Tagged: Memphis MPO

My response to John Branston

Good evening Mr. Branston,

I just finished reading your article in the Memphis Flyer about the MPO’s plan for our region.  My response follows.

No one should be afraid of planning.  Memphis, as you likely know, was originally a planned city.  (Please click here for a map of the original plans for downtown Memphis.)  I was in Washington, DC over the weekend and was impressed by its beauty and livability, much of which we can credit to its being a planned city as well.  All aspects of our lives require planning.  A household budget is nothing more than a financial plan, one that covers goals for spending, saving, and debt reduction.  The extent to which that plan is successful depends on how closely the members of a household adhere to its recommendations.

My employer, the University of Memphis, has many plans for the future of its campus and the broader community.  One goal is to improve the Highland Street corridor by attracting new businesses, redeveloping underused land, and making that avenue the true entrance to the University.  Indeed, my school also has an excellent Department of City and Regional Planning, one of whose graduates, Kyle Wagenschutz, is now the City’s first Bike/Pedestrian coordinator.  We should be proud of that department for producing such a capable and successful city employee.

Planning, above all, requires coordination.  In order for our financial goals to be met, my wife and I must coordinate our spending behavior.  We also try to coordinate our goals with conditions within broader financial markets, albeit without much success lately.  (Bank of America, you have been warned.)

Perhaps you should ask military leaders what they think about plans.  Our armed forces are known for producing all manner of plans, both small and grand in scale.  Indeed, one could regard the Allied invasion of Normandy as the execution of a particularly bold plan, although with many more guns and explosions that the MPO’s plan.

Speaking of explosions, you are correct that the bike lanes on Madison Avenue incited quite a bit of controversy, much of which was unnecessary.  As I wrote in a recent blog post, once local businesses see that the installation of bike lanes did not cause the death of the commercial activity on that street, we will all breathe a big sigh of relief.  And of course, we have the redevelopment of Overton Square to look forward to.  We need not expect “1,000 more Madison Avenues,” unless we want all other commercial corridors in Memphis to be as successful as I know Madison soon will be.  Interestingly, Loeb Properties seems to share my opinion.

What plans like those produced by the MPO allow us as a region to do three things.  The first is to recognize the resources we have at our disposal, the second to acknowledge what limitations we face, and the third and most important is to figure out what is the best way to put those resources to productive use.  Local government will inevitably play a role in this, but so will many other rational economic agents, such as developers, households, businesses, workers, commuters, cyclists, pedestrians, and other members of the community.  What the MPO’s plan represents is not a hard and fast set of rules; the MPO itself has little in the way of “teeth” it can use for enforcement.  Rather, the plan contains a vision for what our region can, and should, look like in the future. And that plan is explicit that our streets should be made safe for all users: drivers, cyclists, the disabled, and pedestrians.  I believe that by presenting the best plan possible, the MPO stands the best chance of eliciting “buy-in” by all residents of the Memphis metropolitan area.  And I believe that this plan can and will do just that.

Whether the MPO’s plan is successful depends on the coordination between local governments and all users of land and roads in the area.  This is not the “government [as a] teacher and motivator.”  This is how thriving cities are made.  Ever been to Houston, Texas?  That’s a city without a plan, indeed, without even any zoning restrictions.  Sure, it’s big, but big in terms of sprawl, not big in terms of ideas.

You are correct: it is up to the individual to decide how best to act.  And I do believe that the government should involve itself as little as possible in many of those decisions.  But just as our federal government has carved out space via the First Amendment for journalists such as yourself to produce such (ahem) thoughtful commentary as in your recent column, our local governments must carve out space for our roads to be safely used by all travelers, be they on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike, or in a car.  The way that that is done is via the installation of bike lanes and curb cuts, the improvement of sidewalks, and the creation of proper signage which clearly delineates who may be where and when.  We need our city to work for all of us, not just drivers.

