Memphis 3.0 looks to citizens' input on shaping city's transit system

It’s been four decades since Memphis created a comprehensive development plan, which at that time neglected to include citizen input and focused its transportation efforts on accommodating white, middle-class suburban families through projects such as highway expansion.

This further deepened economic segregation by impeding workers reliant on public transit from commuting to jobs, with most employment options existing beyond their neighborhood boundaries.

But now Memphis wants to build up, not out. As the city prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2019 and enters its third century in 2020, it’s asking the public to weigh in on its future vision for transit. Memphis 3.0 is the initiative leading the way to create a plan for great neighborhoods, better opportunities and improved quality of life for all residents, smart land use, and connectivity through improved transportation options.

Memphis 3.0 is meeting the people where they are. Starting in November of 2017, they launched a series of meetings in the city’s 14 districts to give the public opportunities to voice their opinions on the city’s mega-plan, and transportation has been at the forefront of the conversations. Concerns include increased efficiency, expanded service hours, direct routes, express routes to job centers, and better communication in bus route changes.

Passengers leave the bus at MATA's American Way Transit Center on January 9, 2018. (Brandon Dahlberg)

According to the American Public Transportation Association, every dollar invested in transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns, and residential property values perform 42 percent better on average if they’re located near public transit with high-frequency service.

Transit can give businesses access to more workers, and workers access to more jobs and residents to more services.

“Transit is one of the top issues that people want to talk about at public meetings and workshops,” said Ashley Cash, City of Memphis comprehensive planning administrator, who’s leading Memphis 3.0.

“There’s a lot of discussion about how the system used to be, and we try to tell the public that the city was smaller at that time too. The transit vision gives us an opportunity to determine what we value when it comes to transit, the type of system we want to have in the future, and it gives a clear look at the limited funds our transit system is operating with. So, if we want something different for transit, we have to do something differently.”

In September of 2017, they asked the public about their goals and priorities for improvements to transit in Memphis. In November of 2017, a conceptual alternatives report was released by Memphis 3.0 and Innovate Memphis, in partnership with MATA and the Memphis MPO. The report assessed the existing transit network and included recommendations for changes, with consideration to the cost and financing option for improvements.

The results showed respondents’ most important concern was helping low-income residents access jobs and services by providing basic public transit to everyone, in every neighborhood. Another priority was higher frequency of service on weekdays.

“People want to be connected to jobs, major employment centers,” Cash said. “That’s the primary need that we’ve been hearing related to access to transit.”

A MATA bus, advertising MLK 50, waits to turn into the American Way Transit Center on January 9, 2018. (Brandon Dahlberg)Memphis 3.0 began the district planning phase in late November to build on the vision and goals identified to develop district-level strategies. So far, they’ve held workshops in the North and Jackson districts, and are now entering the Frayser district.

Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager at Innovate Memphis, said now that they have designs, they’re able to ask residents more specific questions.

“They’re talking about neighborhood anchors – the hotspots and community draws in each neighborhood on the bus route, like grocery stores, where you would focus attention,” she said.

“We are encouraging people to think of the transit network as a network. To leave your neighborhood, you need transit to go somewhere else, so it works best with a network view. You can certainly look at what level of service you have in the neighborhood, but our perspective is to ask people to kind of rise above what specific routes we want and think about it as a whole.”

The resulting draft vision will be unveiled in February and the final vision – with short and long-term recommendations – is expected to be complete by May.

To get involved, follow the Memphis 3.0 Facebook page for updates on upcoming events,including neighborhood walking/bus tours, Next week, on January 23 and 24, 3.0 will host two district workshops in Frayser, where the public is invited to discuss the district's assets and challenges and changes they would like to see.

Memphis 3.0 will also host a community asset mapping workshop on January 25 from 5:30-8:00 p.m. at Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, featuring an introduction by the Memphis 3.0 team and an an activity for participants to map assets and areas of challenge and/or opportunity on a large map of the district.

The concept report is available online, and the public is encouraged to take a brief transit survey after reviewing the report.

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Read more articles by Aisling Maki.

Aisling Maki is a writer and editor with awards from The Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and Public Relations Society of America. Her work has appeared in publications in more than 20 countries and she has written locally for more than a dozen publications, including The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Flyer and Memphis Parent Magazine. She previously worked as a digital producer and weekend reporter for Action News 5, Memphis correspondent for the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and staff reporter for Memphis Daily News.