Memphis is about to build the country’s first crowdfunded bike lane

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October 15, 2013

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer


A rendering of traffic on the Hampline planned for Memphis’ Broad Avenue.

The most interesting bike project in the country just keeps getting more creative.

It wasn’t enough that Memphis’s Hampline, a combined on- and off-street bikeway through a redeveloping arts district in the country’s poorest major metro area, was pushed by a unique cast of private foundations and for-profit retailers and visualized with a spectacular one-weekend live demonstration.

As the $4.5 million project heads into the final stage of its fundraising, it’s also become what seems to be the first American bike transportation project that’ll be paid for in part by crowdfunding.

The Hampline’s supporters launched a Kickstarter-style digital fundraiser Monday for the last $75,000 of the project’s cost.

They’re billing it as “the most innovative bicycle infrastructure project to be built within the United States,” and not without reason. Even if you don’t count the extraordinary three-year saga that envisioned and advanced this concept, the two-way protected bike lanes will include planted medians, two full sets of dedicated bike signals (Broad Avenue is also two-way) and some of the most creative uses of green paint in the country.

Here’s what it’ll look like on the street:

And some samples from above:

The outside-the-box designs — the double green lane around the corner in the lowermost image is especially interesting — were engineered by Wade Walker of Alta Planning and Design and personally approved by Joe Gilpin, a major project manager on the respected NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

Now, the bikeway is about to be vetted before an even more important audience: the people who’ll be using it.

“This project has been unique all the way through, because most projects of this type are really driven by city planning and engineering,” said Pat Brown, the bank executive turned art store marketer who has spearheaded much of the project. “The catalyst was private, and all the funding to date has been private. … We really want to be able to demonstrate how the public is committed to making this happen.”

Brown and other organizers, such as Broad Avenue’s creative placemakng director Sara Studdard — yes, the neighborhood has its own paid creative placemaking director, paid for by a grant from Artplace America — haven’t seeded their pot with pledges from deeper-pocketed major donors. (They’ll be invited to a $75,000 fundraiser for the bikeway, hosted later in the year by Mayor A.C. Wharton.) Instead, the organizers are taking a leap of faith that ordinary Memphians to chip in.

“I think it’s important for both city administration as well as the foundations that have supported us to date to see the strong public support that is out there,” Brown said.

The Hampline backers have lined up some smaller-scale support, though. For the launch of the public fundraiser, the Memphis Hightailers bicycle club volunteered to match the first $2,500 dollar for dollar. Brown said they’re in conversations with other matching donors.

John Cock, a colleague of Walker and Gilpin who helped plan the project, said the Hampline’s creation has been unlike any bike project he’s aware of.

“This thing was led by neighborhood activists and started with a tactical urbanism approach,” Cock marvelled on Tuesday. “Only after the advocates and the local nonprofits and philanthropists really pushed this thing for years did the city get behind it.”

But now that city leaders are confident that good bike lanes are possible in Memphis, and seeing the excitement around this one, Cock said Memphis is hurrying to push other bike projects, too.

“The city is all in on this stuff and looking for more,” he said.

Before:

After:

Before:

After:

You can check the status of the fundraiser, or chip in yourself, here.

Green lane idea of the day: There are as many ways to pay for great bike projects as there are ways to build them.

See all Green Lanes blog entries

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