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    Guest column: Bicycling movement thriving in Memphis

    Memphis officials' efforts to build a city hospitable to pedestrians and bicyclists appear to be gaining momentum.

    By Anthony Siracusa - Special to The Commercial Appeal -

    Memphis was honored last month with an invitation from the Bikes Belong Foundation to join the Green Lane Project, an initiative to fast-track the development in American cities of bicycle lanes that are protected from automobile traffic by a planted median or other physical buffer.

    While protected bicycle lanes are the standard in the Western European cycling capitals of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, fewer than a half-dozen protected bicycle lanes have been built in the United States. The Green Lane Project selected Memphis and five other cities -- Austin, Texas; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Chicago and Washington -- as national examples for the development of protected bicycle lanes in this country.

    The Green Lane Project does not provide any money for construction of bike lanes. Rather, it provides technical guidance to engineers through a consortium model that is designed to share best practices for protected bicycle lane design. This is crucial, since engineers currently are hamstrung in their ability to design protected bicycle lanes by a lack of national design standards.

    Memphis will send its city engineer to a conference with the city engineers of the five other designated cities to discuss our signature project, the Overton Broad Connector, which will connect the Shelby Farms Greenline to Overton Park by way of a protected bicycle lane along Tillman and Broad Avenue.

    Memphis' selection as a participant in this project positions the city to be a leader in the development of livable communities and sustainable economic development. This honor comes to Memphis on the shoulders of tireless work.

    In 2008, a former city engineer told a reporter for The Commercial Appeal that Memphis didn't have bike lanes because the city's storm-drain grates were slotted and that bike wheels could fall into them. Yet nearly four years later, 35 miles of bike lanes have been striped in Memphis. The Wolf River Greenway, funded and designed by the city of Memphis with assistance from the Hyde Family Foundations, provides bicycle riders and pedestrians with a safe crossing of the Wolf River near Shelby Farms. The entire trail system in Shelby Farms Park is now linked to the Shelby Farms Greenline and the growing Wolf River Greenway.

    The effort to build a city hospitable to pedestrians and bicyclists appears to be gaining momentum.

    This winter Memphis received a $1.2 million federal grant to fund an additional 50 miles of on-street bicycle lanes. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell's administration applied for and received a $3 million grant to extend the Shelby Farms Greenline east, and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's engineering lieutenant, John Cameron, will wrap up work by May on a proposed complete streets policy for Memphis. Such a policy is intended to ensure that roadways are designed and operated with the needs of all users in mind -- cyclists, pedestrians and users of public transportation as well as motorists.

    The bicycle movement is thriving under the outstanding leadership of Cameron and Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz, spurred by Wharton's vision and the tireless efforts from a host of advocacy organizations -- including Livable Memphis.

    These recent accomplishments are especially significant in the wake of Memphis' designation by Bicycling magazine in 2008 and 2009 as one of the three worst cities for cycling in the United States.

    The Green Lane Project designation also has launched positive national press for Memphis, the type of notice that can influence business executives' decisions about where to move a company, an individual's decision about where to move his or her family, and can make the difference in a native Memphian's choice to sink roots in his or her hometown.

    Wharton has long been committed to attracting and retaining young talent, and the positive press flowing from Memphis' invitation to participate in the Green Lane Project is a perfect example of how to attract and retain talent.

    Most significantly, Memphis' selection is an affirmation of faith for the many Memphians who believe our town is improving. We are getting better, and the Green Lane designation is an acute example of our progress.

    Advocates, policy makers, merchants, property owners and neighbors have worked diligently to turn Memphis into a better city for bicycling. This national recognition comes as a recognition of a communitywide effort to make Memphis a great city.

    Such achievements make the city a place where people want to live.

    Anthony Siracusa is founder of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop in Cooper-Young. He also is co-founder and president of Bike Walk Tennessee.