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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

City of Memphis hosts public meeting, presents design plans for 10 bike lanes, including one for Riverside Drive

City of Memphis hosts public meeting, presents design plans for 10 bike lanes, including one for Riverside Drive
By:  Michael Lander

There were hundreds of people who streamed in and out of the
March 27, 2017 public meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the
Central Library.  The meeting was one of the largest meetings
in recent history due, in part, to the number of city streets
involved and the fact that bike lanes would be added to all of
them, if approved.

Nearly two hundred Memphis area residents, some who walked, rode their bikes, or drove their cars, attended an open-house style public meeting on 10 proposed repavement projects, that include bike lanes, on Monday, March 27, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

The meeting was hosted by the City of Memphis, which had city engineers, consultants, contractors, and volunteers from Bike/Walk Tennessee available to talk with and to answer any questions that people had.

Some of the cyclists who attended the Monday night meeting rode together with the Memphis Hightailers and the Revolutions Co-op.

The higher-than-normal attendance of this public meeting was due, in part, to the number of bike lane projects being presented by the city’s Division of Engineering, with the one for Riverside Drive being of particular interest to those who came.

Dozens of those who attended the March 27, 2017 public meeting
came to it via a bicycle.

The repaving projects, which the city is looking to have bike lanes added to, include:

- N. Highland St.
from Summer Ave. to Walnut Grove Rd.,
Riverside Dr. from Jefferson Ave. to Beale St.,
- N. Perkins St.
from Summer Ave. to Walnut Grove,
- Hickory Hill Rd.
from Mt. Moriah Rd. to Winchester Rd.,
- Knight Arnold Rd. from Hickory Hill Rd. to Ridgeway Rd.,
- Riverdale Rd. from Winchester Rd. to Shelby Dr.,
- Cooper St.
from Central Ave. to Washington Ave.,
- Getwell Rd.
from Park Ave. to I-240,
- Airways Blvd.
from Shelby Dr. to TN/MS State Line, and
- Mendenhall Rd. from Knight Arnold Rd. to Mt. Moriah Rd.

Click here to view the proposed street layout design poster displays presented at this public meeting.

With each of their repaving proposals, city engineers were able to add bike lanes by narrowing one or more lanes on the streets to accommodate them.  Several of these vehicle lanes were decreased to either 10 or 12 feet, with 10 being the minimum amount that is allowed.

As the Bikeway and Pedestrian Program
Manager in Memphis, Nicholas Oyler is
the point man on all issues that might
impact cyclists and pedestrians.  He has
been in that position since Sept. 6, 2015.

The impetus behind making accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists is driven by a concept known as “complete streets.”  This is a transportation policy and design approach that requires that our streets be designed to facilitate safety and accessibility for everyone, regardless of their mode of transportation, whether it is by a motor vehicle, a bicycle, or on foot.

Many see this as a truly democratic concept, and it has been embraced by many city leaders and city planners because it not only provides viable alternatives in transportation, but the data has shown that it also greatly enhances safety (by encouraging slower moving vehicular traffic), and it helps to relieve the chronic problems that come from traffic congestion.

Projects like this are also important since they can help to improve the health and fitness of Memphis area residents, they can provide recreational opportunities, and they can even generate more business opportunities and promote tourism.

The March 27, 2017 public meeting provided an open forum for
people to look at the proposed layout designs for ten city streets,
to talk and ask questions of city representatives, engineers, and
contractors, and to fill out questionnaires so that the city can
evaluate some of the ideas that people have.

The proposal for Riverside Drive also makes the riverfront and Tom Lee Park much more accessible for people who will only have to cross two lanes instead of four and, because of the slower moving traffic, they will be able to do so with less risk of being hit.

By making Riverside Drive easier for people to cross, it will, in turn, make it much easier for them to get to the parks and to other amenities that we have along the river. 

Improving accessibility to our riverfront is
something that several city leaders, including both the previous and current Memphis City Mayor, have reportedly expressed an interest in seeing.

Of the ten bike lanes that the city is currently proposing, the ones on Riverside Drive, (running from Jefferson Ave. to Beale St.), drew the greatest amount of attention and discussion at this most recent public meeting.

