Staff Spotlight: Q&A with Jackson McNeil
Jackson McNeil riding a bike

Jackson McNeil is Innovate Memphis’ Transportation & Mobility Director and the author of our new white paper on local transit funding. He brings a wealth of knowledge about transportation systems, having earned his master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from the University of Memphis and through his previous work on equitable transportation systems at the New York City Department of Transportation. Get to know Jackson’s contributions and insights here with our Staff Spotlight Q&A:

What’s a current challenge with our transportation systems people might not know about?

I don’t think it will come as a surprise that our streets in Memphis have become increasingly dangerous in recent years. Traffic fatalities and serious injuries skyrocketed starting in 2020 and have yet to come back down to pre-pandemic levels. In 2023, 247 of our family members, friends, and neighbors lost their lives on our streets, and another 525 people suffered serious injuries due to crashes. But what people may not realize is that street design plays a major role in safety or lack thereof for all users, especially people walking, using mobility devices, and riding bikes. Many cities (including some pockets in Memphis) are changing the physical design of roads to be safer with traffic calming measures. For example, raising crosswalks, planting trees right up against a curb, and narrowing lanes and turning angles at intersections can all slow down cars to safer speeds without any change to the speed limit or traffic enforcement activities. This crisis is not inevitable. The solutions are not always quick and easy, but there are many low-cost, low-barrier solutions that cities all around the world are implementing to keep people safe. 

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to try more alternative modes of transportation like walking or biking in Memphis?

Start small and plan ahead. Almost half of all car trips in the U.S. are less than three miles in length and about twenty percent are less than one mile. Start with one trip a week to a close and convenient location in your neighborhood and get comfortable traveling further and combining different modes of transportation. Make sure you have a backup plan in case the weather doesn’t cooperate or you are in a rush because of an unforeseen circumstance.

What are some hidden gems in Memphis that more people should know about?

Many Memphians have likely visited Mud Island’s Greenbelt Park to take in the scenic views of the Mississippi River and enjoy the green space, but most Memphians don’t venture into the relatively new Harbor Town neighborhood directly east of the park. The thoughtful design of the streets and public space encourages walkability and social interaction and is a great example of what many of our neighborhoods looked like before the dominance of the automobile. The V&E Greenline is the city’s first greenline and runs nearly two miles from Crosstown Concourse on the west to Springdale Street on the east. As a Rhodes College student living in the neighborhood, I spent many hours walking the trail and enjoying the artwork and nature.

What have you enjoyed working on the most at Innovate?

I have enjoyed connecting with and learning from the broad range of stakeholders throughout our city who are working in the transportation and mobility space. As we seek to develop innovative solutions to our city’s challenges, we know that the work requires a deep understanding of both existing processes and effective collaboration with internal and external stakeholders.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

Working with local partners on strengthening transportation and mobility advocacy to improve Memphians’ experience traveling around our city.