The Rise of Memphis as a Cycling City
In a recent CityLab post, Eric Jaffe discusses a recent study by three urban scholars (Kevin Smiley of Rice University, Wanda Rushing of the University of Memphis, and Michele Scott of North Carolina State) that traces Memphis's history as a cycling-friendly city. In the 1970s and 1980s, white flight and interstate expansion led to high poverty (28 percent) and a declining city population. In 2008, the city was named one of America's worst cycling cities according to Bicycling magazine.
However, "this changed with the 2010 opening of the Shelby Farms Greenline, a 6.5-mile rails-to-trails route for walkers and cyclists that runs through the center of town. Despite little support from local officials, project advocates made the idea a reality through private donations and a federal grant. The greenline became an instant hit." With the momentum of the Shelby Farms Greenline and pressure from cycling advocates and Mayor AC Wharton, the city of Memphis built out more than 50 miles of bike lanes. Bikes helped to spur economic and cultural growth, and socially connected people too.
Following in the greenline's footsteps, another planned project aims to repurpose a former Harahan Memphis to Arkansas road into a cyclist and bicycle highway, and has been backed by a $15 million TIGER grant. Despite these positive impacts, the researchers note that the Harahan project will alter the character of the neighborhood, and without "a commitment to social preservation of place, however, the gentrification evidenced over the last decade may be furthered with the installation of the Harahan, thereby undermining the goals associated with utilising bicycling as a civic change agent."