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VOL. 126 | NO. 164 | Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wharton Seeks Compromise on Madison Bike Lanes

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is considering a compromise in the Madison Avenue bicycle lane controversy that would leave some parts of the avenue between Cleveland and Cooper streets without dedicated bicycle lanes.

“Perhaps not running the (road) diet – or the three lanes the full length of the area,” Wharton said. “We’re in some good talks. I’m hopeful we will be able to reach some accommodation. I know it won’t make everybody happy.”

Wharton said he has been talking with merchants on both sides of the question and hopes to roll out a compromise in the next two weeks.

“It’s going to take more than bike lanes to make Madison the attractive corridor that I want to make it. … But we don’t have the funds,” Wharton said. “What I’d like to do is reach some accommodation until I have the funds to do a complete streetscape to restore the vitality to Madison and to offset some of the consequences of the trolley.”

Wharton’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Kyle Wagenschutz, recommended in April that the city cut one of the two lanes of auto traffic in each direction of Madison and convert that lane to a dedicated bicycle lane for the entire 1.5-mile length combined with a parking lane along some parts and several turning lanes.

Some merchants along the street oppose that and have suggested shared bike lanes with better street markings and more signage than currently exists. And they specifically cite the drop in the traffic count that came during the construction of the Madison Avenue trolley line from Main Street to Cleveland.

When the opposition surfaced, Wharton delayed a final decision and began re-examining the idea, holding a set of three public hearings that included information from new traffic counts along the street. Those new traffic counts confirm a lower street count on Madison than on neighboring Union and Poplar avenues that began about the time construction work began on the Madison leg of the trolley.

The repaving of the street along with its restriping is being paid for with federal funding and was supposed to begin this month. Wharton said over the weekend the city now has through October to decide how the lanes are configured.

“It’s going to take more than bike lanes to make Madison the attractive corridor that I want to make it. ... But we don’t have the funds. What I’d like to do is reach some accommodation until I have the funds to do a complete streetscape to restore the vitality to Madison.”

–A C Wharton Jr.
Memphis Mayor

“I don’t want to set a precedent or send a signal to Washington that those folks down there in Memphis don’t have their act together,” Wharton said.

Meanwhile, the controversy entered the campaign for one seat on the Memphis City Council.

Super District 9 council member Janis Fullilove weighed in last week saying the dedicated bicycle lanes would be “a disaster waiting to happen.”

“I find it so ironic that the (Wharton) administration would use stimulus money from Washington to create these bike lanes,” she said during a press conference at Brinson Tax Service on Madison near McLean Boulevard. “And this proposal, which has not been studied at all, would literally close some of these businesses.”

The year-old business is in the same block of Madison as other merchants who favor the bicycle lanes.

The section of Madison is not in Super District 9, which covers half of the city of Memphis.

One of her challengers in the Oct. 6 city elections was quick to condemn Fullilove.

“She’s causing problems for the Madison bike lanes and they are not in her district,” said Isaac Wright in an email hours after the press conference.

The next day, Wright said the city should go ahead with the bicycle lanes.

“They are going to ride their bikes on the street with or without the lanes,” he said.

Another candidate in the race, Rosalyn Nichols, also said she favored the lanes without bringing up Fullilove’s stand against them.

“I know that some of the business owners are a little concerned about it,” Nichols said. “But I really am in support of the bike lanes. I like the opportunity for Midtown and that community to be able to be healthy as well as get active. I don’t think it is going to disrupt the economic flow of that area.”

A decision by Wharton is likely before whoever wins the race in October has to vote on it, if the dispute comes to a council decision.

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