Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Bike Trails and Skate Parks

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM

In a column this week, I asked bicycle advocate Anthony Siracusa and skate park advocate Aaron Shafer if there was a “tipping point” in their efforts. Due to deadlines and space constraints, I wasn’t able to use much of their responses.

Here are more of their comments, along with some comments from Sarah Newstok of Livable Memphis who was also briefly quoted in the column.

Aaron wrote: “I think it’s a gradual accumulation of events that serve to propagate the tiny ripple made by a the original advocate as well as efforts that preceded the advocate. Case in point, Josh Lowery who owned the now closed Skate park of Memphis, has been fostering and growing a large community of skateboarders in the years proceeding my own efforts. We would not have had 400 skateboarders show up at the Fairgrounds demo without his key role and respect in the skate community. He provided the "dry wood", I simply lit the match.

Within the general populace, that ripple moves through one person to the next until it the advocates message is relayed to the right person or persons from perhaps a series of people while in parallel a general awarerness and acceptance by the community continues to grow. For the skate park it came down to the grassroots making a case for a need, creating the awareness followed by leadership responding and acting on that need. Our story is far from over though, we still need to have the location to pass the general city council.

I also think our city is close to a tipping point and AC Wharton is serving as an advocate for that movement by affirming and therefore fueling the grassroots efforts. I've been impressed with his ability to respond starting with affirming Anthony's advocacy work. Feeling very encouraged these days!"

Anthony wrote: "When City Engineers proposed in June to forgo the use of Federal dollars to create bicycle facilities, advocates saw a sort of flash point for progress. In council meetings, Walk Bike Memphis advocates asked why federal dollars would not be used to create bike facilities, bike lanes that would be free of charge to the City of Memphis. Council Chair Harold Collins also wanted to know why the Engineers would not use federal money to create the facilities, and in an open questioning of City Engineer Wain Gaskins Chairman Collins made it clear that the bike facilities should be re-integrated into the re-paving plans.

Days later, Mayor A C Wharton spoke publicly about his anger and disappointment that the City was missing an opportunity to make progress on an issue that is so important to him. Finally, as Walk Bike Memphis volunteers prepared to host a bicycle action at City Hall in early July, the Mayor announced his 2010-2011 Bicycle Facilities Program.

I believe that Mayor Wharton made a commitment to creating 55 miles of bicycle facilities in Memphis because he knows bicycle facilities are a part of making Memphis into a city of choice. Mayor Wharton was able to move so swiftly on this issue because advocates and volunteers from Walk Bike Memphis were diligent in their advocacy efforts, communicating clearly to the mayor that this issue was critical."

Sarah wrote: "I am not sure about the skate park decision, but there were a number of things that came together to create the new commitment to building a bicycle-friendly city.

Stimulus funds gave the City an opportunity to build safe and healthy street using 100% federal funds. Missing out on this opportunity would have been a huge loss and it gave fuel to advocates in asking Council and the Mayor’s office to be clear about their priorities. While the community had been asking for bike facilities (lanes, signs, etc.) for many years, the stimulus funding oversight was egregious enough to really attract attention.

Livable Memphis’ Walk Bike volunteers really stepped up to the plate, in the ways Anthony mentioned. The many letters to and meetings with City Council members and the Mayor were instrumental in turning the heads of our elected officials. Memphis citizens were quite vocal in asking for safe roads to ride their bikes for fun, for better health, and to get around.

These 55 miles of repaving projects that will include bike facilities are a wonderful first step towards Mayor Wharton’s promise of 500 miles of bike lanes for Memphis. It also provides City Council with a cost effective way to build safe and healthy options for recreation, exercise and transit.

The next challenge is to connect these repaving projects in order to create a network of routes across the city — connecting people to neighborhoods and services."

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