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Friday, June 24, 2016

Is it the end of the road for bicycle lanes on Riverside Drive?

Is it the end of the road for bicycle lanes on Riverside Drive?
By:  Michael Lander

Bicycle lanes were put in on Riverside Drive in June 2014.
They remained there for one year.  The future of any
permanent bike lanes on this road is currently unknown.

For cyclists, Memphis’ iconic and scenic Riverside Drive could end up becoming the boulevard of broken dreams. 

In April 2016, the
City of Memphis evidently decided to scrap the idea of putting bike lanes on Riverside Drive when they sent out crews from the city’s public works division to pave and re-stripe the roadway without any accommodations made, whatsoever, for cyclists.

When asked about the decision to pave and re-stripe Riverside Drive without any bike lanes, (protected or otherwise), a spokesperson for the city’s public works division, Arlenia Cole, would only say that it might be re-evaluated at a later date, but no other specifics were provided and the city has offered no further comment on the matter since then.

The decision that’s been made by the City of Memphis has disappointed cyclists, who have held out hope that the city would eventually find a way to allocate space for them instead of having one of Memphis’ best known roadways being accessible exclusively for only motorized vehicles.

There has been a tremendous proliferation of bicycle lanes
in and around Memphis in less than a decade, but the ones
on Riverside Drive have been removed with no plans for
them to return in the immediate future.

It is especially disheartening for Memphis area cyclists when the city has, otherwise, made great strides in creating hundreds of miles of bike lanes and trails for the better part of a decade.  Now, it would seem, they have suddenly changed course and are taking a step backwards.

Cyclists are not the only ones who may be discouraged by the city’s decision to keep Riverside Drive like it has always been, either.  Community planning groups, livability advocates, and others have long-hoped to make the
Memphis riverfront much more accessible to everyone.

Many, like the program director for
Livable Memphis, John Paul Shaffer, see the popular roadway as essentially being the equivalent of a highway (or a speedway) separating the riverfront from downtown.     

How we ended up where we are today all began with a pilot program that the City of Memphis implemented when they closed the two western lanes of Riverside Drive to traffic and officially designated them for bicyclists on Jun 15, 2014. 

Accessibility to the river front was greatly enhanced when the
bike lanes were in place from June 2014 to June 2015.  Their
removal has greatly diminished current and future access for
pedestrians and cyclists in Memphis.

After that date, motor vehicles were confined to the two lanes on the east side of the median until the city, under mounting pressure, re-opened all of the lanes back up to vehicular traffic a year later, in June 2015. 

When this was done, former Memphis Mayor
A.C. Wharton promised that the City Engineer’s Office would re-evaluate a way later on to consider the addition of bike lanes, but that day never came.

The configuration design that the city had tried in its pilot program, with bike lanes and parallel parking, was one that was developed by transportation experts at
Nelson-Nygaard, and the design was included in a 74-page report, “Memphis Riverfront Analysis and Recommendations” by Jeff Speck. 

Speck is a renowned city planner, urban designer, and author, who drew upon his vast knowledge and experience and his work as the National Endowment for the Arts and Director of Town Planning while at
Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company when he compiled his analysis and recommendations for Memphis.

Memphis consulted with city planner and urban designer,
Jeff Speck, to examine the river front area of
downtown Memphis and to provide recommendations
for designs that would enhance and improve it, which
included bicycle lanes.  The city implemented it in a
pilot program, but ended it a year later, removing all
remnants of it in the spring of 2016.
 
In his assessment of Riverside Drive, Speck said that “Riverside Drive is the highway that was famously killed to become a parkway, but now functions too much like a highway, speeding cars in a seam between the city and its riverfront.” 

“We have a luxury of asking ourselves what kind of street Riverside Drive wants to be.  Surely it can still hold cars, but the downtown would benefit tremendously if it were to hold cars moving a bit less speedily, alongside pedestrians and cyclists,” Speck added.

As it exists today, Speck said that Riverside Drive creates a high-speed barrier that discourages pedestrian activity and river access and posed the question that we should all ask ourselves and that is if we think that Riverside Drive needs to only take a strictly automotive form. 

