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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Memphis architect seeks to make Memphis even better and to help cycling in every way he can

Memphis architect seeks to make Memphis even better and to help cycling in every way he can
By:  Michael Lander

Architect Charles "Chooch" Pickard, who is in the forefront
of this photo, dressed in blue, is an extremely active
community and cycling advocate in Memphis.  He is
pictured during a Dinner & Bikes Traveling Roadshow
event held at the Revolutions Co-Op on Wednesday,
May 20, 2015.

Actions always speak louder than words and the actions of Charles “Chooch” Pickard, on behalf of Memphis area cyclists, could not be any louder or clearer.

Pickard, who is known to many as “Chooch,” is a preservation architect, urban designer, community activist, a staunch supporter of a cycling, and a long-time resident of the Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood.  He is also a candidate for Memphis City Council District 5, (http://www.justchooch.com).  It is a seat currently held by Councilman Jim Strickland who is not seeking re-election, but is running instead for Memphis City Mayor.

Pickard’s support for cycling is rooted in what he believes that cycling can do for people and for their community.

“As an urban designer, part of my expertise is in understanding the health, environmental, and fiscal benefits of cycling as recreation and for transportation,” Pickard said.

When it comes to cycling, Pickard’s track record has been nothing less than impressive.  He has been directly involved in numerous projects that have greatly benefitted Memphis area cyclists.

“I was the executive director of the Memphis Regional Design Center (MRDC) for four years, from Feb. 2009 through 2013.  At MRDC, I had an incredibly popular email blast that educated the community on urban design and planning that we often focused on bicycle advocacy and education,” Pickard said.

“During my time with MRDC, I was involved in just about every project benefitting cyclists in the city.  I was part of the initial group that decided to tackle the ‘New Face for an Old Broad’ project that helped to turn Broad Ave. into the vibrant neighborhood that it is today,” he said. 

This project started with the team studying the ‘Build a Better Block’ project in the Oak Cliff Community in Dallas, Texas. 

“I was involved in the project from the preliminary planning stages, temporary street design, and the implementation phase and the logistics during the two day event.  I even picked up the paint for the bike lanes from Home Depot and personally painted a good portion of them myself,” Pickard said.

Even though some may have settled with having done only that, it has not been near enough for Pickard.  His dedication to make Memphis a more cyclist-friendly city has been relentless as evidenced by his actions and his participation within organizations that have helped to support and encourage cycling in our city.

“I was on the committee that developed the MEMfix program and was the project manager for their first event, which was MEMfix Cleveland St.  I am also a founding member of the Midsouth Greenways Steering Committee, first organized in 2009, and I have served on the Executive Committee of that organization since then.  We are heavily involved in bicycle advocacy and education,” Pickard said. 

“I have also served on the policy committee for the Community Development Council/Livable Memphis for the last three years, which is also heavily involved in bicycle advocacy and I was very involved in bike lanes on Madison Ave, including recruiting attendees to all of the meetings as well as the bike rally at City Hall put on by Anthony Siracusa,” he added.

As much progress as Memphis has seen in recent years, as far as cycling is concerned, Pickard sees considerably more that still needs to be done.

“We need broader support of a bike lanes and greenways network.  The planned network needs to be completed in a faster timeframe than we currently are seeing,” Pickard said. 

“We also need a better understanding of bike/ped ordinances and a greater effort by the city to enforce and support those existing ordinances as well as improved ordinances that increase the safety of cyclists.  This will take elevated discussions about the benefits of cycling in Memphis.  That includes both education and advocacy with all members of the community from the average citizen at all income levels to our elected officials,” he added.

Even though cyclists experienced a temporary setback in getting bike lanes put in on Riverside Drive, Pickard is one of the many allies who support having them eventually put in on this roadway.

Pickard was not only involved in the planning and the
temporary street design for the "New Face on an Old
Broad" project, but he even picked up the paint and
did a lot of painting himself in November 2010.

“I am 100 percent supportive of bike lanes on Riverside Drive.  There was a lot of confusion and a lack of understanding as to why the city approached the project the way they did and their desired final product.  I don’t believe either of the two proposals that we last saw from the city were quite the right design, but we didn’t get a chance to hash through the proposals properly with the community,” Pickard said.

“From an urban design standpoint, I feel the on-street parking should have been on the park side of the street for pedestrian safety.  Placing the parking on the park side would have eliminated the crossing of traffic between a cycle track (lane) and turning cars,” he added. 

For the most part, Pickard sees limiting factors in several of the design plan options for Riverside, especially when it comes to a sidewalk and the placement of bike lanes.

“It would be very costly to install a sidewalk on the bluff side due to the topography of the bluff and existing storm water and street light infrastructure.  As for cycle tracks (lanes), the design plans should have placed them on the bluff side since it would have served the purpose connecting cyclists from one of Riverside to the other, particularly for those people trying to connect to the Harahan Bridge.  A network of options to access the bridge and the River walk would be preferable than to just have it on Carolina Ave.,” Pickard said.

Whatever design is ultimately selected, Pickard would like to see that it is one that enables people to be able to easily and safely get to the river that has made Memphis what it is today.

“Memphis exists because of the Mississippi River and for decades we have been disconnected from it because of the design of the existing street.  Riverside Drive allows for inappropriate speeds and distance for pedestrians to cross to access the river,” Pickard said.

Pickard was drawn to our River City two decades ago when he came here and saw the unlimited potential that it had.

“I chose to be a Memphian 20 years ago because of the huge potential I saw in Memphis the first time I visited while in college.  At the time, I was studying to be a preservation architect and was blown away by the many amazing vacant historic buildings and the Main Street trolley that had just been installed.  I’ve worked in the community to make Memphis a better city ever since, through many grassroots efforts with nonprofits as well as in the private sector,” Pickard said.

Pickard now hopes to take his skills, abilities, and experience to represent those Memphians living in District 5. 

“As a preservation architect and urban designer with experience in planning and development, I can bring a unique perspective as a councilman that we don’t currently have.  I’d like to use my position on the council to continue to work from the top down, partnering with my other grassroots colleagues to tackle these same issues from the bottom up,” Pickard said.

“I have substantially more experience with local government and community service than any of my opponents.  I have participated and led neighborhood revitalization efforts from Downtown to Midtown to South Memphis in an incredibly diverse array of neighborhoods,” he added.

Some of the notable historic preservation projects that Pickard has been involved with in Memphis include the renovation of the U.S. Marine Hospital, the Lowenstein Building, the Lincoln American Tower, the Hotline Building, the Scimitar Hotel, and the stabilization of the Sterick Building.

He currently serves on the Memphis Stormwater Board and on the Memphis Area Transit Authority Board of Commissioners.  He has previously served with the Memphis Heritage, Inc. Board of Directors, and AIA Memphis Board of Directors.

With a long and impressive track record, and an extensive involvement within the Memphis community, Pickard has frequently proven that his actions consistently speak louder than any words ever could.

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