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Thursday, April 21, 2016

MEMFix is helping make Memphis better for cyclists, pedestrians and everyone

MEMFix is helping make Memphis better for cyclists, pedestrians and everyone
By:  Michael Lander

The Livable Memphis Program Director, John Paul Shaffer, led
a pack of cyclists during a Bikes on Broad event on May 28,
2015.  Shaffer is one of many who have been intimately
involved in the success of MEMFix.

You may not know anything about MEMFix, but you should.

It is one of the more innovative things that is helping to change Memphis for the better.

The community-driven initiative is part of a growing and expanding movement whose main goal is to make Memphis better, one block and one neighborhood at a time.

Through MEMFix, residents are given an opportunity to envision the potential that can come through redesign and revitalization within their own community, a key component of which often involves bringing about traffic-calming features that can make streets more accessible and safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

This can often be accomplished by installing bike lanes, crosswalks, bump-outs at intersections, and other means of providing pedestrian and bicycle access to businesses, shared community areas, parks, and green spaces.

“Much of what MEMFix does usually begins as a temporary intervention, particularly in areas or neighborhoods that have been ignored, underutilized, or left behind and it focuses on making improvements and creating accessible public outdoor spaces for everyone within that community,” John Paul Shaffer said.

Shaffer is the Livable Memphis Program Director with the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis.

Shaffer describes MEMFix as being a form of “tactical urbanism,” which is a term that is used to describe low-cost, temporary changes that are made to an already existing, built environment that’s intended to improve local neighborhoods and shared gathering places.

“The great thing about all this is that everything is done with low risk and at a low cost,” Maria Fuhrmann said.

Broad Avenue was one of the first projects that was undertaken
by MEMFix in 2010.  The project was known as "A New Look
for an Old Broad," and the effort has helped to completely
revitalize an area that was in desperate need of it.

Fuhrmann is currently the Grants Coordinator for the City of Memphis and was formerly an Innovation Delivery Team Project Manager and a Special Assistant to the city’s previous city mayor - A.C. Wharton.

MEMFix works directly with those in any given community, bringing together residents, business owners, vendors, musicians, artists, community advocates and community groups and connecting all of them with representatives from the city, which often includes city planners, designers, and engineers.

“People find it especially helpful when the city is involved in the process, not only for expert guidance, but they can get to know the ‘go-to-person’ and the  city’s division leaders for city services, permits, and those who can help them get things done and to make things happen,” Fuhrmann said.

Collectively, this group of people help to breathe new life, hope, and a new vision for a community that often leads to greater investment, pride, and, ultimately, a better quality of life.

Memphis was one of the five cities in the U.S. to initiate its MEMFix program.  The program is based on the Better Block concept, that had begun as a way to educate, equip, and empower communities to reshape themselves into a healthy and vibrant neighborhood.  

MEMFix began in 2012 and it received its initial funding and support when it was partnered with the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, now known as Innovate Memphis. 

Innovate Memphis, itself, began after it was awarded a 3-year, $6 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2011.  As a recipient of the grant, it was tasked with developing ideas that would enable Memphis to address some of its most pressing problems and challenges.

Kyle Wagenschutz, who was Memphis' first Bike/Ped
Program Manager, can be credited for much of the
progress that the city has made on issues that
impact cyclists and pedestrians.  Wagenschutz
left his position this month for a new job at

“With persistent community problems, that included a high juvenile crime rate, it was decided that the first step to take would be to improve or restore neighborhood economic vitality.  This led to the creation of MEMFix, MEMShop, and MEMMobile and the plan to redesign of those streets in commercial corridors that were seen as being distressed,” Fuhrmann said.

The projects that MEMFix has undertaken, thus far, include the Crosstown on Cleveland (in 2012), the University District on Highland and Walker (in 2013), South Memphis (in 2013), the Edge District (in 2014), and Pinch (in 2015).