In spite of the wishes of cyclists, community planners, livability advocates, and others, and the recommendations of experts like Speck, no changes have been made to Riverside Drive and, for now, it doesn’t appear that there are any plans for any.

Bike lanes on Riverside Drive would provide greater access
to the Harahan Bridge, (pictured in the foreground), which
will open up to cyclists and pedestrians later in 2016.

One of the biggest obstacles for any change to Riverside can be traced to the intense opposition that arose after city engineers presented several proposals, during the pilot program, which all included reduced lanes for motorized vehicles and north and south bound lanes for bicycles.

The majority of
those who opposed having bike lanes on Riverside consisted primarily of downtown business owners and those who were residents from downtown.

Those who were against the redesign of Riverside Drive had a number of reasons for their position, which included concerns of greater traffic congestion, fewer options of getting around, safety concerns, and a lack of use of the bike lanes by cyclists during the one year trial period that bike lanes were in place. 

Based on the data that was collected during the pilot program, it would appear that the bike lanes did help to reduce the speed of traffic to around 35 mph and, while rear-end collisions increased, more severe collisions seem to have decreased by at least 60 percent.


As it exists today, because of vehicular traffic, Riverside
Drive can often act as a barrier to pedestrians and cyclists
to get to or near the Memphis river front.

Throughout the pilot project, city officials solicited public input and examined the viability of other re-configurations of Riverside Drive that included bike lanes.  These options would have put one lane of car traffic on either side of the median. 

One alternative called for two bike lanes on the outside of the southbound portion of the roadway, while another put them on the outside of both the northbound and southbound lanes.

Whether any of these, or a completely different design is ever drawn up, the need for bicycle lanes on Riverside Drive is likely to become increasingly evident in the years ahead.

There may have been fewer cyclists on Riverside Drive during the time frame that the bike lanes were temporarily put down, but this will undoubtedly change after and the
Big River Crossing on the Harahan Bridge is completed later this year and when the Wolf River Greenway from Collierville to Mud Island is finished in either late 2018 or early 2019.

Memphis' Riverside Drive has four lanes with two going north
and two south.  The ones on the west (left-hand side)
temporarily had bicycle lanes, (from June 2014 to June 2015),
but these were removed by the city in the spring of 2016.  No
plans for bike lanes have been discussed since then.

Cyclists will be pouring off of the Harahan or the Wolf River Greenway and the most logical route from one to the other will be along Riverside Drive.  Having bike lanes there by then would provide a safe and easy way for cyclists to travel to and from these two future attractions.

We can only hope that the city will see this for themselves and will take a proactive approach to the situation; however, the cycling community should not ever rely on others to look out for their best interests.

Cyclists really need to coalesce and come together on this and on any other issue that could impact all of them in the Memphis metropolitan area.  There is always strength in numbers and cyclists should support those (either in the political arena, the business world, or those in the community, at large) who support us. 

Memphis has a beautiful riverfront and all of us have a right to have access to it as many other cities have found a way to make their river fronts easily and conveniently accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.  Why can’t we?

This is an image of Riverside Drive that was taken in the mid-
1950's.  Even though there has been some improvements to
the river front, Riverside Drive, itself, has changed very
little.  Unlike many other cities, Memphis has not yet
embraced the concept of making its riverfront more
accessible to everyone and not just providing a
convenient speedway for motorists.

From New York to California, roads like the West Side Highway in New York to the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco have both had their road capacities reduced and motorists in these places were able to adjust and find alternative roads to travel on without the catastrophic consequences that some may have once predicted.

Unlike many other places in Memphis, Riverside Drive has the potential of being a showcase for our city with a magnificent view of the Mississippi River that could be fully enjoyed and appreciated by everyone, and not just by those who are speeding by it in a car on their way to somewhere else.

We need to decide now if we are going to allow others to make this decision for us or if we will speak up and let others know that we want, and insist on getting bicycle lanes put back in on Riverside Drive.

Then, and only then, will Riverside Drive no longer be the boulevard of broken dreams.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mid-South Transplant Foundation hosts its 5th Annual Ride for Life bike ride on June 26, 2016

Mid-South Transplant Foundation hosts its 5th Annual Ride for Life bike ride on June 26, 2016
By:  Michael Lander

Volunteers for the Mid-South Transplant Foundation's
Ride for Life welcome and cheer for the cyclists as
they finish their 25-mile ride.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could ride a bike and support those who can help change or save a life?

