by Julian Rankin
Growing up in small town Mississippi, the bicycle revolutionized my world. Where once my pals and I could only venture as far away from the yard as our short legs would carry us in a few hours time, bikes gave us ultimate freedom. Our realm of possible destinations exploded. Anywhere, from the downtown square to the furthest reaches of the city limits, was ours.
Bike Walk Mississippi hopes everyone in Mississippi can have that same opportunity. Through advocacy, the group is helping develop a healthier Mississippi one person at a time by promoting recreation, safety and access to alternate modes of transportation for communities all across the state.
“We all know that change starts at a grassroots level and grows,” said Melody Moody, Executive Director of Bike Walk Mississippi. “Fondren is a good example of that. Once people embrace it, it creates demand to elected officials.”
Areas of Jackson, such as Fondren and Ridgeland, have proven that readily accessible streets improve quality of life and commerce. With more people able to walk and ride there to visit and patronize local businesses, eventually, initiatives become integral parts of the life of a neighborhood or city.
“Whether it’s economic development, health, access, or infrastructure, the bicycle is a tool,” said Moody. “It’s also affordable to all income levels, all races and all ages. Our message is that everyone’s a pedestrian. Everyone relates to wanting to have safer streets and better infrastructure.”
Places like Fondren are hubs of support from which spokes of influence spring forth. This past weekend, Bike Walk’s Jackson Streets Alive! festival celebrated this spirit of community with a neighborhood block party in the streets. Old Canton Road, one of the main arteries of Fondren, was closed to motorists and opened up to human powered transportation for a day of fun.
Bike Walk Mississippi’s list of programs is long, including a community bike shop in Midtown, Women Bike Mississippi, Mississippians For Complete Streets and a bike summit to herald best practices. They also provide resource toolkits to instruct municipalities and neighborhood associations about getting bike trails built and outlining steps they can take to improve their infrastructures.
“We help local people start a program and then help them take it on for themselves,” explained Moody. “We then take that success and spread it all over the state.”
All citizens benefit from having activity in their neighborhoods and having the streets come alive, Moody says. Without foot traffic and passing bicycles (and skateboards and unicycles and scooters and wheelchairs), there really isn’t such a thing as a city. When those disappear, and in places where they don’t exist, all there is is another exit off the highway. But for Bike Walk Mississippi, every exit ramp is another opportunity for advocacy and change. Like anything grand and worth doing, all it takes is a roadmap, and of course, a little time – we’re walking and biking there, after all.
Become an individual or family member of Bike Walk MS or offer support through annual sponsorships. “Share the Road” license plates available at the local Tax Collector’s office.bikewalkmississippi.org