Medical, Edge Districts Eye Bike Share Connectivity

By Michael Waddell, Memphis Daily News

Efforts to install a new bike share program in Memphis by next year are gaining traction, and organizers are envisioning a much more connected Memphis in the years to come.

Nonprofit upstart Explore Bike Share expects to launch its bike share system in Memphis in 2017, with approximately 600 bikes at 60 stations planned within the Interstate 240 loop.

One key area will be in the Medical and Edge districts east of Downtown, where students, residents, professionals and tourists are expected to take advantage of the new transportation option.

While routes are not finalized, one planned music route will take tourists and residents through the districts to Sun Studio, St. Blues Guitar Workshop, the Rock N Soul Museum, Gibson Guitar Factory and Stax Museum.

Bike share users could be students or professionals zipping Downtown for a quick lunch or hopping across the Medical District to make it to class or work. Food access routes will lead riders to farmer’s markets and grocery stores.

“I think the bike share project is an integral part of providing a complete array of connectivity and mobility options within the Medical District, and then connecting the district to Downtown and Midtown,” said Tommy Pacello, attorney, city planner with U3 Advisors and president of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative.

Many infrastructure improvements that are planned or in the works for the Medical District will make streets more walkable and bikeable, Pacello said, including bike facilities on Cleveland Street, the current repaving ofPauline Street and upcoming streetscape improvements at Poplar Avenue and Dunlap Street that will slow down traffic and make it more pedestrian-friendly.

“All of those are examples of scenarios where our streets are becoming multidimensional – no longer just for cars – and now being able to serve pedestrians, bicyclists and people who are riding transit,” he said.

Businesses throughout the Medical and Edge districts are expected to use the bike share program for recruiting.

“We want to use every tool in our toolbox to recruit and retain the best and brightest employees, and that includes being able to promote all the wonderful amenities in Memphis,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. “Bike share programs like this provide alternative transportation and unique ways to experience our great city.

"This program is especially important in our efforts to recruit millennials, and we know that St. Jude is one of the top three sought-after employers in the country by this critical demographic,” Shadyac said. “It's an example of an essential tool for us to highlight the wonderful quality of life here.”

Potential benefits for the community include people buying more from the businesses they pass and connecting with people they encounter, as well as increased safety for other cyclists and improved overall community health.

“In other communities, it has been established that people become more active with the availability, accessibility and affordability of a bike share program,” said Larry Fogarty, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare vice president of supply chain management and an Explore Bike Share board member. “More active citizens make the entire community healthier. It’s our mission at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare to continue to improve the wellness of all, and bike share fits perfectly with that pursuit."

The nonprofit Explore Bike Share leading the effort is still rounding up its startup funding. The 501(c)3, formed in March, confirmed a goal to raise $4 million initially to fund bikes, stations, technology and installation, according to board chairman and city of Memphis COO Doug McGowen.

“We are approximately halfway through that process and are aggressively hoping to raise the full $4 million in the next four to five months, if not sooner,” McGowen said.

John Paul Shaffer, Livable Memphis program director and member of the Explore Bike Share board, thinks the program and completed infrastructure improvements in the District will have a major impact.

“Other markets have shown that having bike share on the ground increases visibility of bicycling, promotes engagement in city planning, and drives broader support for cycling infrastructure,” Shaffer said. “Having residents, employees, visitors and tourists of all backgrounds and abilities using bike share will build support for even more people-oriented redesigns of thoroughfares, and will also make a vital connection to the backbone of our city’s transit system.”

By next year, Memphis will tout nearly 250 miles of dedicated bicycling lanes, trails and routes. By 2025, the Mid-South Greenprint Corridor hopes to have 78 percent of the Mid-South living and working within one mile of a greenway trail.