Memphis Pedals Cycling as Economic Salve

One of the America's most unhealthy, auto-centric cities has seen the light - the handlebar headlight that is - with a push to improve its bicycling infrastructure as a means of economic development.
January 1, 2013, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The public shaming of Memphis as one of the worst cities in America for cyclists wasn't enough to jolt the city into action, but rather it was the political will of a new Mayor who spied an opportunity for economic development, improving public health, and increasing community bonds and environmental stewardship. At the urging of Mayor A. C. Wharton Jr., and with funding from stimulus money and other federal sources, Memphis has increased its share of bike lanes from a mile and a half in 2008 to 160 miles (50 of which are dedicated to bikes) today, reports Bobby Allyn. 

"City planners are using bike lanes as an economic development tool, setting the stage for new stores and enhanced urban vibrancy, said Kyle Wagenschutz, the city’s bike-pedestrian coordinator, a position the mayor created."

“The cycling advocates have been vocal the past 10 years, but nothing ever happened,” Mr. Wagenschutz said. “It took a change of political will to catalyze the movement.”

But the investment of political and financial capital in increasing the city's bike-friendliness hasn't appealed to everyone. According to Allyn, merchants have clashed with bike advocates over proposals for new lanes. 

"Tensions aside, the mayor’s office says that the potential economic ripple effect of bike lanes is proof that they are a sound investment."

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Published on Friday, December 28, 2012 in The New York Times
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