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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Memphis' Bikeway & Pedestrian Program Manager is working to make our streets better and safer for everyone

Memphis’ Bikeway & Pedestrian Program Manager is working to make our streets better and safer for everyone
By:  Michael Lander

Nicholas Oyler (who prefers to go by Nick) is originally
from Germantown, Tenn.  He graduated from the
University of Memphis and received a Master's
Degree at Texas A&M in urban planning, which he
pursued because of his love for Memphis and he
wanted to make the city an even better place to live.

Any one of us is capable of changing the world for the better and making life better for others.  Nicholas Oyler would like to do that in Memphis.

Oyler is Memphis’ Bikeway & Pedestrian Program Manager.  It is a position that he has held since Sept. 6, 2015

was previously held by Kyle Wagenschutz.

Wagenschutz was the first Bikeway & Pedestrian Program Manager for the city when he was hired in September 2010 by former Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton.

During Wagenschutz’s tenure, the city laid the groundwork in developing and implementing the first bike and pedestrian-related programs and facilities, and, in less than half a decade, it drastically transformed our city, and it was recognized, nationally, for the tremendous amount of progress that it had made.

After stepping into the job that Wagenschutz vacated in 2015, Oyler hit the ground running and has shown that he is eager to make even greater progress and improvements on behalf of the pedestrians and cyclists in our city.

In order to accomplish all that he hopes to, Oyler has set three goals for himself.

“The first, and one of my biggest goals for me, is to make all of our streets safer.  Since coming into this job, I have tried to focus on accommodating the needs and the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in our city,” Oyler said. 

“People fail to realize that our roads are a public place and, collectively, they are our largest public places and they are three times the size of that of Shelby Farms Park,” he said.

Oyler loves cycling, but he considers himself to be more of
an utilitarian cyclist and he is much more interested in
riding to get around than in racing or trying to ever
compete at it.

“Unfortunately, our roads in Memphis are a public place that are not as safe as they need to be.  There are about 100 traffic-related deaths on them each year.   If over hundred people died at a public place like Shelby Farms Park each year, there would be in an uproar about it.  The attitude that this number of deaths on our roads is just a risk that we must live with isn’t really any more acceptable than it would be if they occurred in Shelby Farms Park,” Oyler added.

The second goal that Oyler wants to accomplish is filling in the missing gaps with our bike lanes by connecting some of the existing bike lanes that we already have. 

“We presently have a disconnected patchwork of bike lanes and I would like to change that and to fill in those gaps so that they will be a better network for those who need them,” Oyler said.

“We are currently on track to have a total of 400 miles of bike facilities, which includes shared lanes and greenways, by the end of this year.  One of these will include a protected bike lane on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Blvd. to downtown on Cooper north of Central Ave.  This will go from midtown to downtown Memphis.  I especially want to target my efforts on those who don’t currently feel safe walking or riding on our city streets,” he added.

This bicycle stand is one of several around the city of
Memphis.  This one is located outside the front doors
of City Hall where Oyler works.

The third goal for Oyler is to find funding the Pedestrian and School Safety Action Plan.  As of right now, there is not a dedicated funding source allocated for this. 
In addition to these goals, Oyler would like to help people to overcome any resistance that they might have concerning bike lanes. 

“We have some people who don’t recognize the greater benefits, like the traffic-calming effects, that can come from decreasing or narrowing car lanes to accommodate bike lanes.  Instead of focusing on any potential, momentary delay that this might cause in getting somewhere, we should also consider the associated safety benefits,” Oyler said.

“It’s been proven time and time again that if we make the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists, you make them safer for everyone else,” he said.

“Part of the problem for us is that we are living in a car-dominated society with cities that have been built in such a way that traveling by car is about the only way to get around and people are entrenched in this way of thinking and believing that this is the only way that it can ever be,” he added.

Oyler thinks that it will take some time, but that people will eventually come around on this.   

“The us (cyclists and pedestrians) verses them (drivers) mindset will take some time to change, but it is something that will eventually happen.  We’re beginning to see this trend throughout the country and where this has happened, people have come to realize that things have improved and been made safer for everyone because of it,” Oyer said.

