Lessons from Memphis’s experiments.

Someone drew my attention recently to this cool street renovation in Memphis: “Memphis’s Spectacular Street Experiments are Moving Toward Permanance!”¬†Exclamation point mine!

There are things to like about this.

It’s a good idea to make the improvements durable but temporary. You can see how it works out in real life before overcommitting.

That inset photo of the “demonstration” phase shows a good practice. Don’t just put bike lanes out and expect everyone to get what they’re about. (Hi, Cleveland.)

Also: It’s pretty.

Now if you want to do something like this in Cleveland, I’m wondering about a few things.

A thing about Cleveland is that we never, ever make driving more inconvenient. Cutting down driving lanes is not acceptable. “And in 2014 the city ran a one-year trial that converted half of an expressway along the Mississippi to a walking-biking path.” <– so not Cleveland

Would a similar project here increase land values in a way that facilitates windfall speculation? Then it would be easy to find a CDC to lead it and provide political cover. (But it would still have to be car-friendly. First things first.)

Sometimes the main impact of a fancy streetscape upgrade is to signal where the favored neighborhood will be. I wouldn’t be surprised if land prices shot up around Marshall and Monroe less because of the actual improvements than because of the signal effect.

From a cyclist’s point of view, this feature only highlights what Cleveland never does. The commitment wasn’t to make cycling safer and easier, it was to put in 70 miles of “bikeways” including ordinary, unprotected, unmaintained, fading lines in the road: “Cleveland plans to add 70 miles of bikeways by the end of 2017.” If the city can claim a victory for sustainability by hitting the 70 mile mark, then they will.

So am I skeptical?

Yeah, I’m skeptical. From this one article, I see a cool design that lends itself to multiple street uses and looks nice.

City planning aficionados like innovative designs and multiple uses. I do too.

But I don’t know how it affects people who already live there, I don’t know what priorities are being neglected to make this happen, and I don’t know who’s profiting from it.

I’m definitely skeptical about translating this pretty design into something practical for Cleveland without consideration of those concerns, plus Cleveland’s obvious inability to maintain a basic level of pavement maintenance and lane striping. It’s cool, but I’m not remotely convinced.