ERICA HORTON | HIGH GROUND NEWS
The discussion for changes in and around Orange Mound is growing with the City of Memphis announcing the Tourism Development Zone and residents of the community expressing needs for development and housing.
Dwayne Jones, a housing developer and a native of Orange Mound, is among those working to improve the mobility and transportation options of the historic neighborhood.
Jones lobbied to make sure Orange Mound was included in the expanded bike lanes throughout the city and has explored other ways to connect the community as a complement to the existing Memphis Area Transit Authority routes, which he says are unsatisfactory.
“The bus routes have changed dramatically over the years and with the timing and frequency of buses coming through Orange Mound and the way Orange Mound is situated, the major routes are through Park Avenue or through Lamar Avenue which makes it’s difficult to get to Cooper-Young, South Memphis and other parts of the city,” he said.
Jones said he worries about general accessibility for people living in Orange Mound not only to places like the library and decent grocery stores but some of the entertainment areas in Memphis.
“There are a lot of people in the community that don’t have cars. We don’t have an Alchemy or a Soul Fish in our community,” he said.
Orange Mound was once a community of walkable amenities with sundry stores, movie theatres, and more sit-down restaurants. Over the past few decades, things have changed.
Participants at an Orange Mound group bike ride on a break. (Submitted by Dwayne Jones)
“People have limited access to basic needs and they live in a bubble," Jones said.
Jones said he understands that there are issues with safety in Orange Mound, but he does not want his community to get left behind.
“People have cell phones but no internet and almost no access to the library. They’re trying to apply for a job but the limited transportation options provides a digital divide,” he said. “I’ve done mission work in third world countries that have internet cafes and we don’t have that.”
Jones said he doesn’t always feel like the community embraces change, but that residents need to figure out ways to be connected in ways that don’t depend on MATA.
Jones said he encourages residents to explore biking as an alternative to public transit. He hosts slow rides, which are planned group rides, through Orange Mound to increase biker education, access to bikes in the neighborhood and raise awareness for biking as a way to reach health goals.
One of those bike advocates is Cherrance King, a lifelong Orange Mound resident who is dependent on public transit and prefers to ride a bike as a transportation option. He said that bus routes in Orange Mound are infrequent, and the neighborhood needs routes that run every 20 minutes as opposed to every hour.
“If they didn’t run so far apart, I think people would be able to get to work on time and not have to get up so much earlier if they had an appointment,” said King.
Nicole Lacey, chief communications officer for MATA, and John Lancaster, director of planning and scheduling for MATA, said Orange Mound has some of the best service in the city.
According to MATA, there are 90 bus stops in Orange Mound and bus riders in the neighborhood make up 2.3 percent of the average weekly ridership in the city.
Each week, approximately 2,970 people take the bus from Orange Mound and 2,800 trips are taken to Orange Mound. The most commonly used hub is at Park and Airways and the highest number of people are riding at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Lacey and Lancaster said adding routes is expensive and is not a quick task.
“To give you an idea, the Poplar bus route costs about $3.5 million per year. To add a whole new route with that level of service—just add another $3 million dollars per route. It pays for the bus, the gas, the labor, the operator salaries, the mechanic salaries, the administrative overhead—it pays for everything,” Lancaster said.
Lacey said she encourages people to utilize the plethora of resources MATA has available on their website, social media platforms and through apps on their phones. She said there is WIFI in the transit centers and that bus riders can call 901-274-MATA (6282) to speak to staff that will help people get from point A to point B. Mata Traveler provides real-time information on buses and trolleys and TransLoc allows riders to text 41411 with their bus stop information to find out when a bus will arrive.
“We are happy to talk to any customer about how to get from point A to point B. This is what we do every single day whether it’s through Facebook messenger or through the telephone or email. We get it all,” she said.
But Orange Mound resident King believes those efforts don’t go far enough in reaching his neighborhood. He supports the efforts of nonprofit Explore Bike Share, which will install 600 pay-per-ride bikes across Memphis this spring.
The proposed initial roll-out of bikes for Explore Bike Share. Most of the bike stations are concentrated Downtown, and five stations will be put in place around Orange Mound.
As one of the upcoming neighborhoods that will benefit from a concentration of bike share stations, Orange Mound will be considered as a location for the nonprofit’s temporary warehouse and permanent headquarters.
Other locations include neighborhoods in Midtown, Downtown, South Memphis and Uptown. The organization plans to expand to 900 bikes by 2019.
“There is immense potential for activating spaces to build, operate, and maintain Memphis’ incoming fleet of bikes, and we want to make sure that everyone has the chance to share and seize the opportunity,” said John Paul Shaffer, Explore Bike Share board secretary and executive director of BLDG Memphis, stated in a press release.
The temporary warehouse will begin operations in February 2018 and stay open for three months for a bike build-out period. The permanent headquarters for Explore Bike Share will open in January 2018 and will feature a full-time staff and maintenance shop.
Through Explore Bike Share, residents will rent bikes from strategically placed bike racks in different communities. They will not be required to return the bikes to the same rack they rented from and the bikes will be equipped with baskets and GPS for the rider’s needs.
King said that Orange Mound needs a culture shift for the neighborhood to truly benefit from a bike share program.
“I feel like if there need to be more people to tell the community about the pros that come from riding a bike,” he said. “If somebody just comes up and sees a bike, they’re not going to ride it. They may not even know how to ride it.”