Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wharton pedals better health as a life cycle

Wharton pedals better health as a life cycle

Bike-friendly plan praised for greater access and appeal

By Tom Bailey, Tom Bailey Jr.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mayor A C Wharton this week gave some political advice to dozens of cyclists who overfilled Otherland's coffee shop to thank him for his recent actions and pledges to make Memphis more bike friendly. 

A member of the Memphis Hightailers bicycle club asked what cyclists can do to help Wharton make the streets more accessible for bikers. Wharton urged them to couch their advocacy in terms of wanting better health for themselves and the city instead of simply demanding more bike lanes.

Livable Memphis hosted the meeting to thank the mayor, who has just hired the city's first bicycle/pedestrian coordinator and pledged to add 55 miles of bike lanes over the next two years.

But Wharton said his ears were still ringing from criticism he received earlier Monday from city labor leaders for his hiring of a "high-priced" bike coordinator at a time when Wharton has ordered budget reductions.

Other constituents, he said, criticize him for caring "more for folks riding bikes than people getting a job."

Bicycle retailer Joe Royer of Outdoor Inc. told Wharton that bike-friendly streets are a critical piece for the city's growth "so we can pay union employees more. This is good for business."

Wharton agreed, saying safe, appealing streets for bikes and walkers make Memphis more appealing for the lifestyle choices they offer.

Besides, the city needs the exercise, he said. The economic and human costs of the city's obesity rate should pull at "your purse strings if it doesn't pull your heartstrings."

The city will focus on creating logical bicycle and pedestrian connections instead of just "chalking up" miles of striped bicycle lanes that may or may not be meaningful, Wharton said.

For example, cyclists should have good routes from Cooper-Young, through Overton Square, to Overton Park, he said.

The route from the University of Memphis to Tiger Lane west of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium should offer a bike connection, Wharton said.

But don't expect him to create a bike lane down congested Union Avenue. "We're going to use common sense," he said.

Livable Memphis, the coalition for sustainable neighborhoods, gave Wharton some requests as well as support.

Program manager Sarah Newstok told Wharton the coalition would like to see police training on the new bike laws passed this year.

It also wants the city of Memphis to adopt a plan for providing better access for cyclists and pedestrians.

And the coalition wants more enforcement directed for the safety of pedestrians.

-- Tom Bailey Jr.: 529-2388

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