This is the city’s second attempt of installing bike lanes on Riverside Drive.  The first came in a pilot program that was launched in 2014 when the city reconfigured it, taking two of the four lanes away for vehicular traffic and making them accessible only for pedestrians and cyclists.

There was great interest in the proposed changes by the city
of ten of its streets, but the greatest focus of many was on
Riverside Drive that could have a more bike and pedestrian-
friendly makeover, if the general public supports the new
design concept.

The program ended the following year, and returned to its previous configuration, after there was mounting opposition to it by a handful of businesses, downtown residents, and some motorists, many of whom complained about traffic jams, delays, and concerns over their own personal safety.

Most of those who spoke, publicly, against the bike lanes on Riverside Drive offered up various other alternatives, suggesting, for instance, that bike paths be put in right up next to the river or installed adjacent to the existing sidewalk in Tom Lee Park. 

These ideas, however, would be much more costly and would mean the removal of trees, shrubs, and grass and would require putting down even more pavement, which would detract even more from the natural beauty of the riverfront. 

More than that, though, one of the biggest problems with these, or any other alternatives that people might come up with, bike lane advocates say, is that it fails to recognize the fact that the streets do not just belong to those who are in cars, but to everyone, and to all people.

This is the existing and proposed layout configuration for
Riverside Drive that once again includes bike lanes.  It is
one of ten projects that the city is seeking public input for
and, if it receives a favorable response from the public,
work could begin on this, and the other streets, as soon
as the late summer or early fall.

Aside from benefiting the cyclists, the bike lanes also help to open up Riverside Drive and, by their mere existence, they help to make the streets safer for everyone by slowing down the high-speed vehicular traffic, which can sometimes look more like an interstate than a city street

Unlike the time of the pilot project on Riverside Drive, the Memphis Bikeway and Pedestrian Program Manager, Nicholas Oyler, believes that circumstances have changed since then, like the opening of the Big River Crossing on the Harahan Bridge, which provides even more reasons to have bike lanes on this iconic roadway.

The Big River Crossing has already had over 160,000 visitors either walking, running, or riding their bikes on it from the time it opened in October 2016

This is a proposed rendering of what Riverside Drive would
look like with the bike lanes on the outer edges of it, if the
public input is positive and in favor of it.

"Nearly two years since the pilot project was conducted, demand for access to the riverfront has increased via the Harahan Bridge and other new attractions. Yet, drivers on average are still traveling at 10 or more miles per hour greater than the posted speed limit along Riverside Drive. We’re confident that this new proposal effectively addresses the concerns voiced during the pilot project, while still achieving the overall priority of safety for everyone who uses the street – whether in a car, on foot or by bike,” Oyler said.

Memphis area residents can provide their thoughts and comments by completing an online surveyYou will have until 11:59 p.m. on April 17 to do this.

Click here to complete the online survey.

Individuals can also
submit written comments to Chee Chew, Civil Design engineer by mail at Project Comments, Civil Design & Administration, 125 North Main Street, Suite 677, Memphis, TN, 38103, or by email at

Depending on feedback that is received, the city will either begin repaving projects by this fall or it may, if needed, decide to alter a proposed project’s design or conduct additional public outreach.   

The re-pavement project, known as the Surface Transportation Program Repaving Group 5 and 6 has an estimated cost of $14.2 million with 80 percent ($11.3 million) federally funded and the city picking up the remaining tab of 20 percent ($2.84 million).

This, and other public meetings, not only provide an
opportunity for Memphis area residents to look over and
examine the city's proposed plans, but to also meet and
discuss the details and potential impact of a project, to
offer suggestions, to ask questions, and to offer feedback,
which helps the city to better meet the needs of everyone.

Federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) funding will cover the cost for the segment of Riverside Drive from Jefferson Ave. to Beale St., according to Oyler.

Since the city does not want to have the bike lanes to abruptly end there; however, he and others support a proposal to have in-house city crews continue the new striping configuration south from Beale to Carolina Ave.

The southern portion, Oyler said, would be covered by city engineering operating funds.

The southern segment of Riverside Drive, he added, was repaved less than two years ago and would only need to be re-striped. 

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