Even though the New Face for an Old Broad project in 2010 technically preceded the creation of MEMFix, Shaffer views it as being one of the first MEMFix-style type of events in the city and it was the first that was done by Livable Memphis in concert with the Historic Broad Ave. Business Assoc.

MEMFix initially received its funding through the Bloomberg grant, but now it does not have any money specifically allocated to it so it relies exclusively on private donations.

Since it mostly operates, for the most part, on what could best be described as a  shoestring budget, the role that volunteers play is especially critical to what MEMFix is able to accomplish.

“We couldn’t do the work of MEMFix without neighborhood involvement and without the help of volunteers.  They do just about everything from helping with cleaning up streets, clearing out buildings, painting, and so much more,” Shaffer said.

Even though the funding may not always be there, the one thing that MEMFix seems to have going for it is the support of the city and its leadership, which includes Mayor Jim Strickland.

“Mayor Strickland has made walk-ability a priority and is committed to making sure that there is greater accessibility for pedestrians with continued emphasis on complete and safe streets and the continued availability of assistance programs to property owners,” Fuhrmann said.

Mayor Jim Strickland, who was a city councilman at the
time, was one of many dignitaries who spoke at the
dedication of the Bicycle Arch at Overton Park.  The
arch was constructed by artist and sculpture -
Tylur French.  The Executive Director for the
Overton Park Conservancy, Tina Sullivan, is
standing off to the right of Strickland.

When it comes to cycling, Fuhrmann believes that there has been a monumental amount of progress that’s been made in Memphis over the past decade.

“There’s been a complete shift, and a 180 degree turn, when it comes to cycling, in Memphis.  One of the biggest motivators for this may have come when Bicycling Magazine put the city on the list of being one the worst for cycling nearly a decade ago.  Few people were probably even thinking about it until that happened,” Fuhrmann said. 

Bicycling Magazine identified Memphis as being one of the three worst cities for cycling in 2008 and a year later it ranked 69th out of 70 U.S. cities for commuting on a bicycle.

“After that, the stars started to align in Memphis’ favor when the Shelby Farms Greenline was built, under Mayor Willie Herenton, and in 2010 when his successor, Mayor Wharton, appointed its first Bike and Pedestrian Program Manager - Kyle Wagenschutz,” Fuhrmann said.

From the great strides that have been made for cycling, Memphians still have a lot to still look forward to.

“The transportation picture is getting more robust in Memphis with more options, thanks to cycling.  So far, we’ve had a patchwork of bike lanes and trails that will eventually all connect to one another and, we’ll see the completion of the Big River Crossing on the Harahan and the Wolf River Conservancy Greenway trail in the next few years,” Fuhrmann said.

Shaffer agrees with Fuhrman and sees the mindset in Memphis beginning to slowly shift away from cars to other ways of getting around and he sees bicycling becoming a bigger part of this evolution.

Rep. Steve Cohen has served his 9th District in Memphis
since being elected in 2007.  In that time, he has demonstrated
his support of community improvement efforts like MEMFix
and any issues that favorably impact pedestrians and
cyclists in our community to include the Big River
Crossing.  He was one of a handful of dignitaries who
spoke at the dedication of the Bicycle Arch in
Overton Park in April 2014.

“I’m happy to see that Memphis In May will be providing parking for bikes in this year’s event and the Levitt Shell will be hosting a Bike Night with staffed bike valets at their concerts,” Shaffer said.

One of the other things that he is also eager to see on our horizon is the city’s Explore Bike Share program.

“The bike share program is set to launch in 2017.  A vendor has been selected and the Urban Art Commission will be overseeing the designs that will be placed on the bikes, which will be branded differently for each neighborhood.  This will initially include Downtown Memphis, Uptown Memphis, South Memphis, Orange Mound, Binghampton, the Medical District, and Midtown,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer is also looking forward to the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP), which will be hosted in Memphis next year.