There is a really fun way that you might be able to do just that by supporting and participating in the Mid-South Transplant Foundation’s Ride for Life.

The
Mid-South Transplant Foundation will host its 5th annual Ride for Life bike ride on Sunday, June 26, at 7:00 a.m. at Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery, which is located near I-240 and Poplar Avenue, at 5668 Poplar Ave.

The 25-mile non-competitive bike ride begins and finishes at Memorial Park and it has a route that takes cyclists through East Memphis and Mid-town.

In addition to the 25-mile ride for adults, there is also a 1-mile fun ride for children.

Mid-South Transplant Foundation's Community Development
Coordinator and organ recipient, Erskine Gillespie,
congratulates cyclists and hands them their medals as they
complete the Ride for Life.

Event organizers have said that the ride will take place, rain or shine, but if current weather forecasts are correct, the weather for the start of the ride should be perfectly fine with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 80’s.

The ride has been held each year since 2012 to promote community awareness about the need for organ and tissue donation and the importance for Mid-Southerners to become registered donors, themselves.

Those who support the Mid-South Transplant Foundation (MSTF), and participate in the ride, help to raise awareness for an organization that seeks to improve the quality of life for thousands of people in our region through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. 

MSTF also works directly with health care professionals and people in the community to increase the donation of organs and tissue transplantation for those who desperately need it.

Community Outreach Manager for MSTF, Randa Lipman,
(in the center with the turquoise shirt), was one of many
greeting the 200 or more cyclists who participated in
last year's 2015 Ride for Life bike ride.

For organ and tissue recipients, a donation can make all the difference in their quality of life or even between life and death, itself.

Anyone who is interested in the ride can register for it at
https://midsouthtransplantrfl.racesonline.com/ and participants will also have an opportunity while they are there to also register to become an organ and tissue donor.

As with past Ride for Life bike riding events, there will be a post-ride catered breakfast by
CrepeMaker in Collierville with music provided by DJ lil’ Egg Roll.

Medals will also be given out to all those who participate in the ride.

Those wanting more details can visit
http://midsouthtransplant.org/ride-for-life/, visit them at 8001 Centerview Parkway, Ste 302 in Cordova, or they can call them at 901-328-4438.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Shelby Farms Greenline is getting bigger and the park is expected to get even better soon

The Shelby Farms Greenline is getting bigger and the park is expected to get even better soon
By:  Michael Lander

The Shelby Farms Greenline trail officially opened to the
public on Jun 16, 2016, extending it by 4.15 miles to a
total of 10.85 miles, altogether.

The immensely popular Shelby Farms Greenline recently just got a little bigger as the park, itself, is continuing to steadily get even better.

The park is nearing the end of a $70 million project, which, when completed, will greatly enhance not only the look and feel of it, but it will make it an even better experience for all of its visitors. 

Overlooking a newly designed Patriot Lake will be a
brand new visitor and event center, pavilions, and areas
for people to gather and to have picnics.

Most of the improvements that are currently underway at
Shelby Farms Park are centering around what has been called the “Heart of the Park.”  This project includes new facilities and amenities and a new visitor center around a completely new and much larger Patriot Lake, which will become the main centerpiece for the park.

The “Heart of the Park” area, and its newly transformed Patriot Lake will be, according to the Shelby Farms Conservancy, a gathering place for health, recreation, relaxation, and a big water adventure that will be also be an environmental teaching tool, and so much more.

Shelby Farms Park is investing $70 million in transforming
the park into something that should offer plenty of outdoor
and water-related activities for visitors and giving them
even more reasons then before to spend time there.

As everyone anxiously awaits the grand opening of the Heart of the Park in the fall of this year, the Conservancy has already put smiles on the faces of those who love its multi-use greenline trail when they officially opened a 4.15 mile, $4.4 million eastward extension of it during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jun 16, 2016.

With this addition, the Shelby Farms Greenline trail is now 10.85 miles long and it runs from Tillman Road in
Binghampton to a former railroad train depot near the intersection of Macon Road and B Street in Cordova.

