Removing parking could increase economic activity

By: Kyle Wagenschutz

[singlepic id=239 w=320 h=240 float=left]Proudly, Cooper-Young is a neighborhood in Memphis where everything is done a little different. Niche shopping, eclectic dining experiences, and a bustling atmosphere of excitement help make this neighborhood stand out among all others in Memphis. These are a few of the reasons why residents move to this neighborhood, and why local businesses have achieved success.

One of the greatest assets that Cooper-Young has is its ability to support and sustain an active neighborhood where patrons can access storefronts, places of worship, and residences completely by human-powered modes of transportation. Because of the orientation of the storefronts to the sidewalks and the minimal distance between businesses, patrons can easily walk and bike around Cooper-Young enjoying the wide array of retail experiences it has to offer.

It is surprising then, that at a recent public meeting that discussed the future implementation of bicycle lanes along Cooper Street, business interests suggested that bicycle lanes should come to Cooper Street, but not at the expense of removing parking spots for automobiles. The plan presented did maintain parallel parking along Cooper Street from Central Ave. to Young Ave.; however, once the proposed bike lane crossed Young Ave towards Southern Ave, the width of the road no longer allows for both parking and bike lanes to exist.

Since the first automobile was brought to Memphis, city officials have supported zoning ordinances, building codes, and developmental practices that enabled use of the automobiles in our neighborhoods and city. The streetcar system that originally supported the street life and economic vitality in Cooper-Young was removed to make Cooper St friendlier to automobile traffic. This has turned the business district, during daylight hours, into a pass-through intersection where high speeds are the norm and business activity is lacking.

Nearly 25 percent of all automobile trips in the US are within 1 mile from home (a 5 minute bike ride). If this holds true in Cooper-Young, residents fill a quarter of all parking spots now available to patrons. By providing increased safety through the removal of a couple parking spots, businesses can expect an increased traffic flow of local cyclists accompanied by increased pedestrian traffic and parking availability to market their services. Removing parking spaces is not about reducing the number of patrons coming to Cooper-Young, it is about changing the way in which they come. This is the mindset that residents and businesses must have to go forward as transportation changes come to this city.

For the first time since the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization adopted its Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan in 2005, the City of Memphis officials are proposing a shift from an auto-centered focus by implementing bicycle lanes inside the city limits. They chose Cooper-Young because of its long standing history to do things differently and its embrace of the public realm where pedestrians and cyclists are welcomed. Many neighborhoods in other cities like St. Louis, MO and Charlotte, NC have realized this potential. This process, however, is not business as usual. It will require residents and businesses alike to take hold of Cooper-Young’s tradition to show Memphis that doing things a little bit differently can yield great success.

Kyle Wagenschutz is the Director of Revolution Community Bicycle Shop.

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