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VOL. 126 | NO. 134 | Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Advocates Push Overton-Greenline Link

By Bill Dries

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When the group of architects and planners working on a bicycle-pedestrian path connecting the Shelby Farms Greenline with Overton Park went beyond the end of the Greenline onto Tillman Street recently, they had a Memphis Police bicycle escort.

Stonie Fitzgerald Sr. rides his bike down a temporary bike lane on Broad Avenue as he commutes to a construction job from Downtown. Plans are being made for a bike lane connector along Broad that will link Overton Park to the Shelby Farms Greenline.

(Lance Murphey)

The stretch of inner-city street includes a police precinct and a community center – and some uncertainty.

But planners and backers of the 1.9-mile connector also see potential and necessity. Tillman is the connection to Broad Avenue, and Broad is the connection to Overton Park.

John Lawrence of the nonprofit group “Livable Memphis” told a group of 100 at a Saturday morning public hearing in Binghampton that the two-mile stretch of Tillman and Broad is a “critical missing link” between Overton Park and the Greenline.

He also said the connector could “unite economic development potential.”

Liveable Memphis raised about $25,000 from private donors to start the planning and design work.

The planning effort involves Looney Ricks Kiss architects, Alta/Greenways, Powers-Hill design and Fuss & O’Neill Inc. planners of Nashville. That should be wrapped up in another month. From there, the engineering work begins – along with more fundraising and grant applications – with Lawrence saying work on the project could start later this year or early next year if there aren’t any hitches or delays in the process.

The plan being discussed is not a bike lane on each side of Broad Avenue and Tillman Street. It’s what planners call a “cycle track” – a single, 12-foot-wide lane on one side of the road with two bicycles lanes, one in each direction.

“It begins to mimic kind of the experience you have on the Greenline. If you are riding from part to part, you’re not … having to fend for yourself,” said architect Steve Auterman of LRK. “You actually have a very clear, defined way how you make that passage.”

Business along the recently revived Broad Avenue business corridor between East Parkway and Tillman Street support and are already making the bicycle path transition happen.

The connector plan would add more permanent infrastructure like median strips, traffic signals, signage and on-street parking.

The bicycle paths cross several of the city’s busiest thoroughfares for car traffic, including East Parkway and North Hollywood Street.

The emerging connector plan minimizes the number of such crossings by having bicycle traffic move from the north side of Broad to the south side of Broad (and vice-versa) at Lester Street. That means only one crossing at Sam Cooper Boulevard once traffic turns onto Tillman.

The East Parkway dead end of Broad, which is the entrance to Overton Park, would look much different than it does today, Auterman said.

“They are landing at a special spot,” is how he described the intended effect on bicyclists and pedestrians.

There would be a large, striped or otherwise decorated crosswalk that would be designed to make it nearly impossible for motorists on the parkway to miss. That would also be the plan for several other points along the connector.

The driveways and business entrances on Broad and Tillman that cross the bicycle lane would also likely have a different-colored pavement at the curb to indicate to those in cars that they are doing more than crossing into car traffic.

Among those at the weekend meeting was landscape architect Ritchie Smith, whose firm is among those working with Shelby County government on an extension of the Greenline past Tillman to Tobey Park and The Fairgrounds.

“It’s going to take awhile,” Smith said, noting it is unlikely railroads will allow the Greenline to cross two lines of freight rails.

“I’m 99 percent certain the answer is no,” Smith added.

“When that railroad determination is made, then the route will be explored through Larchmont (Drive) and Humes (Street) and other neighborhood streets connecting down Garden Lane.”

Garden Lane has a single rail crossing bicyclists are already familiar with, and it would take bicyclists directly into Tobey Park.

The path west of Tillman for the Greenline crosses some other boundaries – the ones that separate political jurisdictions.

“In this simple connection … you have every potential government entity involved in this. Add the railroad, and it is compounded,” Smith said.

“This connection will happen. We’ll get this greenline to Cooper-Young and The Fairgrounds. But it’s going to take a little while.”

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