In closing, I will note that while I am an employee of the University of Memphis (a proud one at that), I am not writing this on behalf of anyone but me.  This semester I am teaching a course on Urban Economics, one that discusses many of the issues covered in the MPO’s plan.  In fact, Kyle Wagenschutz himself was kind enough to visit my class as a guest lecturer and talk about the economics of biking.  (I hereby bestow upon Kyle an honorary PhD in Awesomeness.)  I am fairly knowledgeable about these issues, both from a professorial and a personal perspective.  You see, I am also a regularly bike commuter to campus and other points around town.  And I know what it means to have bike lanes available to me.  The lanes on Southern Avenue make my commute so much safer and enjoyable, and not just to me, but to the drivers with whom I share the road.  I have my lane, and they have theirs.

Sir, you have my best wishes for a happy and warm holiday weekend.  I also hope that you begin riding your bike more than “once in a while.”  Memphis is becoming quite the bike-friendly city.  Really, you have no idea what you’re missing.

Best regards,

Doug Campbell

www.bikinginmemphis.com

Bicycle Facilities Meeting: 23 March 2011

After skipping the second in the series of meetings about plans for biking and pedestrian facilities in Memphis – the one that actually focussed on bike lanes, no less – I attended the third and final meeting this week.  Like the first two it was hosted by the Church Health Center and took place on Wednesday, 23 March.

The meeting was sparsely attended compared to the first one; mostly it was the “true believers” (people who already bike around town) and several representatives from the Memphis MPO, including the inimitable Kyle Wagenschutz, the city’s bike/pedestrian coordinator.  There was no presentation, just a large number of colorful and informative maps showing the proposed and scheduled bike facilities around the area.

I was heartened to see many such facilities in Midtown, where I live, as well as in north and south Memphis, areas long held in the grips of poverty and underemployment.  While I most certainly want every major road in Midtown to be blanketed in bike lanes (especially Madison Avenue!), I don’t want these plans to be a Midtown-only effort.  Considering the extent to which poverty correlates with negative health outcomes, the low-income neighborhoods in Memphis should very much be the beneficiaries of any and all facilities which encourage exercise.

What remains to be seen is what will actually happen.  From looking at the maps, at least some of the proposed facilities appear to be somewhat “pie in the sky” in ambition.  Don’t get me wrong: I would love to see some sort of trail system running along Nonconnah Creek south of Memphis and connecting with the Germantown bike facilities, the Wolf River trail system, and indirectly to the Shelby Farms Greenline, but where the funding (and political muscle) comes from is unknown at this time.  Whatever the case, I am overjoyed to see so many proposed biking and walking facilities in and around Memphis.  It’s really heartening to see how quickly this city has turned around.  I can only imagine what it has been like for the dozens of people who’ve been advocating for better facilities (hell, any facilities) for walkers and bikers in Memphis for years.

One piece of good news to share: after originally coming out against the proposed bike lanes on Madison Avenue, Molly’s La Casita has switched teams and is now supporting bike lanes!  Yay Molly’s!!  Now if only Huey’s and Mercury Valet Cleaners would end their senseless opposition.

The Meeting the Week Before Last About Bike Lanes on Madison Avenue

I’ve been a bit delinquent in posting my thoughts on the meeting two weeks ago about proposed bike lanes (or other bike facilities) on Madison Avenue and other roads around town.  I have been extraordinarily busy lately and haven’t had much time for long-form posts.  Plus, some of the opinions expressed in the meeting were quite shocking in their tenor such that I really wanted some time to process the events and write something thoughtful about it.

Continue reading

A Smattering of Bits of Interest

  • Local biking guru Anthony Siracusa has a great article in today’s Commercial Appeal about the status of community cycling efforts in Memphis.
  • Several articles have appeared lately about the walking and biking lanes that are to be installed on the Harahan Bridge (which I’ve just discovered has its own Facebook page – who knew?) in the near future.  I am so excited about being able to bike to Arkansas – and eventually to New Orleans – I can hardly stand it.
  • There’s a meeting Wednesday, 2 March at 5:30 PM at the Church Health Center on Union Avenue about the plans for pedestrian and biking infrastructure in the area.  Kyle Wagenschutz and other folks from the Memphis MPO will be soliciting input from the public about what sort of facilities we want.  I’ll be there and I hope you will be too.
  • I’m way behind in posting about the controversy surrounding the installation of bike lanes on Madison Avenue through Midtown, but here’s a great letter to the editors of the CA on just that topic.
  • Here’s a great article from the U.S. Department of Transportation on the benefits of bicycle infrastructure.  I haven’t had a chance to fully read it, but I like what I see so far.

