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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Possible loss of bike lanes on Riverside Drive should be a rallying cry for Memphis area cyclists

Possible loss of bike lanes on Riverside Drive should be a rallying cry for Memphis area cyclists
By:  Michael Lander


Those cyclists hoping for bike lanes on Riverside Drive received a temporary
setback when Mayor A.C. Wharton announced on April 1 that the
roadway would return to its original configuration of four lanes of vehicular
traffic.  This recent development may serve as a rallying call for cyclists to
come together in support of the bike lanes.

Memphis Mayor
A.C. Wharton announced on Wednesday, April 1, that the city of Memphis would, at least for now, be abandoning plans for bike lanes on Riverside Drive and that it would be returning the iconic roadway to four lanes of vehicular traffic in June 2015.

For about the last 12 months,
Riverside Drive had been reconfigured as part of a yearlong trial that provided a dedicated bike and pedestrian lane to the west, next to Tom Lee Park, and it limited all vehicular traffic to one lane running in each direction on the other side of the median. 

During the yearlong trial, it gave the city of
Memphis a chance to look at the overall impact that this would have on downtown city traffic and to come up with a permanent plan for how it could be configured, which would include bike lanes.  City engineer John Cameron presented two alternative plans to the public on March 26, but it was met with fierce opposition from many business owners and residents who attended this public forum.

In spite of this disappointing setback that the recent announcement by Wharton was for Memphis area cyclists, the mayor did seem to offer a glimmer of hope with an assurance, prior to his announcement, that there will eventually be bike lanes on Riverside Drive.

Even though cyclists may find some solace in the mayor’s assurances, only time will tell if he will ever be able to deliver on having bike lanes put on or near Riverside Drive.

Any way that you look at this, this latest development and decision by our city leaders looks like a step backwards for Memphis that, at least until now, had been making progress in adding and connecting more bike lanes and trails with one another.  Riverside Drive would have been a much-needed link and corridor in this network, especially after the
Harahan Bridge project is completed. 

When looking at this from the city’s perspective, it is easy to understand that they do have an obligation to look out for what is in the best interests of the entire city and all of its residents to include those who are doing business and commerce here. 

Since the 1930’s, Riverside Drive has long-served the city as a thoroughfare for traffic along the Mississippi River in Memphis.  Today, it has between 13,000 to 14,000 motorists using it every day.  If the city does not have any other roads that can absorb that amount of traffic, and possibly more in the future, it would only make sense that they would not want to shrink it down and create a living nightmare for motorists trying to navigate the downtown area.

With that being said, however, it is also important for the city to balance the needs of everyone, to include cyclists, and for the city to avoid creating road blocks to what could be a better future and one that's not mired in the past. 

When the Harahan Bridge project is complete, there will be hundreds of cyclists who will be spilling on to and off of the bike and pedestrian lanes for that bridge and the city cannot, and should not wait until that happens and then try to address it after-the-fact.

Even though there were only about 18 cyclists riding on Riverside Drive each day when the temporary bike lanes were put in, we all know that we will see a surge of cyclists who will be flooding the area along the river after those bike and pedestrians are opened.   We all have to ask ourselves if it makes any sense to wait and possibly pay more or to go ahead and take care of it much sooner than later.

So what, you might be asking, can cyclists do?  The answer might be to have the same train of thought that Phyllis Diller had when she jokingly advised couples to never go to bed mad, but to stay up and fight.

If cyclists in Memphis really want bike lanes on Riverside Drive they are going to have to fight for it.  For now, it looks like it will be a fight that they will have at least a year to wage since the city will not take any further action until they have further reviewed the traffic situation downtown and only after they have completely repaved Riverside Drive in 2016.

In the meantime, cyclists will need to let their voices be heard by taking to social media and letting the mayor and the city council members know what they think.  They will also need to make a commitment to only support and vote for political candidates who make a public commitment to a cycling infrastructure in Memphis and this must include bike lanes on or adjacent to Riverside Drive.

Cyclists will also need to reach out to the rest of the community and even engage those residents and businesses that may be opposed to bike lanes on Riverside Drive.  Opening a dialogue with them and others may help to bring about a possible solution that can satisfy the needs and desires of everyone. 

In addition to that, cyclists should also seek out businesses and other groups to rally behind them.  Businesses, especially like FedEx, may be able to do what the city can’t do and they aren’t as vulnerable to the machinations and capriciousness of politics. 

Instead of looking at not having bike lanes as a defeat, it should only be seen as a temporary setback and it can be a way for cyclists to come together for a cause that we should all be willing and able to support. 

It might be a little idealistic to think this, but this does not need to become an issue that pits any of us against one other, but it can be a way to bring the community together for what can be for the common good of the city, not just for those in cars, along Riverside Drive.

The fate of Riverside Drive now rests on what we, cyclists, and our cycling advocates do or fail to do today.

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