It may come as news to some that over the past few years Tennessee has been steadily rising up the ranks of America's bike friendly states.
This improvement has been driven by its two biggest cities-Nashville and Memphis-which are following the profitable urban trend toward building landscapes that provide transportation options and public facilities for exercise and recreation. Thanks to the vision of leaders in these two cities, Tennessee is now the second most bike-friendly state in the Southeast.
We've been keeping a close eye on Tennessee of late. Here's just a few of the good things we've seen.
1. Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. is a big part of why Memphis has managed to improve its bike- and walkability. When he was elected in 2009, Memphis was among the worst in country for bicyclists. Now, it has nearly 150 miles of dedicated bike lanes, shared-use lanes, and off-road trails, and hired its first bike-ped coordinator in 2010. As a result, Memphis earned a coveted spot on the Forbes list of emerging downtowns.
"We need to make biking part of our DNA," Mayor Wharton said in a New York Times article last year. "I'm trying to build a city for the people who will be running it 5, 10, 15 years from now. And in a region known to some for rigid thinking, the receptivity has been remarkable."
2. The Harahan Bridge Project involves the development of a bike and pedestrian pathway alongside an active rail line spanning the Mississippi River between downtown Memphis and neighboring Arkansas. The Harahan Bridge overhaul is a key component of the Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project, expected to be completed by August 2014.
3. A centerpiece of efforts to make Memphis a more walkable and bikeable city is theGreater Memphis Greenline, which will convert unused railway right-of-ways and utility easements throughout the city and Shelby County into an integrated multi-use trail system. The first piece of the network, Shelby Farms Greenline, opened in 2010 and connects midtown Memphis with a massive urban green space five times the size of New York's Central Park.
4. Memphis was one of six cities chosen for the Green Lane Project, an initiative of the Bikes Belong Foundation to create an extensive network of protected on-road bicycling lanes. Over the next two years, the city will add 15 miles of green lanes, which utilize physical barriers, such as plastic posts or landscaping, to separate bicyclists from vehicular traffic.
5. As Mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean has been an active supporter of bicycling and walking initiatives for the city, including the formation of Nashville's first Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee in 2008. The city currently has more than 150 miles of off-road multi-use trails, dedicated bike lanes, and shared-use routes.
Those efforts have paid off. The city received its first designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community last year and a slate of recent initiatives is building on that success.
6. Nashville GreenBikes provides free cruiser-style bicycles at nine community centers throughout the city. All that's needed to borrow a bike is an ID or proof of address.
7. Nashville B-Cycle, the city's fee-based bike-share program, provides nearly 200 low-cost rentals from 21 automated kiosks located within a three-mile radius of downtown.
8. Nashville Groove is a new color-coded map that includes comfortable riding routes throughout the city for less experienced riders and identifies neighborhoods with low-traffic streets and provides directions to the city's bike-share stations.
9. Nashville's Metro Arts Commission is building unique and eye-catching bike racks designed by local and regional artists. The program is being expanded in 2013 with the addition of 10 new fanciful racks, including a giant whisk and a handlebar mustache.
10. Music City Bikeway is a continuous 26-mile route-a combination of trails, bike lanes, and shared roads-connecting major parks, neighborhoods and downtown Nashville. The bikeway opened last year, and allows travelers to cut across Davidson County from the Percy Priest Dam to Percy Warner Park along a route that was once dangerous and difficult to navigate.
We'll be posting a series of blogs in the coming months about states doing great things to improve bike- and walk-ability. Stay tuned.