Sara Studdard is the project manager for the Explore Bike
Share Program at doug carpenter & associates, LLC.
Oyler is a staunch proponent of things like the bike
share program, which help to provide various
options in transportation for Memphis area residents
and those who come to visit our city.

Oyler believes that Memphis has made great strides and he is excited about some of the things, like the Explore Bike Share Program, that will be rolling out in 2017. 

“I think that the Explore Bike Share Program is great and it is something that will allow Memphis the opportunity to really leap forward after it is fully implemented.   The program will be especially beneficial in neighborhoods that have residents with a limited means of transportation and it should allow people to not have to rely exclusively on only one form of transportation or on a bus schedule,” Oyler said.

“I expect some people may try the bikes out just because of curiosity and I think that they will find out that they will like and enjoy it.  This should get more people out riding bikes and this will eventually help to create interest and momentum and will ultimately be a part of a safer infrastructure that I envision for everyone,” he said.

“There will be some exciting news and updates that will be coming out this year concerning the bike share program and I am optimistic that, with that, and some other things that will be occurring this year, that 2017 will be a great year for pedestrians and cyclists in Memphis,” he added.

One of those things includes a major announcement by the city, in late January, that Memphis had been selected as one of 10 cities in the country to have been chosen for the Big Jump Project from PeopleforBikes, which is a national bicycle advocacy organization

Other cities invited to participate include Portland, Austin, New York, and Los Angeles.  The three-year grant aims to boost the number of people riding bikes in a city's chosen focus area by two or three fold.

Oyler and his colleagues settled on the South Memphis area, including the southern portion of downtown, as Memphis' focus area.

Oyler said that he hopes to take the lessons originally learned in South Memphis and eventually apply them to the city as a whole.

For cyclists, Oyler also see other great things in store for them in the year ahead.

Sara Studdard, from doug carpenter & associates, LLC., and
Kyle Wagenschutz, from PeopleforBikes, host the Bike
Nerds podcast on  Wagenschutz was
Memphis' first Bikeway & Pedestrian Program Manager
before Oyler took the helm on Sept. 6, 2015.

“An extension of the Hampline will be breaking ground and it will be open for use in the fall of this year.  This will go where the Shelby Farms Greenline currently terminates at Tillman to Overton Park,” Oyler said.

Beyond 2017, Oyler believes cyclists will find other great things coming to our river city.   

“There is a long-term plan to extend the trails west of the Big River Crossing and Second Street will have a new bike and pedestrian access in the next few years.  The protected bike lanes already installed on Crump and Danny Thomas will also have new connections added.  In addition to that, one of the long-term plans that I am really excited about is one that will put in protected bike lanes on Jefferson Ave. from Danny Thomas to Cleveland Street,” Oyler said

After a setback for having bicycle lanes put down on Riverside Drive in April 2016, Oyler said that cyclists will soon have another chance to show their support for this.

“There will be an opportunity for public input this year regarding a proposal to add protected bike lanes on the full length of Riverside Drive.  I believe that this new proposal goes above and beyond in addressing the concerns that were often heard during the pilot project.  If anyone is interested in seeing bike lanes on Riverside Drive, I encourage them to attend any meetings for this and to speak up,” Oyler said.

“It’s important for the public to get involved, to stay involved, and to speak up and let their elected officials know how they feel.  As public employees, we in City Hall respond to the public's desires,” he said.

Oyler is a downtown Memphis resident who either walks or
who tries to take some form of transit instead of relying
exclusively on a motor vehicle to get around.

“There are other valid issues,” Oyler said, “like crime, education, and so on that do compete for the time and attention of the city and its leaders and funding availability is based on what the public determines is a priority.  If people believe that having much safer streets for everyone is something that they want to have, it can be made to be a priority.” 

While funding can sometimes be an obstacle to making progress, Oyler believes that it is even more important for Memphians to have the vision for something better and to start working toward it.

“There are places where walking and riding bikes are not just an accepted and a viable form of transportation, but they are something that is integrated into everyday life.  I believe that this can be a vision for us in Memphis and something that can be a reality for us one day.  Such a transformative change won’t happen overnight, but it can happen, if we really want it,” Oyler said.

With Oyler leading the charge for change, he hopes to help make the world and life even better, at least for those living in or visiting Memphis.