RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 12

Over the previous five or six years,
he had optimistically participated in
just about every significant collabora-
tion organized to make Memphis and
Shelby County bike friendly. In 2003, for
example, he joined a bicycle/pedestrian
advisory committee convened by the
city’s metropolitan planning organization.
In 2007, he was part of a community-
rallying effort named Greening Greater
Memphis. And earlier in 2008, Siracusa
had joined a range of environmen-
tally minded individuals in an ongoing
effort to hammer out what became the
Sustainable Shelby Plan.
Each round generated smart ideas,
encouraged valuable alliances and stirred
enthusiasm, he recalls. But when 2008
rolled around, Memphis still had no
bike lanes. And
magazine had
just named the city one of the nation’s
worst for cycling, a nod to be repeated in
The two lanes under discussion were
indeed painted in fall 2008 and her-
alded as the first of many. Still, Siracusa
says there was little widespread faith that
a truly navigable network would fol-
low. City leadership at the time admit-
ted Memphis was “behind the curve” on
bike lanes, but gave reasons for the delay
that rang hollow to active-transportation
advocates. For example, one reason cited
was a desire to replace stormwater grates
first; the grates in use had grooves that ran
parallel to curbs—grooves that bike tires
might get stuck in, causing wrecks and
lawsuits, or so went the explanation.
“It was farcical, obstinance at its best,”
Siracusa says. “So you have to understand
that in 2008 we had nothing; we literally
had nothing to lose.”
Then came the Shelby Farms Greenline.
An Alternative Route
It may have appeared to some that people
pushing for bike lanes were spinning
their wheels—that they were a politically
inconsequential fringe element.
But among that mobilizing fringe was
a group drawing inspiration from success-
ful rail-trail conversions across the country.
Dubbed the Greater Memphis Greenline
the group took a keen interest in a
disused CSX railway corridor that
stretched from the inner city east-
ward under Interstate 240, over the
Wolf River and into the 4,500-acre
Shelby Farms Park.
Hmm. Maybe the local path to
active transportation could start
slightly off-road.
The idea was radical for the place
and time, but the group latched
on and didn’t let go. As Founding
President Bob Schreiber puts it, “We
just started jumping up and down
and yelling and screaming.”
He chuckles as he says that.
Tactics were actually quite civilized.
Group leaders held monthly meet-
ings in Schreiber’s living room,
booked themselves as presenters
before any organization with ears,
and set up booths at community events
to hand out research results, sell hats and
T-shirts and start conversations.
Bit by bit, support grew. One very good
day, it grew a lot.
A group of anonymous donors stepped
up with most of the roughly $5 million
that would ultimately buy enough of the
corridor for a 6.5-mile trail. One donor
Phillip Parker/AP Images
courtesy shelby farms park conservancy
Left: John Grisham, Hilary Quirk, Rebecca
Dailey, Betsy Peterson and Chelsey McKinney
on the Waring Road to Perkins Road section of
the Shelby Farms Greenline
The Shelby
Farms Greenline
has become
a valued
recreation and
amenity for
Memphians of
all ages.
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