In 2011, the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) developed a massive Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that set out to address the need for more bike lanes and walking paths. At the time, the plan identified "not enough on-street facilities" as the biggest limitation to cycling in Memphis.
Fast forward to 2014: The city now has more than 300 miles of bike lanes, as well as shared-use paths and greenways. And that 2011 plan seems a little outdated.
But the MPO just wrapped up a month of 14 public meetings across the metro area from Millington to Horn Lake to gather input for an update to the bicylcle and pedestrian plan.
The plan is designed to "help establish a framework" for communities in improving bicycle lanes and paths and pedestrian walkways, not dictate what they have to do, said Kyle Wagenschutz, the city's bike-pedestrian coordinator. The plan takes into account safety, comfort, and accessibility with the goal of providing a more walkable and bicycle-friendly city, he said.
"I think people are genuinely interested and enthused about the progress being made," Wagenschutz said. "The purpose of these meetings is to help us tailor how those priorities should be assessed. We're using these as an opportunity to gather feedback from community members about their perceptions of bicycling and walking."
Wagenschutz says the components of the plan's recommendations, what he calls the five Es — engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement, and evaluation — can help create a "cultural infrastructure," but funding is the bigger issue.
"It's tough from our perspective," he said. "We can recommend programs [like driver education for sharing the road]. We realize they are important to improving conditions for bicycling and walking, but the MPO, through federal transportation funding, can't actually fund those programs. The only things we can fund are the infrastructure that gets built. Some communities did the things we recommended that, at a local level, probably improved conditions."
Attendance at the meetings was down compared to that of the last set of meetings when the previous Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan was being developed in 2011. But Wagenschutz said that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
"Sometimes the input you get from a larger meeting isn't always imminently helpful because you can't get down to the nuances that really exist," Wagenschutz said. "The smaller settings allow you to do activities and input sessions that are a little more detail-oriented."
At the last public input meeting at the Cordova Branch Library last week, community members gave their input through interactive stations lined against the wall. One such interactive station asked attendees to take 10 pennies — symbolizing the budget for bike/pedestrian projects — and redistribute those pennies into different projects like maintaining roadways or creating new bike lanes.
Another asked for the attendees to imagine themselves in the locations pictured, for cycling and walking, and place a sticker describing if they feel positively or negatively about the experience.
"When I pay my taxes lately, I think of you," one attendee said to Wagenschutz after the presentation. "Really. The bicycle trails are the only benefit I get personally each year."
Wagenschutz wasn't able to mention any specifics from the public comments they've received so far, but he said they'll be releasing data from the meeting in mid-September.