On January 19th I attended the first in a series of public meetings being held by the MPO and led by Kyle Wagenschutz – the city’s first bicycle/ pedestrian coordinator.  The meeting was exceptionally well attended and the forward-thinking nature of the program provided a breath of fresh air in regards to an MPO that has been noted for its stale approach towards planning for the region’s growth.

Because I know not every reader makes it through every post, let me first say that other meetings are to follow on February 9th and March 2nd at the Church Health Wellness Center at 1115 Union Avenue.

The purpose of the planning session was to envision future multi-use paths and support facilities as part of the MPO’s long range plan and how they will better connect our community.

Let’s break down a few of those first terms.  A multi-use path is exactly that, a route suited for walking, jogging, running and biking for everyone regardless of age or skill.  These paths are noted for the separation of pedestrian activity from roadways as independent routes. Local precedents for such paths are found in the Shelby Farms Greenline, the Vollintine- Evergreen Greenline and the Wolf River Greenway.  Support facilities range from the simple- garbage and recycle cans, water fountains and bike racks- to the more substantial- lockers, parking, restrooms, air pumps and even food vending and cafes.

Finally the MPO study area includes all of Shelby County, the western most portions of Fayette County and the northern half of DeSoto County including Hernando.  Noticeably absent is the remaining portions of the metropolitan area including the relatively young suburbs of Tipton County, the entertainment centers of Tunica County and the obvious western suburbs of Crittenden County.  That deficiency is best left to another post.

The session included the use of large maps that allowed for participants to locate both common points of origin and common destinations throughout the city to illustrate where we are and where would like to arrive as pedestrians and bicyclists.  These maps also served as the canvas by which residents could depict where future multi-use paths might be built.  What emerged from many of these groups was a common and exciting theme that will serve as a backbone for the city’s future pedestrian and biking network.  Supporting this network will be a series of “pit stops”, rest areas and trailheads that will allow residents to do everything from take a leisurely afternoon walk or ride, to a day long trek across the city, county and metropolitan area.

These facilities will provide increasing levels of service.  Some will simply feature trash/ recycling receptacles and water fountains, some will include bike racks, air pumps and seating and in the case of trailheads, the opportunity for snacks and drinks along with lockers and restrooms.  One can envision a network (as many did at the meeting) that would allow a resident in Highpoint Terrace to commute to St. Jude by bike, allow a resident of Germantown to enjoy the fall foliage along the Wolf River by foot, or allow a family in Bartlett to ride to Shelby Forrest for a weekend camping trip.

We can create a community where a resident can access Riverside Park by foot and bike as easily as they can by car and a University of Memphis student can ride to class.  An exciting notion in a city that has been dominated by the interest of the single occupant auto for far too long. If the heavily utilized Shelby Farms Greenline is any indication, we are in fact a city that is more than eager to get off the road to experience our community via such venues.

My one critique of an otherwise commendable process lies not in the effort itself but the lack of cohesion in the overall planning program.  As noted in a previous post, this effort is closely tied to the MPO’s crafting of a long-term plan for the metropolitan area within its sphere of influence.  The routes and facilities as depicted occurred largely under the assumption of a static city.  That is, they did not, nor could they suppose where new centers may emerge within the city under a an approach that would push for a more urban agenda in the future as opposed to continued suburban sprawl.

Both current and future multi-use paths, bike lanes and support facilities could lend greatly to placing and activating future employment and residential centers throughout the city.  Would it not encourage residents to walk and bike to work if future growth is overlaid near the infrastructure that would support such trips?  It is a small point, but one that I believe is still valid and worth raising.

As stated at the beginning of the post, this was but the first of 3 meetings in this particular stage of the planning process.  The remaining two meetings will focus on pedestrian facilities as well as the opportunities for additional on-street bike lanes.  These are critical components within this overall network that will allow for residents to incorporate walking and biking into their everyday routines  and will provide the routes by which we access the greenlines that will one day weave the region together.  I would encourage all those capable of attending these meetings to better inform the future for a greater Memphis.