RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 14

Phillip Parker/AP Images (3)
cited statistics on obesity and related health
problems that don’t discriminate on the
basis of race or income. With an obesity
rate of more than 30 percent, Memphis
consistently ranks among the country’s
most overweight cities.
“We kept hearing this notion that black
people won’t ride bikes, black people won’t
walk on trails, black people won’t jog,”
notes Wharton. “But as a big physical-
fitness person, I just refused to surrender to
that. So what we were doing was constitu-
ency building and cementing our commit-
ment so people would know…this move-
ment is here to stay. Environmentalism is
here to stay.”
A survey by the Shelby Farms Park
Conservancy found that about 70 percent
Map Illustration
by Danielle Marks
Danielle Marks Design
364 Lakeview Drive
Hartfield, VA 23071-3110
804 238-1539
All artwork © 2015
Danielle Marks
of residents within a quarter-
mile of the greenline felt it
would benefit their neighbor-
hoods. But other homeowners
near the trail feared it would
funnel crime to their door-
steps. Proponents tried to
reassure them with crime data
from other rail-trail cities. Still,
some were hard to convince.
Until the trail opened and
began to speak for itself.
“I was sour on the
idea,” says Memphis
City Councilman Reid
Hedgepeth. But he quickly
became an active-transportation evan-
gelist. “With its being paved, I thought,
‘Golly, people can ride bikes at night,
they can jump your fence, they can steal
at just
to the
Point Terrace, says the constant,
congenial bustle on the trail deters
crime. With backup from security
cameras and a police bike patrol,
he adds, the neighborhood has
never felt safer.
“I tell groups all the time that
I’ve never been so wrong in my
life,” he says. “Now, it’s something
my family is out walking or rid-
ing on every day…. When you
look at what that infrastructure
costs and what it does for a com-
munity, it is a very, very cheap
Building on Success
In terms of distance and break-
away boldness, the 6.5-mile
greenline was an ambitious under-
taking. After years of seeing active-
transportation infrastructure
stymied by obstacles as small as
storm grates, proponents wanted
to create something substantial
that could truly be seen as a com-
munity connector.
In other respects, however, the
greenline was a humble project without a
lot of frills. The design included no lighting,
water fountains, shelters or initially even
benches, and the trail is only 10 feet wide. It
came together on a tight budget and a belief
that the basics would be enough to get peo-
ple excited—and that excitement could fuel
further, faster, flashier progress.
That’s exactly what happened.
The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy
counted up to 400 people per hour passing
certain points on the greenline in the weeks
after it opened. Users in a hurry started
building their own stairways and bridges
to raised sections of the trail as shortcuts
to entry. Bike shops hustled to serve new
Left: Angela
Jonathan Ross and
their son Leo out
on the greenline
for a day of biking
and Sheilah
Lansky on the
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