Along For The Ride 

Local groups starts bike/walk campaign.

Along Front Street, there is a small sign with a number on it and a bicycle, denoting the way to the Mississippi River Trail.

But with two lanes of traffic each direction and a main route for MATA buses, who is actually going to be riding a bicycle on Front in the first place?

"There are different levels of encouraging people to walk and ride bikes," says Sarah Newstok with the Coalition for Livable Communities (CLC). "If a narrow sidewalk is right along a six-lane road and there's no buffer between it and traffic, and there are utility poles, does that really count as walkable? A sidewalk like this is almost as good as no sidewalk."

The CLC recently launched Walk Bike Memphis!, a campaign to increase ridership and bike and pedestrian facilities, including better curb access, sidewalks, bike lanes, and crosswalks. The initiative will include an outreach campaign, a suggested update to outdated local bike and pedestrian laws, and even simple letter-writing.

"While there are groups such as the Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club who do organized rides, there was no one on the ground doing any grassroots advocacy work about walk/bike issues. We're filling the gap," Newstok says.

The group, whose focus is on neighborhood livability, sees bike and pedestrian access as a sustainability issue. While walking and biking are great recreational activities, a walkable community increases long-term property values and, frankly, makes it easier for people of all ages to get around.

(I recently heard a statistic that men currently live several years longer than their ability to drive, while women live almost 10 years longer than their ability to drive.)

The CLC is working in tandem with Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop and Bike Walk Tennessee. They've already begun an inventory of what streets and intersections are scheduled for repaving or resignaling and are comparing that list to the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization's (MPO) bike and pedestrian plan.

"Since paving projects are already funded and repair is already happening, now is the most efficient time to add or design for bike and pedestrian facilities," Newstok says.

The group will also look at local bike and pedestrian laws and the MPO's current plans and see if any of those need to be updated.

"The MPO's current bike and pedestrian plan has Peabody as a place to put a bike lane," Newstok says. "Madison used to have more traffic, but with the addition of the trolley, I think it's driven more traffic onto Peabody."

For many years, the city of Memphis did not have any bike lanes. There are now a few, most notably on Shady Grove, but is that where people are riding?

The CLC is planning to create a map of where people are already walking and biking and, using that, suggesting where some bike routes should go.

"Our whole goal is to build on that," Newstok says. "We want to increase bike and pedestrian facilities here."

By the time this issue of the Flyer comes out, Memphians will be in the middle of picking a new mayor. On page 18, the Flyer staff has offered advice for the city's new top administrator, and I'd suggest that making Memphis more bikable and walkable would be an easy win for a new mayor.

"Bike and pedestrian issues are such low-hanging fruit. They can really increase the livability and vitality of a neighborhood, and they're not that hard to implement," Newstok says.

And if you're already going to be doing road improvements anyway, what's stopping you? Safety concerns? Memphis drivers? The only way drivers are going to learn how to share the road with bicyclists is to actually share the roads. Wouldn't it be great if there were some lanes to help drivers understand which part of the road is theirs? Worst-case scenario, you stripe some lanes and no one uses them.

Best-case scenario, you change people's habits and create a healthier, safer, and even more affordable place to live.

"There's a wide variety of interest in the topic. It's not just guys in spandex, though we want them, too," Newstok says. "You become a pedestrian as soon as you open your car door."

Anyone interested in joining the campaign can contact Newstok at Walk Bike Memphis! will also host a meeting the first Monday of every month, 5:30 p.m., at Otherlands on Cooper. Anyone is welcome to attend.

"We need people to do the legwork with us," Newstok says. "We can't possibly do it all on our own."

And maybe one type of legwork can beget another.

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