“This meeting will give our city an opportunity to showcase all of the great things that MEMFix and others in the city have done to make it more bike and pedestrian-friendly and how far we’ve come over the last decade,” Shaffer said.

To learn more about MEMFix, you can check out their MEMFix Facebook page and The MEMFIX Manual – A Practical Guide to Reimagining Your Neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The "Memphis Cyclist" name gets trademarked

The “Memphis Cyclist” name gets trademarked
By:  Michael Lander

Names are an important part of our lives in so many
ways.  Even though the Memphis Cyclist name hasn't
been around for very long, the hope is that it will be
among the list of many who will continue to be a part
in promoting cycling and all of the other things
that make the Memphis area great.

The famous playwright, William Shakespeare, once asked the question, “What is in a name?” 

For me, and for most other people, the answer is simple – It is “everything.”

Whether we think about it or not, names hold special meaning for most of us.  It is what we are known by throughout our lives and it’s what we’re always remembered by long after we’re gone.

This is one reason, I think, that it was so important to me when I was notified that my trademark request for the name of “Memphis Cyclist” had been officially approved this week.

What this will mean for me is that, legally, I now have the exclusive rights for the use of that name, which I came up with back in the spring of 2012 when I created my
Memphis Cyclist website and my Memphis Cyclist blog. 

I established the website and blog four years ago in order to satisfy some course requirements for a journalism degree that I was pursuing at the University of Memphis.

I could have chosen any number of topics for a blog and a website, but I had really gotten interested in cycling several years before that and I knew that this would be something that I would be more than willing to keep going long after I finished my classes and received a final grade. 

And this, indeed, is what ended up happening.

I had many other reasons for wanting to write about cycling in Memphis, and I continue to do so, because I could see
that the Memphis area was clearly on the verge of transforming itself into becoming a place where cyclists would want to come to visit and to live with the development and proliferation of bike lanes and trails, and plans for even more in the future.

I also saw my website and my blog as an opportunity to give back to my community by helping others to become interested in cycling, themselves, and helping them out with it after they do get started.

Along with that, I also saw that I could use my website and blog to promote health and fitness, (which many of our area residents are so desperately in need of), and that it could show how cycling could help to unify and bring our community together, and to help instill pride and appreciation for all the great things that Memphis has and will have in the future.

I especially have sought to focus on the positive aspects of what cycling can be and on how great life is and can be in Memphis, instead of focusing on just the negative parts of it. 

Memphis, like any other big city in the U.S., is not perfect, but I’ve always believed that if you only look at the negative, then the negative is all that you will ever see.

I, myself, have chosen to concentrate on the good and to see what I, for one, can do to make that good happen and to try to bring out the best in me and in others.

In the years ahead, I hope to continue to promote cycling and to support others who are doing the same as I am.

I will also continue to keep the focus of my website and blog the same by providing a one-stop-shop for practical information, tips, and advice for those who are interested in cycling, while featuring people who ride, places to ride, and cycling-related information in Memphis and in the surrounding areas.

Having the “Memphis Cyclist” name trademarked, will not, in and of itself, change anything for me, or for those who enjoy or who benefit in any way from my website or my blog.

It is an important and necessary step, though, in being able to continue my mission under a name that is distinctively unique and is as special to me as any of our names might be for any one of us.

I truly love cycling and I want to support it and the cycling community and it’s something that I hope to be able to continue to provide for many years to come.  And, I want to be able to always do this as the “Memphis Cyclist.”

To see more from me, you can follow me on
twitter or check me out on Pinterest.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bicycling can provide valuable insights and important life lessons for all of us

Bicycling can provide valuable insights and important life lessons for all of us
By:  Michael Lander

If Auguste Rodin had been a cyclist, his artwork (known
as - The Thinker) may have been depicted like the
image above.  The Thinker is often used to
represent philosophy and, in this case, he portrays the
philosophical aspect of a life of cycling.

Bicycling….. Is there something more to it than simply being a great way to get around?

