Connecting People and Improving Quality of Life through the Wolf River Greenway

This case study is a part of Shift Into Gear, a bicycle advocacy resource created by PlayCore and 8 80 Cities. The benefits of cycling are extensive; it benefits people’s health and fitness, promotes societal and community capital, provides economic benefits to the area, enhances the transportation alternatives individuals can choose, and protects the environment. To read additional case studies and download the complete resource, visit our Shift Into Gear page.

“We believe we’re building a corridor of opportunity […] it’s more than just a 12-foot-wide paved hiking and biking path. As we go through these diverse neighborhoods – downtown, Midtown, Raleigh, Frayser, East Memphis – we can just imagine increasing the connectivity of those neighborhoods.” Keith Cole, Executive Director, The Wolf River Conservancy (WRC)

Memphis, TN has invested in infrastructure through the city by building bike lanes, greenways, greenlines, and other similar features. Memphis is one of the communities in the United States that offers extensive biking infrastructure to travel around the city and more infrastructure is still forming. It’s noteworthy that bike sharing is part of this infrastructure with 600 bikes at 60 stations within the interstate loop. Furthermore, the connections from Shelby Farms Greenline to the Wolf River Greenway are becoming of extreme importance to bridge gaps within the system.

The Wolf River Greenway, a protected green space corridor along the Wolf River, includes a paved pathway for non-motorized vehicles. Extending a total of 36 miles and built in two phases, the greenway (this 10- and 12-foot wide pathways) connects neighborhoods from the north end of Mud Island in downtown Memphis, TN through north central Memphis, to Shelby Farms and the cities of Germantown and Collierville, TN.

Many business owners in the area have pointed out that the greenway provides a safe east-west connection to cyclists and pedestrians across the city. Until not too long ago, cyclists had to use a variety of protected and unprotected bike lanes and trails, some of which required them to share the road with motor vehicles. The Wolf River Greenway provides cyclists with a dedicated and protected lane wide enough for bicycles but not for cars.

The Wolf River Greenway was developed to help connect its people and communities, to raise property values, reduce crime, encourage healthy habits, and to improve overall quality of life in the surrounding areas. The greenway intersects with other area trail systems including the Shelby Farms Greenline, providing visitors with access to the largest urban park in the United States, Shelby Farms Park.

Moreover, property values have started to increase thanks to the greenway’s adjacency to many properties. Huntington Hills, a community that is only 51% occupied and has gone into foreclosure, its reaping the benefits of the greenway. Renovation on the exterior and revitalization was done in 2016. Thanks to the greenway plans, this community has seen an increase in property values in the area and the surrounding Raleigh community as well.

The trail, which follows the path of the Wolf River, runs into wetlands, thick woods, and other natural hiding places within the city’s urban core. Other areas of the greenway intersect impoverished areas, providing a transportation alternative for low- and moderate-income residents who may not own a car. A study conducted by Alta Planning + Design on the economic and health benefits of the Wolf River Greenway found that of the 100,000 residents living within 10-minute walk from the greenway, 2,500 do not own a car and 5,000 are below poverty levels. Therefore, the trail offers green spaces, access to healthy food, transportation, recreation, and exercise opportunities to everyone at no cost positively impacting their quality of life through better access to biking trails. The research also stated that the overall economic impact of the greenway will equal $14 million in health, transportation, environmental, and economic benefits.

Currently, Germantown is planning on extending the greenway 2.5 miles to Cameron Brown Park. The greenway will be only a mile away from a planned connection to Collierville. According to staff, the paths are used consistently. In two years, the city counted more than 187,000 cyclists and pedestrian on the Wolf River Greenway, a growth of 100% after the greenway was connected to the Germantown segment.

The entire greenway is a $40 million undertaking. Many organizations, community support, and non-profits have invested in the plans. Foundations and other non- profits have pledged $12 million while the Tennessee Department of Transportation is investing $1.7 million. The City of Memphis has also been involved by committing $1.5 million a year over five years for a grand total of $7.5 million. Other in-kind and individual donors have contributed about $600,000. The Wolf River Conservancy oversees the fundraising of the remaining $8.5 million while the project moves ahead with each segment.