On October 25, 2019, U.S. Representative Steve Cohen convened a roundtable about Complete Streets in his district, which includes most of Memphis, TN. Local advocates and people from the city, county, and state government attended to discuss the Complete Streets Act of 2019—legislation sponsored by Rep. Cohen—and other ways the federal government could assist communities creating streets that are safer for people biking, walking, or rolling. Below are comments from Sylvia Crum, the Commute Options Program Manager at Innovate Memphis, who spoke during the roundtable.
As the number of Americans walking and biking struck and killed by drivers each year reaches highs not seen in decades, Rep. Stephen Cohen (TN-9) brought local stakeholders together in his Memphis district to address this crisis. His legislation—the Complete Streets Act of 2019—is a needed first step, but as local advocates noted, alone it won’t be enough to save lives and create the safe and modern transportation system that America needs.
Downtown Memphis from across the Mississippi River. Photo by Joel, via Flickr.
Like many large southern cities, Memphis, TN’s growth over the past few decades has been characterized largely by sprawl and a focus on automobile travel. Josh Whitehead, Planning Director for Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County, is working to promote development downtown through the use of the city’s new Unified Development Code (UDC), which gives more flexibility to developers in order to facilitate infill growth.
View of Memphis’ South Main Arts District. Photo by Henry Turley Company via henryturley.com
In 2013, Memphis passed the nation’s 500th Complete Streets policy. To help move the policy to implementation, Memphis officials and residents met with representatives from Smart Growth America on June 18 and 19, 2014 as part of a free, grant-funded technical assistance program. The workshop aimed to provide the City with tools to not only address the various design elements of Complete Streets, but also to directly communicate the benefits of Complete Streets to the public. Complete Streets are planned, designed, operated and maintained to be safe, comfortable and convenient for people of all ages and abilities, whether they are walking, bicycling, driving, or hopping on public transportation.
The reconfigured Broad Avenue in Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.
Earlier this year Memphis, TN, passed the 500th Complete Streets policy in the United States. In a new policy and implementation brief, we detail how Memphis achieved its Complete Streets successes so far, the ongoing efforts in the region and the work that remains to be done.
On August 14, 2013, Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition celebrated the 500 communities across the United States that have made their streets safer and more accessible for everyone who uses them with Complete Streets policies, and looked ahead to the future of the Complete Streets movement.
The 500th Complete Streets Policy celebration honored Memphis, TN for passing the milestone policy, and featured a panel of experts including Rich Weaver of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA); Kyle Wagenschutz, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Memphis,TN; Art Guzzetti, Vice President of Policy at APTA; Colleen Hawkinson, AICP, Manager, Strategic Planning Branch, DDOT; Darren Smith, Policy Representative, National Association of Realtors and Jeff Miller, President & CEO, Alliance for Biking and Walking. The panel discussion was moderated by Roger Millar, PE AICP, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
On August 14th, 2013, the National Complete Streets Coalition will mark the adoption of the country’s 500th Complete Streets policy with an event celebrating the communities across the nation that have committed to building safer, more accessible streets for all users. Please join us for a live video stream of the event’s speakers and panels. In the meantime, we invite you to get in on the conversation at our Facebook page or with the #500policies hashtag on Twitter.
The celebration will be focusing in part on Memphis, Tennessee, whose new Complete Streets measure pushed us over the 500-policy mark. Earlier this year, Mayor A.C. Wharton signed an executive order directing that new road facilities and major renovations in Memphis accommodate all users and all modes. In addition to the development of a new multimodal Street Design Guide, per the executive order, Mayor Wharton announced plans to further expand the city’s bicycle facilities, including construction of 15 miles of new protected bike lanes. This official embrace of Complete Streets is part of a remarkable, citizen-driven turnaround for a city so long built around the automobile that Bicycling magazine twice named it one of America’s worst cities for bicycling.
Remaking streets from the ground up
For years, dedicated Memphians had worked to improve conditions for walking, biking, and transit in the city, but the grassroots movement for safer, more vibrant streets most visibly coalesced a few years ago in the Broad Avenue area in east Memphis. Originally the commercial corridor for nearby railcar manufacturing, Broad Avenue had fallen into neglect by the 1990s, with only a few active businesses in a landscape of fast roads, acres of parking, endless curb cuts, and indistinguishable sidewalks–a bleak environment where nobody would walk if they could help it.