I happen to be someone who thinks so.

After getting into cycling, myself, about nine years ago, it really didn’t take me long to come to the realization that there was a lot more to it than I knew as a child growing up in the 1960’s.

In my defense, I am pretty certain that most people, at that time, probably didn’t give it much more thought than I did back then.

Bicycling, however, I now know can change how you see your life, your community, and the world.

As I see it, today, not only do bicycles provide an inexpensive and more environmentally-friendly alternative to driving, a great way to get or to stay in shape, and an enjoyable way to get around, but they offer a better view of the world and a better perspective of life for those who do ride.

And, for those who really love cycling, their philosophy of life might come down to one simple and undeniable truth –

Life is better on a bike and a bike is better for your life.

While bikes may not be the answer to all of your problems, or all of the problems of the world, they might be a really good place for many of us to start.

Bicycles can offer so much to so many people, not only helping to improve one’s health and fitness with psychological and physiological benefits, but they can provide you with a new outlook and a new philosophy on life, itself.

Ultimately, it might just be that almost everything that you need to know about life, you just might get from a bike ride.

Robert Fulghum, in his book – “All I need to know I learned in Kindergarten” suggested that the most important lessons in life came to him while he was just beginning school, but I would rather think that Fulghum never learned anything else that was important because he evidently never actually became a cyclist, himself.

In reality, we all know that we continue to grow and to learn throughout our entire lives, but through cycling we can rediscover the fun and the sense of freedom and the thrill of discovery that most of us were first introduced to when we began to ride a bike as a child.

Also, it is through riding a bike, that we come to understand what cycling can teach us and how our lives can be reflected in an activity that otherwise seems so deceptively simple and easy.

So, you might ask, what is it that cycling can teach us about life?

For me, a bike ride, as with life, is a journey.  That journey takes us down roads, roads that are sometimes easy, and, at other times, they are difficult, challenging, and unpredictable.

Art can sometimes imitate life and life can sometimes
imitate art and cycling can sometimes do both.
This piece of art is located at the Oak Court Mall
in Memphis.
We can’t always choose the roads, or control the conditions of those roads that we go down, but we can control how prepared we are for them, how we look at them, and how we are going to react and respond to them.

Sometimes, it is all in how we see something that can make a big difference in how well that we will do when we face them.  A seemingly insurmountable hill, for example, may not seem so daunting when we view it as just another challenge waiting for us to conquer.

In life, and with cycling, we often have to work hard, to push ourselves, and to put forth the effort in order to propel ourselves forward and to move ahead.

We can get better and faster at riding, or at anything else in life for that matter, but improvements only come when we struggle, and when we experience a few aches and pains along the way, but the pay-off almost always makes it all worthwhile. 

Nothing is more rewarding in life than when we face the challenges and adversity laid out before us and overcome them.  

In spite of our best efforts, however, we are always going to come across some setbacks, obstacles, resistance, and some bumps in the road.  That is life. 

We can minimize the impact of these by remaining cautious and vigilant and whether we are talking about life, or about riding a bike, the one thing that we can always count on is to expect the unexpected. 

We shouldn’t ever let any of this deter us, though, from trying to find a way to get where we want to go even if it’s not the route that we may have originally envisioned for ourselves.

Sometimes, it is not always as important how we get somewhere, but it is the ride, itself, that matters most. 

In life, as with cycling, we should also never pass up the opportunity to stop and to seize the moment, to take in the scenery along the way, to enjoy the ride whenever and however long we can, and to appreciate those with whom we share the road or journey of life with or to have some quiet time alone for contemplative thought or prayer.    

In the end, we can learn a lot about ourselves, and about our lives, by simply riding a bike.  Bikes can teach us how to live our lives to the fullest and they can enrich us in ways that we might not get to experience, otherwise. 

Life, it has been said, is a beautiful ride and it can truly be an adventure, and wherever life might ultimately take you, a bicycle may be one of the best ways to get there.