Who Knew? Memphis on Track to Add 55 Miles of Bike Lanes in Just Two Years

It seems nowadays you aren’t truly a bike-friendly city until you’ve had your first civic dust-up over bike lanes. And by that standard, Memphis, Tennessee has arrived.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton wants to install 55 miles of bike lanes in the city in just two years. Photo: ##http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=177212&page=32## Skyscraperpage.com##

Last month, this mid-sized Southern city fought back challenges by business owners to install a bike lane on one of its main major commercial thoroughfares, Madison Avenue. That street was just the latest in Mayor A C Wharton’s ambitious plan to add 55 miles of bike lanes in just two years.

Business owners along Madison were firmly against it; some 65 signed a petition opposing the change and a small group even held a news conference to air their concerns. But Wharton held firm after a engineering study of the 1.5-mile thoroughfare said the road diet would only add a few seconds to car travel times.

While indicating that he was sensitive to the business-owners’ concerns, Wharton said, “As we’ve seen throughout Memphis and all over the country, bike lanes are encouraging people to be healthier, more environmentally friendly, and more supportive of locally owned small businesses.”

Memphis’ progressive campaign for bike-friendliness began with Wharton’s election in 2009. Sustainability issues had been a focus of Wharton’s in his previous role as the first African American chief executive of Shelby County, which includes Memphis. Upon throwing his hat into the mayoral race, Wharton made bike-friendliness a key platform of his campaign, according to the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz.

Wagenschutz says his nomination for the job by Wharton was a sign of just how serious Wharton was about bicycling. After all, prior to joining city staff, the 20-something Wagenschutz had been the director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop, a charity organization that provides affordable and reliable bicycles to city residents.

“He plucked me out of the picket yards and into City Hall,” said Wagenschutz.

Wharton issued his 55-mile challenge in the summer of 2010, saying the plan “is critical to the livability and health of our city.” Since that time, the city has been making laudable strides toward that goal. According to its bike planner, the city now has 30 miles of bike lanes, 70 miles of shared roadways and 40 miles of multi-use paths.

Chad Terry of Bike World bike shop in suburban Collierville applauded the mayor’s efforts, saying, “It’s definitely making people a lot more aware of biking and cyclists.”

The Greater Memphis Shelby Farms Greenline, a multi-use path, has been a particularly attractive to new cyclists, said Terry.

“We’ve seen people who have fixed up old bikes or bought new bikes to ride it,” he said. “Memphis has definitely come a long way in the number of cyclists on the roads.”

  • Darin

    Very cool. And very telling about the reflexive opposition by people to bike lanes for no particular reason. I lived around the Medical Center in Memphis in 1999 and could certainly vouch that Madison is a wide enough street to easily take on a bike lane. (Union on the other hand would be a nightmare.)

  • Jen

    Angie – great story, but the trail you reference at the bottom is actually the Shelby Farms Greenline.  It’s a common mistake but an important one to correct.  The nonprofit Shelby Farms Park Conservancy maintains and operates that trail all with money raised privately.  Greater Memphis Greenline is a separate advocacy organization. 

  • Tom Ezell

    I was there this past weekend teaching one of the LAB’s Traffic Skills 101 classes, and was definitely impressed by what they’ve done over there on Madison, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.  Got to meet Kyle, as well…  He’s doing a great job over there.

  • Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

  • German Guest

    Now if Memphis drivers could just learn to drive safely… Seriously, though, it’s nice that Memphis is making such strides. Thanks, Mayor Wharton!

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