The Shelby Farms Conservancy spent $56 million on the
Heart of the Park project, in and around Patriot Lake,
which the expect to be the centerpiece and one of the
biggest attractions to Shelby Farms Park.

There will be even more to look forward to in the future of the greenline when the Conservancy will add yet another two more miles to the existing trail, going eastward toward Lenow Road, beginning in August 2017.

The latest 4.15 mile extension to the greenline not only offers even more of what trail users already know and love about the greenline, but it also gives them more wooded areas, with a tree-lined trail with plenty of shade and convenient access to and from Germantown Parkway.

The new 4.15 mile extension of the Shelby Farms Greenline
has trees lining a significant portion of it, giving some
much-needed shade to pedestrians and cyclists on hot
summer days.

It is where the trail intersects with Germantown Parkway that cyclists and pedestrians will encounter the greatest single expenditure to the trail system, to date, and the most unique feature along any Memphis area trail consisting of a protected corral (with a concrete barrier wall all around) in the median of this busy roadway.

The corral was specifically designed with safety in mind and one that wouldn’t have a negative impact on the flow of vehicular traffic on Germantown Parkway.

Visitors to the Shelby Farms Greenline
can travel 10.85 miles to or from
Binghampton to Cordova on a
relatively flat, paved surface.

When trail users come up to this roadway, they will find a two phase, signalized crossing in which they will first hear an audible command to wait, followed by a rapid clicking sound alerting them that it is safe to cross.  This will get them to the corral where they will wait until they get the signal to cross again to the other side.

It takes about four to five minutes to get completely across from one side of the road to the other.

The most expensive and unique feature on the 10.85 mile
Shelby Farms Greenline is the protected corral and
crossing system at Germantown Parkway.

Even though a bridge may have been a more desirable option than what was ultimately installed at Germantown Parkway, the exorbitant cost of a bridge would appear to have been the biggest factor as to why this was not done, especially since it would have also had to comply with all Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requirements.


This new 4.15 mile extension will not only connect Shelby Farms to even more communities to the east of it, but after the
Wolf River Greenway is extended 18.4 miles to downtown Memphis by mid-2018, trail users will eventually be able to walk, run, or ride their bikes from nearby Memphis municipalities, over the Harahan Bridge, to West Memphis, Ark. and beyond on a seemingly endless network of trails.

A protected corral in the median at Germantown Parkway
allows pedestrians and cyclists to wait until they are able
to safely cross to the other side of what is, ordinarily, a
very busy road.

Inside the park, itself, around Patriot Lake, there will be two new 2.34 mile paved trails, one of which will be a faster track for bicycles.  These trails will encircle a lake that will nearly be double in size, from what it was before.

Aside from the changes to Patriot Lake, the Heart of the Park will feature a First Tennessee Foundation Visitor Center, a FedEx Event Center with a kitchen restaurant, an event pavilion, a boat kiosk, an additional bike rental facility, and new lakeside pavilions or crickets with covered spaces for picnics, family reunions, parties, and gatherings at the edge of Patriot Lake.
Even though a bridge or a tunnel may have been two
possible options for getting around Germantown
Parkway, the most viable and economically
sound one was to create a protected corral,
instead.

When all the current work is done, by the fall of 2016, Shelby Farms Park will be more user and visitor-friendly than ever before.  Cyclists, and others, will have a place to stop and eat, a better place to ride, an ever-expanding access to the park via a bicycle, more bicycles to rent, and new and improved trails for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Even with all the construction work that is going on at the park, it is still a great place to ride through with only a minimal amount of areas that are blocked off because of the work that is being done there.
Cyclists and pedestrians on the Shelby Farms Greenline
have about a 4 to 5 minute wait to get completely
across Germantown Parkway.



Click here for on-going construction and possible detour information.

None of this should be enough to deter bike riders from riding to and through the park.  While there, cyclists can see the park as it takes shape and see it being transformed into what will ultimately be a premier recreational and entertainment oasis in the heart of our magnificent and thriving city.

The former railroad train depot in Cordova is
currently the end of the line for the Shelby
Farms Greenline, but it is expected to go
another 2 miles eastward toward Lenow
Road in the future.
To see a video of what Shelby Farms Park and the Heart of the Park will look like after all of the work is done, click here.