Memphis Advocates Win Complete Streets Policy

By Mary Lauran Hall on February 26, 2013


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After a long campaign to institute a Complete Streets policy in the city, Memphis, Tennessee advocates are proud to report that Mayor A.C. Wharton just recently signed an executive order stipulating that all new road construction projects and major renovations include accommodations for biking, walking and transit in addition to automobiles.

Alliance members Livable Memphis spearheaded a multi-year grassroots campaign with the assistance of multiple local and national allies.

“It began a couple of years ago when we partnered with the Urban Land Institute‘s Memphis District Council to bring the National Complete Streets Coalition to do a preliminary training workshop,” explained Sarah Newstok, Program Coordinator at Livable Memphis.

“We took on this campaign because we wanted to institutionalize adding walking and biking facilities and making streets safer for everyone, rather than doing it as a piece by piece basis,” she said. “We wanted an overall policy so that all users would be considered during a street project.”

Sarah and her fellow advocates quickly realized that Memphis’s campaign would be quite different from most Complete Streets initiatives.

“It became very obvious that usually this is a top down effort — normally cities initiate the process to get a policy done,” Sarah said. “In Memphis’s case, it was really a grassroots process. And when it’s from the grassroots, it’s a much more challenging position.”

To form the basis for a strong campaign, Livable Memphis and ULI formed a small coalition of important players from the workshop.

“We created a Complete Streets policy development team that included high level representation from realtors, developers, transit authority, utilities, city and county engineering regional design centers, key citizens with law backgrounds, the University of Memphis and some public health spokespeople,” Sarah said.

The group of stakeholders met for two hours every two weeks over the course of four months to draft visioning goals for Memphis and a Complete Streets executive order. Sarah noted that while it was no small feat to bring together high-level stakeholders for so much time over the course of several months, these meetings were essential because they produced a strong policy and helped Livable Memphis secure broad support and engagement early on.

To ensure broader community involvement, Livable Memphis launched a simple campaign site — midsouthcompletestreets.org — to serve as a central source of information. With assistance from a grant from the National Association of Realtors through the Memphis Association of Realtors, the advocates created an informational video on Complete Streets and hired an outreach coordinator to bring the video and Complete Streets presentations to community-based stakeholders across the city.

Once the vision and executive order were complete, Livable Memphis worked with the mayor’s office to advance the policy. This month, Mayor A.C. Wharton signed the executive order.

While the campaign win feels great, Sarah and her colleagues still have plenty of work to do.

“The executive order directs the city engineers to create a street design manual that will be used for all deparmtners,” Sarah said. “We’re working to make sure that happens and are trying to help our bike/ped coordinator to get it done in the most community-involved way.”

Congratulations, Livable Memphis!

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