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Monday, May 4, 2015

Cyclists find support from Memphis Mayor and many on the city council

Cyclists find support from Memphis Mayor and many on the city council
By:  Michael Lander

Bike trails in and around Memphis are immensely popular,
especially with those who would prefer not to ride on city
streets.

If cyclists in
Memphis are looking for allies and supporters, they really don’t have to look very far.

Inside the Memphis Mayor’s office and the
Memphis City Council chamber, cyclists will have no trouble finding those in elected positions who support them.

This support could not be made any more evident than by
Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton himself.

Since he took office as the city’s interim mayor in 2009, his administration has actively pursued an aggressive plan to make cycling initiatives one of its priorities. 

He began his term by appointing the city’s first bike and pedestrian coordinator,
Kyle Wagenschutz, and so began the monumental task of transforming the city and our streets, offering us new ways of getting around, and giving us new and better ways that we can begin to see ourselves and our city.

In less than six years, Memphis has gone from having no bike lanes at all to having 60+ plus miles of them and more are expected in the years ahead.  All of this has led the city from being labeled as one of the absolute worst for cycling to one of the most improved in the nation.

With what has already been done, efforts are continuing to be made to make Memphis city streets safer and more accessible to cyclists and others seeking alternative ways of getting around town. 

There are many scenic bike and pedestrian trails in both
Memphis and in surrounding areas that are easily
accessible and are often connected to on another.

As much as Wharton and his administration have done for cycling in our city, it is difficult to know if there will be a significant shift away from this if he does not win his bid for a second term in October.

Wharton is currently seeking re-election and there are six others vying for his position as city mayor.

Councilmen Harold Collins and Jim Strickland are two of the Memphis mayoral candidates who will be on the Oct. 8 ballot.

When asked about their position on cycling, and the continued expansion of bike lanes and trails throughout the city, both indicated that they are in favor of it, but for Collins that comes with some reservations.

“I am for bike lanes in areas where they are more likely to be used.  The
Shelby Farms and Overton Park areas are ideal; however, to place bike lanes in communities that typically do not use them, …. and where traffic builds up, is not smart,” Collins said.

Unlike Collins, Councilman Reid Hedgepeth is not as concerned about the placement of bike lanes as much as what is done about them beforehand.

“I support cycling and bike lanes, but I believe neighborhood input and traffic studies are necessary,” Hedgepeth said.

Councilman Myron Lowery could not agree with him more.

“Bicycle lanes are good, but city government should be talking to communities before putting them in,” Lowery said.

For many years now, Memphis has been identified as being
one of the cities in the country with a disproportionate
number of people who are overweight and obese.  The
bike and pedestrian trails offer a possible remedy for
Memphians who want to lose weight and get into shape.

Other city council members expressed their unqualified support of cycling, with the notable exceptions of Councilmen Joe Brown and Berlin Boyd who failed to respond to numerous requests for a comment on this issue. 

Councilman Kemp Conrad was one who offered his unequivocal support of them.

“Bike lanes and trails are great and are a low-cost tool both for attracting/retaining people in Memphis and promoting a healthy lifestyle.  I live near the greenway and greenline and love to ride there with my family.  I was also a huge supporter of the Harahan project and got the sky cop cameras placed on the greenline,” Conrad said.

Councilman Bill Morrison expressed other benefits that he sees of bike lanes and trails.

“I believe it is vital to continue the growth of these projects and promote not only alternative means of transportation, but also to attract young professionals into our city,” Morrison said.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove sees other benefits that cycling can bring to a city like Memphis.

“I support having more bike lanes and trails since we have an obesity problem in our city…. and it would be great for people to get out and ride instead of driving or riding all the time,” Fullilove said.

Councilwoman Wanda Halbert also supports cycling in Memphis, and agrees with Fullilove on the health benefits, but she thinks that more should have been done to inform Memphians about bike lanes beforehand.

