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VOL. 132 | NO. 101 | Monday, May 22, 2017

Bike Summit Features Call for Changes in Push for Bike Ways

By Bill Dries

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The city’s former bicycle and pedestrian coordinator who put the city on the map nationally for bike lanes and bikeways says bicycle advocates have to think differently.

Former city bike and pedestrian coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz was a keynote speaker at the Friday, May 19, opening of the 6th annual Tennessee Bike Summit. Wageschutz, currently director of local innovation for Boulder, Colorado-based People For Bikes, told bicycling advocates “Maybe we don’t need to lead with bikes,” in interacting with communities. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Kyle Wagenschutz is currently director of local innovation for “People for Bikes” – a Boulder, Colorado advocacy and advisory organization that works with cities nationally.

Memphis is one of 10 cities the organization is working with over a three-year period.

“We shouldn’t have to qualify between low-stress infrastructure and high-stress infrastructure,” Wagenschutz told a group of 100 at the opening session of the two-day summit Friday, May 19. “We should be thinking solely about building low-stress infrastructure in our cities. If you have a bicycle lane on a 50 mile-per-hour highway, who is that actually serving?”

Wagenschutz also talked about bicycle advocates overcoming the idea that a network of trails, lanes and paths is just for an elite group. They should listen more to communities, try to work on a mix of transportation options and talk more about changing communities than about just riding bikes.

“Our biggest asset in all of our communities across our nation are our residential streets,” he said. “More than 80 percent of the streets in your communities today are low-speed, low-volume residential streets where people live, very few people are driving and children are playing every day. … These are underutilized assets.”

Parking, the role it has in planning and the physical space it takes up is also an issue, according to Wagenschutz.

“I’m becoming more and more convinced that parking might be our top national policy issue that we have to address,” he said, also noting a resistance to mixing forms of transportation in a single journey.

“We identify who we are by the kind of transportation we actually use,” Wagenschutz said. “There’s this dichotomy like there is in politics.”

Meanwhile, state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris says the state has improved the safety of riders.

“We’ve also got to start reducing obnoxious drivers. And on that front we have a ways to go,” Harris said as he talked about “myths” used by critics of bike lanes and bike ways – “that the roads are owned by cars or the folks that own the cars and roads are supposed to be used by only them” or that bicyclists don’t pay taxes that are used to build roads.

Wagenschutz, who began working in Memphis communities around bicycling efforts as a graduate student before being hired by former Mayor A C Wharton, also talked about some misconceptions among bicycling advocates.

“The truth of the matter is bicycling is not a trickle-down impact on a community,” he said, pushing back against a bike-centric theme often used in promoting bike lanes in poor areas. “We never think about ways in which bicycling is not going to help communities. As bicycle advocates we can’t be about improving the quality of lives in communities if we are not also about improving, thinking about and advocating for addressing the issue of homelessness, affordable housing. … We can’t think about those issues in a way that is just centered on bicycle lanes.”

That calls for a broader perspective even as he urged more of a focus in planning bike ways and what they connect to and where they can take riders.

“Maybe we don’t need to lead with bikes,” he said. “In my experience, if given the time, given the patience and given the trust, people always get to bikes. People in communities and neighborhoods – they work (it) out that bikes are a solution to their problem. But leading with bikes is not the greatest way to get into those communities.”

In terms of government funding and policies, Wagenschutz sees an unprecedented sustainability that has cleared an important political barrier that past resurgences haven’t.

“We’ve now transitioned the funding, the implementation, the bicycle programs in most cities, across political administrations and political lines,” he said. “This is a new era for bicycling history in the U.S. We don’t have to agree about the political ideology of how we address the issues of community. … We do have to consider what people are saying. We do have to think about the people in our neighborhoods. We do have to bring more diverse, inclusive groups into our communities and be very proactive about doing so.”

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