Low Stress Network Analysis

Over the last three years, the Memphis metro region has seen an increase in the number of new bikeways and an increase in the number of trips being made by bicycling. In the City of Memphis alone, U.S. Census data indicates a 250% increase in home to work trips made by bicycle over the last two years, the fastest growth of bicycle usage in the State of Tennessee. Efforts are underway in all communities within the Regional Greenprint & Sustainability Plan study area to build upon this momentum, develop new bicycle specific infrastructure, and expedite the growth of this form of transportation among a broader range of stakeholders and community residents.

A key indicator of the likelihood that people will travel by bicycle is the level of stress experienced or perceived by the rider. Surveys conducted across the US, Canada, and Europe have found that the level of stress a bicycle riders experiences are not generally due to others riding bicycles, or pedestrians, or of fear of injury in a bicycle-only crash. The level of stress is best defined as a fear of being hit by an automobile while riding a bicycle and this personal, subjective determination of stress often prevents about 60% of the total population from using a bicycle to make any kind of trip within our community.

Representing about two-thirds of the community, this group can be referred to as the “Interested, But Concerned.” Characterized by an interest in using a bicycle for short trips, to the grocery store, church, school, or work, recognizing the changing landscape of bicycle travel within the Memphis metro region, and having a general willingness to lead more active, sustainable lifestyle, this group still has some serious misgivings about the safety of bicycle travel for themselves and their families. They don’t like the cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous thinking about what would happen to them on a bicycle when a driver runs a red light, or guns their cars around them, or passes too closely. They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.

City planners and traffic engineers can address these concerns and create an environment that alleviates the worry of the “Interested, But Concerned” through better planning of routes and design of infrastructure. This is summarized by the concept of low- stress connectivity; that is, providing routes between people’s origins and destinations that do not require the use of links that exceed their tolerance for traffic stress, and that do not involve an undue level of detour.

The objective of the Low Stress Bicycle Network Analysis is to develop measures of low-stress connectivity that can be used to expand the bicycle network in the short term, utilizing the resources that are available to each community in the Greenprint study area – streets. Often times, the use of bicycles is concentrated to neighborhood streets, especially near parks and schools, because they are inherently low-stress for users. They have low vehicular traffic volumes, the speeds of vehicular traffic are typically fairly low, and the surrounding areas provide a sense of comfort that is difficult to replicate on a busy commercial corridor. This project also provides a framework for how connections can better be fostered between transit services and the emerging bikeway network, how those bikeway connections can be enhanced to provide high levels of comfort and safety, and finally, how the corridors recommended for improvement by the Greenprint plan can be implemented through low-cost, short-term implementation of new bikeway facilities to better connect the region by bicycle.