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VOL. 129 | NO. 120 | Friday, June 20, 2014

Brady: Zoo Parking Solution Difficult

By Bill Dries

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The president of the Memphis Zoo says solutions to the parking problem at Overton Park won’t be easy and likely will involve change for all of the park’s institutions.

The president of the Memphis Zoo says parking solutions won’t be easy.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

“Overton Park is a community park. … It’s clearly not a neighborhood park,” Chuck Brady told The Daily News in his first interview since protests began in late May over the zoo’s use of the park greensward for overflow parking. “It’s easy to define the problem. But it’s difficult to carve out a solution.”

For the month of June, that solution has been free shuttles between the Overton Square parking garage and the park. The trial period for those shuttles runs out the last weekend of the month.

So far, Brady said, the use of the shuttle, at least by zoo visitors, has been “limited.”

“For a shuttle to work even as part of the solution, people have to decide before they get in their car,” he said. “You are going to get very few people that are turned away that are at the zoo to say, ‘Where is the shuttle?’ They are going to go to other alternatives, primarily the neighborhood or in the park or go home or go to another venue.”

Zoo staff members have been greeting visitors who come by shuttle to determine whether they tried to park on zoo lots before going to the garage.

“The people that rode it made the decision first,” Brady said. “They didn’t come to the zoo and go to Overton Square. They went to Overton Square.”

Overton Park Conservancy director Tina Sullivan, commenting at the midway point of the trial period for a story in the current edition of The Memphis News, acknowledges “the shuttles have not been as heavily used as we had hoped.” She also said attendance at the zoo, and in the park in general, has been down because of the warmer weather and the rain.

Like Sullivan, Brady said the zoo is seeing an increase in visitors on foot and is preparing for an increase in visitors coming into the park by bicycle from the Hampline – the Overton Park connector bike route from the western end of the Shelby Farms Greenline through the Broad Avenue Arts District to the park’s new Bike Gate on East Parkway.

“We have a significant amount of foot traffic,” Brady said. “Bicycle traffic is hindered a little bit because of the access to the park, but we already have plans to build a bike pavilion so that visitors who choose to use bicycles can come into the zoo, store their bike, freshen up and change, go have a day at the zoo, and pick up their bike and go home. … We’re thinking that bike traffic is going to be an important new addition to Overton Park and the zoo.”

According to Brady, it will be Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration that takes the lead in whatever the solution is that all sides hope to have worked out by the end of the year, when overflow parking on the greensward will end as a policy.

“We would have to find those dollars and implement it,” he added. “And then next season, come March of 2015, is when we would start to have schoolchildren come to the point where we would need overflow.”

Increasingly, that solution seems to be a combination of remedies.

“Anytime you have multiple possibilities that are working together to make a solution, you are better off than with a single solution,” Brady said. “We are all for that.”

But he also continued to express concerns about turning away zoo visitors.

“It’s a 25-year-old problem. We’re aware of it. We’re always looking for solutions. There’s no easy solution or we would have taken it already, and we’ve already tried several things that didn’t work,” he said. “If parking is restricted to the point that visitors can’t access the zoo, then zoo attendance will shrink. Then we’ll have to revisit our business plan. We’re a nonprofit, so the revenues we generate are what we spend.”

Future solutions include a parking garage on zoo property, Brady said. Solutions probably don’t include a tram from a city maintenance site at East Parkway and Poplar Avenue that would run through the Old Forest.

“I think the issue is that there’s a lot of opposition to using the forest. … That option hasn’t been put out officially,” he said. “We’re going to work with the options that are available, and we are going to advocate for the one that is the best. I would wait to hear what the city is thinking on that option.”

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