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VOL. 128 | NO. 156 | Monday, August 12, 2013

Traffic Stop

Designers plot greenline extension past Germantown Parkway

By Bill Dries

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Plans for an eastern leg of the Shelby Farms Greenline include a pedestrian and bicycle crossing at busy Germantown Parkway, where recent traffic counts show 58,000 cars a day travel. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Planners of the eastern extension of the Shelby Farms Greenline – from Farm Road to the Cordova train station – are getting in some roadwork these days.

Frank Gianotti of the engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech, and other planners of the extension have been hitting the streets recently to talk about the planning work that is about halfway complete.

Construction could start early next year, as soon as the right of way on the old rail line is secured from CSX Corp. And much of the attention is on what will be the most ambitious road crossing of the greenline so far – Germantown Parkway.

“Here it is,” Gianotti said recently, as he showed PowerPoint slides of the plans for the Germantown Parkway crossing to about 100 people at a Memphis Kiwanis Club luncheon. The presentation includes design work by Tetra Tech and Ritchie Smith Associates.

The latest traffic count shows 58,000 cars a day traverse the former railroad crossing on Germantown Parkway – one of the busiest stretches of auto traffic in Shelby County.

“The (Shelby Farms Park) Conservancy, the city and the county would love to build a bridge over this,” he said. “The bridge would cost about $2.5 million.”

Germantown Parkway Crossing Plans

The conservancy manages both the greenline and Shelby Farms Park. But instead of a bridge, plans for Germantown Parkway call for a crossing unlike any other – either already built or being planned.

The busiest roadway the greenline currently crosses is Highland Street, which has less than half the traffic count of Germantown Parkway.

Along with being the greenline’s designer, Gianotti may be one of the trail’s most experienced riders. He rode it and walked it before it formally became the greenline – before the rail bridges and trestles, some of them more than a century old, were renovated.

Gianotti has crossed Germantown Parkway in mid-morning and admits it has a different traffic flow than around 4 p.m., although he pointed out the latest counts show traffic on that part of the parkway has dropped by about 15 percent in the last decade.

The eastern extension of the Shelby Farms Greenline would stop at the old Cordova train station. No use for the train station itself has been worked out yet.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

“We couldn’t just do an ‘up real quick and down real quick’ trail,” Gianotti said of the parkway crossing, which, even with a bridge, would still have had to meet standards of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The design calls for a two-stage crossing, in which pedestrians and riders will first reach a median in the parkway and then cross to the other side.

A traffic signal at the old rail crossing will be activated when a walker, runner or biker on either side of the greenline presses a button.

“If somebody activates this, they will have to wait up to maybe 45 seconds to a minute before they cross,” Gianotti said. “The same sequence will happen on the other side. The worst case, crossing this is going to be less than two minutes. Many times it will be better than that. Right now to cross Walnut Grove (at Farm Road) … you wait 2.4 minutes maximum to get across.”

The comparison is important because Walnut Grove at Farm Road has about the same daily traffic count, and Gianotti says the Germantown Parkway crossing will be safer.

The times are to get to the middle of the crossing, where there will be a “protected area” for the wait to make the rest of the crossing.

It will have concrete barriers similar to construction barriers on interstates, and trees in the median as well. Such mid-crossing areas are used in some European road designs but so far not in the U.S.

“If a car hits that, they are not coming in there,” Gianotti said. “Inside this, you will have a countdown to green time. … It will tell the biker and walker, you have so many seconds.”

The very development over several decades that makes Germantown Parkway’s car and truck traffic so heavy is also a factor in carving out the median strip with the mid-crossing point.

Part of the planning will involve how to deal with whatever is under the pavement now, and Gianotti said there are likely some surprises like unmarked utilities because of the nature of surrounding construction over the years.

“Private developers built it piecemeal,” Gianotti said. “Every piece of junk in the world is in that roadway.”

As the design work continues, there are also talks about uses for the Cordova train station, which is where the eastern extension would end, and what that would mean for the old town section of Cordova. Other trailheads where those on the greenline could stop are also being discussed.

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