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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.

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