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    The Big Jump: Making Bicycles a Part of Daily Life in Memphis

    In 2010, Memphis was the 18th-largest city in the country but had only 1.5 miles of bike lanes. Now, just seven years later, the city is on track to have 400 miles of bike-friendly thoroughfares.

    Memphis has the chance to be a great biking city. That's what the city's Bikeway and Pedestrian Manager, Nicholas Oyler will tell you. That's in part, he says, because of the city's flat topography, its fairly mild climate — aside from July and August — and traditional street grids throughout the city that work well for biking.

    Apart from recreation and exercise, Oyler says, biking can play an important role in the city's transportation network. "In a city where a quarter of the people are living below the poverty line and might not have access to a car, biking isn't just a fad or exercise, it's how they get around, how they do their daily life."

    There are lots of big plans and innovative projects underway to help bicycling to become a part of "doing daily life" for many more Memphians — and in areas where safe bike facilities could really make a difference.

    The Big Jump

    "That's not right."

    That's what 11-year-old Joshua told me as he reached over from his bike and adjusted my helmet straps for me. "You have to make sure the buckles are right under your ears, like this," he said, pointing to his own helmet.

    He learned that — among other biking tips — as one of the 11 young "ambassadors" of the Big Jump program, a three-year initiative aiming to make biking in South Memphis safer and more convenient.

    Memphis is one of 10 cities chosen from nearly 100 applicants nationwide for the Big Jump program, sponsored by People For Bikes (PFB), a bicycling advocacy nonprofit out of Colorado. New York, Los Angeles, Austin, and Portland are among some of the other cities selected. The Big Jump aims to "achieve a dramatic boost in bike riding in specific focus neighborhoods within each of the 10 cities."

    One of the key components of the program is community engagement, and educating the teen ambassadors on all things biking is a large piece of that, Oyler says. "We can't just put bike lanes on the street and expect that to be it. We really have to work with the people living in the neighborhoods."