The Shelby County Board of Adjustment this week approved a proposed multifamily development in the Cooper-Young Historic District, a small project by many standards on a 0.4-acre tract near the neighborhood’s namesake, the intersection of Cooper Street and Young Avenue.
The Los Angeles-based developers want to build 25 studio apartment units in two structures on the vacant land. These apartments are designed primarily for single people; based on dimensions outlined by developers, most units will average 550 square feet.
On such a small parcel, providing adequate parking for residents will be a challenge. Staying within established codes, the developers proposed only 21 parking spaces for the 25 units, with additional space for bicycles. One of their selling points was that Midtown Memphis – and Cooper-Young in particular – has established itself as a bicycle community where many residents rely on bikes as a primary source of transportation.
The merits of this particular case aside, it begs the question of whether Midtown really has arrived as a bicycle community.
As a city, Memphis certainly has not, and we would question attaching that moniker to even pockets of Memphis where many residents could subsist on scooters and bicycles, if not small motorcycles – such as Harbor Town, for example.
Memphis developed from the river eastward to the other end of Shelby County, where the construction of Interstate 240 loops around the sprawling land mass in hopes of cutting down work commute times and how long it takes to get from point A to point B.
We can’t change the way Memphis developed. But the fact is, vehicles are required to navigate Memphis even though some very promising developments are underway to change the city’s course from here.
Two initiatives stand out – the Bike Share program, which will officially launch next spring, and ongoing studies for alternative transportation in and around the Memphis Medical District, where thousands of people from across the greater Memphis area and beyond commute to work each day.
Bike Share may be more geared toward tourists and bike enthusiasts than an actual permanent solution to vehicular transportation, but its impact will be wide-reaching nonetheless. And for lower-income residents who face serious transportation obstacles to get to work, health care facilities and just the grocery store every week or two, Bike Share can complement an admittedly ineffective public transit system to greatly improve their plight.
One of the reasons it’s so hard for the Memphis Area Transit Authority to devise an efficient bus route system in the first place is because Memphis is such a sprawling city.
If the hospitals and urban planners across the country who have looked at potential solutions for the Memphis Medical District can devise a workable plan for alternative transportation, the city will have two cogs in place that will at least direct Memphis toward a bicycle-centric future.
Until then, don’t trade in your Chevy for that new Schwinn.