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    Magazine names Memphis 'most improved bike city'

    By Scott Carroll - The Commercial Appeal -

    After being named one of the worst cities for cyclists in 2008 and 2010 by Bicycling magazine, Memphis has been recognized by the publication this year as its most improved city.

    More than 35 miles of new bike lanes were built in Memphis in 2011 as part of an initiative by Mayor A C Wharton, one that local bicyclists and the city's first bike/pedestrian coordinator, Kyle Wagenschutz, said has rejuvenated and grown the local cycling community.

    "We've really always had a really great, robust cycling culture in Memphis," Wagenschutz said. "It's just been overshadowed by infrastructure and land development not designed to suit that type of activity."

    Bike lanes on Madison and McLean in Midtown, as well as the 6.5-mile Shelby Farms Greenline trail, debuted in the last two years, pushing the miles of cycling routes in Memphis to about 108. About 66 miles are lanes shared between bikes and motor vehicles, according to Bike/Ped Memphis, with many stretches that underwent renovations in the last year. The improvements, Wagenschutz said, have attracted cyclists new and old to routes under-utilized since their construction in the early 2000s.

    "Some of it was we had facilities in place and they just weren't communicated to folks, they weren't promoted," Wagenschutz said. "And so what you find is a lot of the routes people are biking right now or using are some of these historical routes people weren't using."

    Perhaps the most popular new route, the Greenline, has led to a sizable increase in cycling at Shelby Farms Park, according to park manager of education and outreach Matt Farr.

    "We've seen cycling traffic at least double in the park," he said.

    Some local cycling shops have also attributed bolstered business to the city's alternative transportation push.

    "Our traffic flow is 20-1 (better) than it was before," said Clark Butcher, owner of Victory Bicycle Studio. "It blows our mind. People are dusting off bikes in their garage and their attic because there's so much available out there now."

    About 45 percent of the facilities in the 55-mile bike initiative, which includes roadside signage to promote cyclist safety, were completed last year, according to a report by the City of Memphis division of engineering. The remaining facilities are expected to be completed by year's end. A $1.4 million federal transportation grant will be used to connect and enhance the network of trails and lanes afterward.