photo by Marci Lambert
Kyle Wagenschutz picked a gorgeous day to head to the Memphis Zoo with his wife, Carrie, and toddler, Ethan. But once there, he found a line of cars stretching from the zoo’s entrance to Poplar Avenue. His 18-month-old son didn’t have to wait long to see the giraffes, however. The family peddled past the traffic — with Ethan gliding along in a trailer attached to his dad’s bike.
The drivers left behind likely envied the family’s easy entrance. Kyle can take credit for helping families discover new paths to popular destinations. As the city’s first bikeway-pedestrian coordinator, Kyle has supervised the creation of 50-plus miles of new bike lanes in two years on the job. In 2008 and 2010, Bicycling magazine named Memphis the country’s worst city for biking. Kyle’s goal was to help the city move off the list.
“Mission accomplished,” Kyle says, with a twinkle in his eyes.
This 30-year old dad made another noteworthy entrance recently on Capitol Hill, when he presented an update on the city’s participation in the national Green Lane Project. Afterwards, he was given a standing ovation by members of Congress. “To represent our city and receive recognition for what we are doing here was amazing,” says Wagenschutz. Green Lanes, protected bike lanes featuring a fixed barrier between bike lanes and traffic, will be installed around the city later this year. “People are hugely receptive to the idea of riding bikes to the park, store, and movies.”
Overton Park is on its way to becoming a central hub of bicycling, he adds. “The city has plans and projects that are going in almost every direction approaching the park to allow people access to the zoo, Levitt Shell, and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art — by means other than driving.”
Each morning, Kyle gets in his daily workout by cycling from the Cooper-Young neighborhood five miles to his downtown office, though fatherhood has added a twist to bike treks. “When Ethan was really young and my wife was at work with the car, going to the store involved putting the trailer on and taking more stuff. I’m also more sensitive to safety now.”
Ethan rides in a 9-foot cargo bike from the Netherlands that attaches to Kyle’s bike. He then blogs about his travels at bikepedmemphis.com.
Kyle started volunteering at Revolutions Bike Shop seven years ago. His first goal was to build a bike. He soon realized that making bikes more affordable wasn’t the key to increasing the number of cyclists.
“We needed to make small changes in our city to help people get around safely and efficiently by bike, and that led me to start the master’s program in City and Regional Planning at the University of Memphis.”
Kyle has always relished the freedom of biking. When he was a teen, his family moved to the naval base in Millington and he started biking to school.
“It’s never too early to take your kids to a bike safety class or take them to Revolutions to build a bike. Learning some of the skills and safety knowledge is best received when people are children, before they have pre-conceived notions of how traffic works and learn to drive. By reaching children, we’re able to build the next generation of conscientious drivers and conscientious cyclists.”
Soon he’ll buy a balance bike for his toddler. The bike has a frame, seat, and wheels but no pedals. “Ethan will scoot around on his feet and learn to balance without the complication of pedaling.” Then he can skip the trike and move on to a regular bike.