With an ever-increasing number of bike lanes and trails
throughout Memphis, cycling has really grown in popularity
and it is expected to do so as further improvements are
made in the future.

“I believe a health and education initiative should have accompanied the creation of bicycle lanes that would promote and encourage bicycle riding, (especially family bicycle riding).  A health, educational, and promotional program would have helped to encourage the use of the lanes,” Halbert said.

Fullilove and Councilman Edmund Ford pointed to other cities that have experienced some success with cycling.

“I support cycling because I saw how successful it was in other places that I have been to like
Copenhagen.  I saw many people there who rode and saw how we should be able to offer the same opportunities here,” Ford said.

Fullilove was impressed with what she saw closer to home.

“When I was in
Washington, D.C., I was just overwhelmed to see how many people took bikes instead of driving their automobiles,” Fullilove said.

As supportive as council members are of bicycle lanes and trails in the city, several of them are less enthusiastic about having bike lanes placed directly on
Riverside Drive itself.  

The city withdrew plans for installing any bike lanes on Riverside, pending further study, after objections arose in a
public meeting on Mar. 26 where city engineers revealed two final design plans for that road.

For Halbert, the biggest concern that she has is the potential problem that bike lanes could have on the flow of traffic on Riverside.

In spite of construction and enhancements currently underway
at Shelby Farms Park, it is still a very popular spot for cyclists
and others in Memphis.

“I believe that busy streets such as Riverside Drive and
Southern Ave. could include bike lanes if they do not reduce vehicular traffic lanes.  Those are exceptionally busy streets and can potentially cause a traffic nightmare, which we have seen, especially during big events,” Halbert said.

Other council members may be open to bicycle lanes on or near Riverside Drive, but they feel that public involvement is needed before any further actions are taken.

Ford is among those who have taken that position.

“I am not against bike lanes or an alternative plan being developed.  I just don’t like how the Riverside Drive reconfiguration issue was presented to the public without community involvement.  I represent many of the residents who live near Riverside Drive and I want everybody to have the chance to be heard and to be involved in the decision-making process,” Ford said.

Hedgepeth would prefer a more cautious approach before the city makes significant changes to the iconic roadway.

“I would like to make sure that all possible options are evaluated to ensure the safety of cyclists and motorists on Riverside Drive.  The one lanes verses two lane configuration should be further explored,” Hedgepeth said.

Collins is opposed, himself, to the bicycle lanes on Riverside, but may be open to alternative proposals.

“I would prefer not to have bike lanes on this roadway.  Perhaps it could be built adjacent to the sidewalk instead,” Collins said.

Shelby Farms has added four bike repair stations
throughout the park with one of these pictured on the
left.  These stations provide a raised bike stand, an air
pump, and a few tools for minor repairs.  Conway
Services helped to provide funding for these.

Lowery is one who believes that a compromise on this issue may be reached.

“Bike lanes should not be on Riverside Drive, but I have proposed that these should be put beside the walkway in
Tom Lee Park instead of on Riverside Drive itself,” Lowery said.

Conrad thinks that the bicycle lanes on Riverside Drive could remain one of several viable options, but that more work is needed to find the best solution.

“I believe that bike lanes should be an option there, but that the pilot configuration was not ideal either for bikes or cars.  Bikes should definitely have a place there and I think the administration needs to put the work in to find the best configuration that allows for bikes and cars to co-exist along Riverside,” Conrad said.

Morrison is optimistic about a long-term solution being found for cyclists on Riverside.

“I believe in the future we will need to return to some capacity of bike lanes in this area.  The original approach may not have been the best, but I believe over time the benefits of bike lanes in this area will be significant,” Morrison said.

Fullilove is fully supportive of bicycle lanes on or near Riverside, herself, and would like to see it happen.

“I do support bike lanes somewhere in the vicinity of Riverside Drive.  We have a beautiful view and I think that people should be able to take advantage of it.  It is a plus for the city of Memphis,” Fullilove said.

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