Two bits of news — that Cooper Street will be striped with bike lanes and that Memphis will soon have a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator — should give cyclists and walking enthusiasts more reason to hit the streets.
The yet-to-be-appointed bicycle/pedestrian coordinator position was approved last week as a project jointly funded by the city and the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization. City engineer Wain Gaskins says the position is meant to give the engineering office more knowledge of cycling standards.
"We're really looking for someone who has experience with bicycling facilities in other cities, someone with practical expertise who can evaluate possible sites," Gaskins says.
The position comes on the heels of a decision to add bike lanes to the stretch of Cooper between Central and Southern, which will undergo repaving thanks to a federal grant. The plan, says deputy city engineer John Cameron, is to limit Cooper to two lanes for cars between Central and Young and reallocate the other two lanes for cycling.
"We have this opportunity and desire from the community," Cameron says, "and we hope to make bike lanes a part of that plan."
Cooper between Young and Southern is a different story. Since that stretch is only two lanes wide, local business owners are concerned about the loss of street parking. Cameron says the issue is still being resolved.
Both Cameron and Gaskins hope the coordinator will make these projects more common and accomplished more quickly.
"We hope to continue the lanes all the way to Overton Park," Cameron says. "We need someone who can focus on these problems and help prioritize what we can do in the near-term."
Sarah Newstok, program manager of Livable Memphis, says that what's already been recognized in other cities seems to finally be making an impression here. At the most recent City Council meeting, Chairman Harold Collins addressed Gaskins pointedly on the issue of making Memphis a bicycle-friendly environment.
"The City Council is beginning to understand that bicycle and pedestrian access makes for a livable city," Newstok says. "It's attractive for young people to live, to work, and to stay."
But talk of a new coordinator or plans for implementing bike lanes don't speak as loudly as results. Though Cameron says the paving initiative — including the new bicycle lanes — will be executed "in the next year or so," Newstok is skeptical based on the city's past performance.
"As an advocate for walking and biking, that's not sufficient," she says. "Other cities are able to design bike lanes within their engineering departments. It's not abnormal."