For years Memphis was labeled as a backwater when it came to walking trails and bike lanes, showing up on list after list highlighting the worst cities for pedestrians and cyclists.
That has changed dramatically over the last several years and there are now 150 more miles of new trails and bike lanes planned over the next three years.
The growing bike and pedestrian trail infrastructure is providing vital work for local architecture and engineering firms.
(Memphis News File/Lance Murphey)
The surge in development has not only increased the local trail infrastructure and changed the city’s image, it has provided valuable work to architecture and engineering firms.
“For engineers, landscape architects, material suppliers and others these are some of the very few projects there are in our disciplines,” said Lissa Thompson, principal with Ritchie Smith Architects, the Memphis-based planning, landscape architecture and urban design firm. “We have this explosion of bike lanes and greenways and trails we’re working on.”
Ritchie Smith Architects has a long history in the local trail scene, having served as the primary consultant for the development of the Riverbluff Walkway, the popular trail along the Chickasaw Bluff Downtown that was completed in 1999. The firm also served as the primary consultant on the initial phase of the Shelby Farms Greenline from Tillman Street in Midtown to Shelby Farms Park.
“With the Shelby Farms Greenline completion, there was such a huge turnout and showing of support it was very indicative of the pent-up demand for this,” said Thompson.
Frank Gianotti of the engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech Inc., which is the lead consultant on the second phase of the Shelby County Greenline from Shelby Farms Park to Cordova, said communities are increasingly attracted to the rapidly growing demand for health-centered, quality-of-life projects like bike and walking paths. They are often low-cost, high-reward projects that residents love.
“There’s a big demand for these kinds of facilities in cities,” Gianotti said. “It’s one of the more popular programs people like to hear about and when we hear about them we propose on them.”
The $30 million Main Street to Main Street Multimodal Connector Project that will include a pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk across the Harahan Rail Bridge has been a source of business and pride for local firms like Powers Hill Design LLC, which is doing planning, design and some construction administration work on the Main Street Memphis portion of the project.
“I would say it is the biggest project we’ve worked on,” said Nisha Powers, principal with Powers Hill. “To be able to get something this monumental and impactful for our community was a huge honor.”
Because of federal transportation funding rules that strongly encourage or mandate bike lanes or pedestrian trails and community-based efforts the amount of local trail infrastructure will only grow, said Powers.
“I think that’s the way things are trending because it’s functional and recreational and the health benefits are great,” said Powers. “You have the part where it is funding driven and then you have the community side that wants this sort of amenity.”
The Mid-South Greenprint and Sustainability Plan, which has been in the works since 2012, maps around 400 miles of greenway trails that connect to neighborhoods, parks and employment centers in four counties in the region. It includes projects that are already underway, such as Shelby Farms Park, Overton Park, the Shelby Farms Greenline, Wolf River Greenway and Main to Main, and new opportunities.
The Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle has formed a committee to advance the development of the region’s green spaces, including greenways and trails.
Frank Ricks, principal with LRK Inc. architecture firm, said the focus on trails and green spaces presents a unique opportunity for the region to provide amenities that help foster inner city development, improve health and attract or retain local talent.
“We could have an interconnected trail of green spaces,” Ricks said. “That is such a big deal. It will foster redevelopment in the city instead of building out. It will help retain talent because that is what people want. I think that is some of the lowest-hanging fruit, the easiest things to do to attract and retain talent in this city. It pays off, not only in terms of a more livable community and real estate values, but from a health standpoint.”