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Turning trash into jobs: How tires are being transformed to protect cyclists

memphis bike lane barriers
Posted at 3:14 PM, Mar 24, 2022

MEMPHIS — More cyclists are being killed on roads than in previous decades.

In 2019 alone, more than 1,000 bicyclists lost their lives in the country.

The United States reports more deadly and injury-causing traffic accidents than most other countries.

Bicyclist deaths have increased 37% in the last 10 years. Cities are working to create safer options that don't break the bank.

Inside one Memphis warehouse, you'll get a glimpse of Tad Pierson's mind.

“I want mud gripper, shredded tires. I love going down the highway and seeing tires on the interstate that have just been blown out. I hit the brakes, man. I run back and grab those," Pierson said.

As he describes it, he doesn’t always see things as they are.

“I see an industrial tower and I think of it as a sculpture," Pierson said. “I didn’t really plan on being a tire artist."

He’s an industrial artist who works to give materials a second life. He was the perfect person to brainstorm a new trial project in the city to make biking safer.

“Like most American cities Memphis has been built to prioritize cars," Nicolas Oyler is the Bikeway and Pedestrian Program Manager with the city of Memphis said.

“You want to slow down car traffic, you want to provide ample space for people walking and biking. The problem is cost."

Tad has used tires to make chairs, decorative lights, and even guitars so he thought. why not bike lane barriers? A neighborhood development group loved the idea and thought they could also generate jobs with this new safety push. That group is the Binghampton Development Corporation, of which Andy Kizzee is the Business Hub Director.

"Providing opportunities for work for people who maybe haven’t had those opportunities or maybe need another change," Kizzee said.

They are proud of these parallels that give a second life to these illegally dumped tires and the people.

“We would like to think of what we do as kind of creating a cycle. We’re mentoring people and we’re pouring into them," said Julius Goodwin, the leadership director with the BDC.

Bicyclist deaths have increased 36% since reaching their lowest point in 2010. It’s why the goal is to bring this functional and creative solution to cities across the U.S.

“After that trial period ends, we expect the city to approve them for other bike lane projects in the city. At the same time we are beginning to market them nationally," Kizzee said.

The development group thinks they can make 500 to 700 of these barriers a month to ship across the country.

“It’s great to be working with something that’s almost like a limitless resource. We are never going to run out of tires to recycle," Kizzee said. “We love that concept of kind of turning trash into jobs and we are going to continue to look for opportunities to do it.”

It’s a full cycle solution, he says; creating safer roads and job opportunities.

“Our streets need to not only be functional and safe but they need to be beautiful. They need to be inviting places that people want to be in," Oyler said.