These days Dennis Lynch spends more of his time as a volunteer for the Sierra Club than he does with his consulting business, Lynch Business Advisors.
That’s because several years ago he decided to take a much more active role in the region’s transportation development and implementation.
“The public needs to be involved in the development process,” he said. “They can’t just leave it to the politicians and planners. I’m trying to help at the state and local level to get more involvement. Too much of politics these days is based on sound bytes, and not enough goes into studying the core of what’s really going on and trying to understand it and find ways to address it.”
Lynch is now the chairman of the transportation committee of the Sierra Club’s local chapter, the Chickasaw Group, and he also took over as Sierra Club Tennessee state chairman in January.
He points to exciting new local projects like a dedicated two-way cycle track on Broad Avenue, which will connect the Greater Memphis Greenline and Overton Park.
Lynch hopes the city will develop and support more transit options.
“Nashville is developing more transit than Memphis, but maybe over time Memphis will begin to support transit to a greater degree,” said Lynch, who pointed out the benefits of using transit systems. “You don’t have to own a car, and you don’t cause as much pollution into the environment when traveling from here to there.”
Lynch studied transportation planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his master’s degree in transportation planning. He worked in regional planning in the Boston area before being recruited by FedEx, where he worked for more than 20 years.
After FedEx, he decided to take a more active role in local transportation issues a couple of years ago. He met with several local officials at a public “green” gathering and began examining the area’s bicycle pedestrian plan and long-range transportation plan for strengths and weaknesses, and he eventually was making comments and presentations to the Metropolitan Planning Organization about his findings.
Lynch was subsequently approached by the Sierra Club, and that relationship evolved into his becoming the chairman of the group’s transportation committee.
One of the current hot issues for Lynch is the development of Shelby Farms Parkway, where he sees several major environmental problems with the current plan.
“It really is, in some ways, an abomination,” he said. “We are trying to get officials to consider other alternatives that will not have a negative impact on the park.”
Lynch has identified five glaring problems with the current plan, including a breach in the aquifer, a dormant adjacent landfill that is leeching contaminants into the soil, the infill of wetlands and the effects on the habitat of the area’s animals, modification of the 100-year flood plain, and the diverting of road runoff into the Wolf River.
Sierra Club is proposing a simpler, less expensive design in a slightly different location, closer to Farm Road and improving the intersection of Farm and Walnut Grove Road.
Handicap mobility is also a critical issue for the city at the moment.
“When you think about it from the point of view of someone in a wheelchair or someone with vision impairment, many of the city’s sidewalks are in poor condition, with cracks, unevenness, repairs that are incomplete, and all kinds of obstructions. There are also many streets that do not even have curb ramps, which is now a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Lynch, who is working now with the Memphis Center for Independent Living as part of the Greenprint consortium to study sidewalks near parks and green spaces.
Other recent Sierra Club accomplishments include pulling together a coalition of 12 to 13 local citizen groups last November supporting the citywide campaign for the failed 1-cent per gallon gas tax referendum to provide some additional funding for Memphis Area Transit Authority.
The group is also currently closely monitoring the Allen Steam Plant and the environmental impact on Memphis and Shelby County.