Postponed

FYI: tonight’s Memphis MPO meeting at the Church Health Center has been postponed until Wednesday, 2 March.  The meeting scheduled for that night will be rescheduled for a later time.

Memphis MPO Meeting

An email reminder from Kyle Wagenschutz …

Hello everyone,

Just a quick reminder about next week’s meeting during Phase 2 of the update process for the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.  We had over 70 people attend last month’s meeting, many of whom were new faces, and we got some great feedback and ideas for expanding our region’s greenway and trail network.

We are now gearing up for our second meeting that will focus on pedestrian and bicycle issues.  During this process, we will be getting public input on the most important part of the plan – describing what we, as a region, want to accomplish in terms of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and support programs.

The Memphis MPO will be holding two additional public meetings over the few weeks to help us gain your perspective on how the plan should be updated.  Each of the meetings will be held at the Church Health Center Wellness Center at 1115 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN 38104 in Conference Rooms A and B.  A link to a map and a schedule of the times and topics is listed below:

(http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=church+health+center+wellness&fb=1&gl=us&hq=church+health+center+wellness&hnear=Memphis,+TN&cid=0,0,7484869207653639589&sqi=2&ll=35.136493,-90.02561&spn=0.003268,0.007612&t=h&z=18)

February 9, 2011 – Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities – 5:30pm-7:30pm

March 2, 2011 – Review and Revise Phase 2 Findings – 5:30-7:30pm

Please make sure to mark these dates on your calendars and plan to attend. We need to hear from you about how we can advance our efforts in formulating a regional bicycle and pedestrian network.

Feel free to pass this information on to anyone that may be interested in attending.

Kyle Wagenschutz
Memphis MPO
Bikeway/Pedestrian Coordinator
kyle.wagenschutz (at) shelbycountytn.gov

I’m planning to go but may have to skip.  My students have their first round of exams this week and I’ll be buried in blue books and spreadsheets for the next few days.  The first meeting was pretty quick, so hopefully I can squeeze in time for this one.

More about the Memphis MPO meeting

Here’s an article about the Memphis MPO meeting I attended and wrote about last week.

What impresses me most about all of this is the way all of these efforts are slowly transforming Memphis from a town known for the sedentary lifestyles of its residents to one that is friendly to walkers, joggers, and cyclists of all ages and abilities.  I’m very excited for these developments; they mean so much for the future of my town and for the health and happiness of its residents.

Memphis MPO Meeting

On Wednesday of this week I drove [sigh] over to the Church Health Center for a community meeting sponsored by the Memphis MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization).  The meeting was about implementing Phase II of the redesign of walking and biking facilities in and around Memphis.  (Phase I involved a survey about what people in the community want in the way of facilities.)  It’s the first of three meetings; the next two are planned for 9 February and 2 March, both Wednesdays.

This week’s meeting focused on multi-use trails, like the Shelby Farms Greenline.  We have a small handful of these paths in Memphis and apparently more are to be planned, which was the main point of the meeting.  After a brief introduction by Kyle Wagenschutz, we divided up into groups and clustered around huge maps taped to the walls of the room.

The maps were of Memphis and Shelby County and had existing walking and biking facilities labeled.  Our task was to use stickers to indicate our points of origin, destination, and where we thought new facilities should go.  It was pretty interesting.  Here’s a picture of our map.

That’s Kyle’s arm on the right.  I know it’s not a huge image, but look at the clusters of blue and orange dots in the center.  The blue dots represent points of origin (i.e. where people live) and the orange ones are destinations.  Most of the dots are clustered around Midtown, downtown, and east Memphis.  You can see smaller dots surrounding the area; those represent where people would like to see walking/biking facilities, like bathrooms, water fountains, and bike racks.

The planners at the MPO will take our map and combine it with the maps from the other groups and use that to identify where people want trails and facilities.  A pretty neat idea, I think.  I don’t know what sort of barriers the MPO will face in putting our wants into action, but let’s hope they are few.