Memphis’ New Bike/Ped Manager: A Self-Introduction

“So, you’re the new Kyle?”

I’ve been hearing that a lot over the last few weeks, and in a sense, yes, but my name is Nick and I’m not quite the same person. For instance, I don’t bike to work, I walk, and the only band I was ever in was middle school orchestra.

I started as the City of Memphis’ new Bikeway and Pedestrian Program Manager on September 6th, following Kyle Wagenschutz’s departure last March. Under my predecessor’s watch, Memphis covered so much ground in the realm of biking and walking improvements that the city captured national media attention — repeatedly. Indeed, the city has come a far way from where it was in 2010.

Remember the groundswell of support for walking and biking that emerged following the re-construction of the Walnut Grove Road bridge into Shelby Farms?

What about that meeting at the Botanic Gardens, filled to capacity and overflowing into the hallway, where hundreds of Memphians urged their community leaders to foster a sustainable and livable city for the 21st century?

And who can forget the public debate around bike lanes on Madison Avenue? As well as that street’s subsequent resurgence, I may add.

Yes, Memphis, my hometown, has come a long way in six years. I have to admit, though, I missed a lot of it. Much of it I watched from afar.

You see, I spent six years away from my beloved Memphis in two foreign countries, Germany and Texas. Fine, the latter’s not a foreign country, but it certainly felt like it at times. I was busy studying urban planning and then working as a planner, along the way collecting experiences and lessons that I intended to bring back to Memphis one day.

In Texas I had obscenities yelled at me while riding a bike. In Germany I was yelled at for unintentionally stepping onto a bike path. And let me tell you, I was much more alarmed by the scolding in German than by the choice words directed to me by a group of shirtless, young Texan men riding pick-up alfresco.

What I also saw in Germany was a culture where walking and riding bikes aren’t merely accepted as viable forms of transportation, but integrated into everyday life. I saw girls at the age of 8 and women at the age of 80 riding in the street. I saw people in cars courteously and consistently yield to people waiting at crosswalks. I saw cyclists in spandex, suits, dresses, and even lederhosen. I saw kindergartners walk themselves home. I saw bicycle parking lots larger than adjacent car lots, and, yes, filled to capacity.

What I saw was a vision of Germany today, but I believe it can also be a vision of Memphis tomorrow. Sure, such a transformative change can’t occur overnight, not even over the course of a single decade. Nor can it occur without the support and will of the community. Memphis wouldn’t be the first city to dramatically and wholly re-invent itself, though. (If you think Amsterdam was always the bastion of cycling that it’s known as today, watch this YouTube video.) I believe it is possible, and this is the vision that I will strive to realize everyday I enter City Hall.

The good news, as hinted above, is that Memphis is already on the right path. Numerous projects in the pipeline will continue to increase the city’s walkability and bikability. Some are right around the corner — the Harahan Bridge and the Hampline — and others are a little farther out — the Shelby Farms Greenline Bridge to Tobey Park and the South Memphis Greenline — but each will fill another gap in the city’s bicycle and pedestrian network.

So, yes, I am the new Kyle, and I am working towards the same goals as he did. But please, just call me Nick.