they contend, must work for more than six weeks to cover the cost of operating a car for one year while the cost of operating a bicycle for a year can be earned in less than one day and walking, of course, does not cost a thing.

Many areas like this, in and around the city of Memphis, have seen a substantial
increase in the number of bike lanes, along with other cycling-related amenities and
more is expected as the area tries to further accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists.


The idea of being able to shed all or part of the expense for gas, along with car maintenance and repair, is certainly something that most people would find appealing.  If that were not enough, the aggravation of bad driving, backed up traffic, the occasional lack of parking spaces and the added expense of having to pay for parking should be an incentive to try something else.  But for most, the car is not something that they could live without.

For most of us, our lives revolve around an automobile.  Sometimes it seems that we spend most of our lives inside of one.  We commute to work, go to the grocery store, and run errands and so much more and it almost always involves jumping in a car to get there. 

Even though it may not be practical or feasible for everyone to ride a bike or to walk instead, with better facilities and improvements to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, it may be something that more area residents will be able to consider in the future.

For now, other than cars, which are currently the preferred mode of transportation for commuting around Memphis, there are very limited options beyond that.  With the exception of the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) buses and a very small trolley system in downtown Memphis, the city does not really have a substantial mass transit system in place on which most commuters can rely.  That leaves most people to fend for themselves on the roadways. 

The University of Memphis has gotten involved in promoting cycling on its
campus by establishing a Tiger Bike Share Program and a Tiger Cycling Club
for U of M students, faculty, and employees.

For anyone who is willing and interested in parking their car and commuting by bicycle instead, here are a few simple suggestions for you to consider: 
(1)  Ride a bike that is simple, sturdy, and strong and doesn't have more on it than you need. 
(2)  Create a checklist of what you might need on your commute and after you reach your destination, (i.e., a cell phone, small plastic bags for items in case it rains, etc). 
(3)  Only carry what you need for the ride and whatever else you will want to have or wear after you reach your destination. 
(4)  Make sure that you have a way to clean up afterward. 
(5)  Always prepare in advance.  Know the route that you will take and be sure to check the weather forecast beforehand. 
(6)  Frequently check your brakes, tires and chain and carry any tools and other items that will enable you to fix a flat tire and make minor repairs. 
(7)  Have a way to secure and lock up your bike. 

For those who would like to know more, here is a list of websites that will be helpful to anyone wanting to commute by bicycle:,, and

Even though Americans have had a love affair with the automobile for decades, times are beginning to change.  Memphis is on the precipice and is ready to take the leap into the future. 

We may be behind some other cities in recognizing and promoting cycling and walking, but with plans like MPO's Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan, we will be quickly joining the ranks of other progressive-minded cities in the nation who have already realized the value and many benefits of non-motorized ways of getting around town.

Even though we may not be the first city to take the lead in this, for those of us who want to see what is best for the city and its residents, we can at least take some solace in knowing that it is always better late than never.

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