Bike Lane Decision Expected by July 30

By Bill Dries

Four lanes or three lanes – the shared use of a lane in each direction of Madison Avenue by cars and bicycles or a separate lane for bicycles.

That is the general choice a group of architects and planners must now make for the two-mile stretch of Madison Avenue between Cleveland and Cooper streets.

By the end of the month they must make a recommendation to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. about how to reconfigure Madison for bicycle lanes – either shared or dedicated – and Wharton must then make the final decision.

If there is no decision by the end of the month, the administration has said the city will likely lose the federal stimulus money for the repaving and restriping of Madison.

A just concluded trio of public hearings at Minglewood Hall in Midtown will play a major role in what is easily the most controversial route for bicycle lanes that have flourished across Shelby County in the last year.

Business owner Mark Weber, left, of The Mail Center asks Jonathan Klein of Looney Ricks Kiss about the impact of installing bike lanes in front of his business, which could block the ability of large trucks to park and pick up daily packages. The third meeting about bike lanes along the Madison Avenue Midtown corridor was held Wednesday at Minglewood Hall. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The last of the hearings on Wednesday, July 13, focused on two plans, neither of which architect Steve Auterman said he’s detected a consensus on.

There is a plan to leave four lanes of auto traffic on Madison, two in each direction with the curb lanes to be shared with bicycle riders. Then there is a plan to cut the curb lane of auto traffic in each direction and turn it into a designated bicycle lane for the entire two miles as well as on-street parking along some parts of Madison. The third lane would be a turning lane down the center of the street.

“Both work,” Auterman told the crowd of more than 100. “Both of them also have their flaws.”

Auterman also denied claims by some business owners opposed to a designated bicycle lane that he and the planners are “biased” toward the three-lane model.

“They thought we were being too heavy handed in talking about how a three-lane road works,” he said, referring to feedback he got later from some at the second meeting last week. “It wasn’t because we were advocating three lanes over four. It wasn’t. It was because we have a four-lane road to look at. … We wanted to imagine what are the things about a three-lane road that would be different so we can compare and contrast.”

The discussions in later breakout sessions featured the mechanics and statistics on traffic capacity versus volume yielding to what drives traffic on and off Madison’s Midtown leg.

“Why can’t it stay the way it is?
I ride my bike on Madison now all the time.”

–Alex Boggs

“I would love to have that problem,” commercial real estate broker James Rasberry said as planners concentrated on the street’s capacity potential. “There’s no economic engine to drive it.”

The conclusion, he added, is “blatantly obvious.”

“Change lifestyle and bring youth in here.”

Gordon Alexander said businesses could see more auto traffic with bicycle lanes.

But Alex Boggs of Huey’s was doubtful.

“You can’t guarantee we’re not going to lose traffic,” he told Alexander.

“You may lose it anyway,” Alexander countered.

“You’re the one who’s trying to change things,” Boggs replied. “Why can’t it stay the way it is? I ride my bike on Madison now all the time.”

“It’s not very safe,” Alexander said.

Auterman presented eight layouts for separate blocks of Madison between the four-lane and three-lane scenarios. That doesn’t include an option under the three-lane umbrella that would create on-street parking in Overton Square on both sides of Madison. The options primarily involve parking on both sides of the street or parking on one side of the street, varying widths for some of the lanes and where left turn lanes would be placed.

In either case – four lanes or three lanes – Madison between Cleveland and Cooper would not have the same exact layout on every block.

And there are several problem intersections – where a designated bicycle lane would have to coexist with right turn lanes either putting bicycle riders and their lane between two cars or car drivers following bicycles. The intersections include Madison and Belvedere and Madison and McLean.