'Cycle Tracks' Latest Bike Initiative for City

By Bill Dries

As the $33 million Main Street to Main Street project unfolds, the term “cycle track” is sure to be heard more.

Construction is to begin later this year on the pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk on the north side of the Harahan Bridge across the Mississippi River.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

A cycle track is a bicycle lane on a street that is shielded or separated from auto traffic by some kind of barrier or wall.

One is planned for Virginia Avenue in a key link to Channel 3 Drive and the Memphis end of the Harahan Rail Bridge’s planned pedestrian and bicycle overpass. The boardwalk on the north side of the bridge is the link to the two Main Street improvement projects involved – Main Street Memphis from Uptown to the bridge and Broadway Street in West Memphis, which is the major road on the western end of the bridge.

“It’s basically a greenline on the road but it’s separated from traffic,” Greg Maxted of the Harahan Bridge Project said of the cycle tracks on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Another cycle track unrelated to the Main to Main project is planned for the Tillman Street-Broad Avenue area as well as one some time in the next four years on Jefferson Avenue from Cleveland Street to Third Street, according to Maxted.

Meanwhile, Paul Luker, planning director for the city of West Memphis, said city leaders there are working with the National Park Service on a trail system that uses the floodway – the area that floods about one month of the year that is between the Mississippi River and the levee that is where the city of West Memphis begins.

Initial plans for the Harahan Bridge Project involved linking to a series of proposed trails on river levees there and farther south along the Mississippi River.

“There is a long-term conversation about the possibility of having trails on the levee,” Luker said. “But the project we’re looking at now would be to complement the Harahan Bridge project and take advantage of this great natural area.”

The existing bridge infrastructure on the West Memphis side already facilitates most of the journey onto the floodway and beyond to Broadway and an area that includes the site of the old Plantation Inn and other historic sites.

There is a ramp about 400 feet long and 40 feet wide that is elevated above the floodway.

“That’s a good landing area when you come off the Harahan Bridge,” Luker said. “Beyond that we have the service roads of interstate that are already there that we are going to utilize for shared use. There is one section of about two-thirds of a mile where these roads do not connect up. We’ll have to construct a trail in that area. But a lot of the infrastructure is already there on our side.”

Maxted said talks continue with leaders of The Church of the River, the nearest structure to the Harahan Bridge on the Memphis side.

“They are obviously concerned about their property and their parishioners. But they understand the value to the city,” Maxted said of access through the church’s property, which is one of several ways to get to the bridge boardwalk scheduled to be completed in about a year.

“There is the existing sidewalk on Riverside Drive, that if you are walking you can get to the bridge. There’s also the Bluffwalk,” Maxted added. “There will be a connection to Martyrs Park to Channel 3 Drive up to Virginia Drive to get on the greenway itself. There’s plenty of bicycle pedestrian connections that are already there.”

Following the bridgework by about six months or so is work on the Main Street section from Uptown through the South Main Historic Arts District. It’s an area that will include “sharrows” – street markings indicating cars and bicycles will be sharing the same road – with bicycle lanes running parallel on Front Street.

“We didn’t want to necessarily mix bikes with trolleys,” said Paul Morris, Downtown Memphis Commission president and the incoming Main to Main project director.

Nevertheless, the sharrows will be on the parts of Main Street open to auto traffic and city ordinances now permit bicyclists on the Main Street Mall.

“We have boards on the mall. We have lose pavers,” Morris said of long overdue renovation work on the mall that will be a major part of the project. “We’ve been suffering from deferred maintenance for more than a decade. There’s a lot of maintenance and upkeep and improvement that need to be made.”

The work schedule will require some balancing with existing uses on the mall as well as along the South Main portion that begins at The Orpheum Theatre taking into consideration an estimated $100 million in private investment in the area.