By: Michael Lander
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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: http://www.commutebybike.com/cats/commuting-101/, http://beginners.bicycling.com/beginners/commuting, http://www.wikihow.com/Commute-By-Bicycle, and http://www.biketoworkmemphis.com/.
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.