Eight years ago, environmental groups reached a consensus that a single north-south road through Shelby Farms Park was unavoidable and should be pushed as far west in the park as possible.
Since the 2005 agreement, the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy has been formed and the Shelby Farms Greenline has been added, along with other bicycle and pedestrian trails and a playground. An expansion of Patriot Lake is in future plans. And the park has become a destination for two to three times more people than came to the park in 2005.
And the parkway plan, known as Shelby Farms Parkway and Kirby-Whitten Parkway, is now at the center of a discussion that has shifted as well.
“Traffic in the vicinity of the park has not grown in eight years,” said Dennis Lynch of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.” “We think there is need for much less of a road.”
The episode, hosted by Daily News publisher Eric Barnes and featuring conservancy executive director Laura Adams and landscape architect Ritchie Smith, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
The Sierra Club was part of the original coalition on the road compromise now being pursued by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. But Lynch is among those who question traffic studies underpinning the need for the parkway.
“There were three north-south roads in the transportation plan … that would bisect the center of the park and the east edge. The grand compromise then … was that there would be consideration of a western road – Kirby Parkway,” said Smith, who served on an advisory committee that came up with the 2005 compromise. “There’s a severe issue when you have a north-south road of I-240 on the west side and miles east Germantown Parkway.”
The conservancy has set a list of conditions it wants to see addressed before it agrees to the parkway plan. As recently as last week’s state public hearing on the roadway, the conservancy was still not ready to sign off.
“The conservancy isn’t pro-road or anti-road. The conservancy is always pro-park,” Adams said. “The park is at least two to three times busier than it has ever been. The park sits in the geographic center of the population of Shelby County. … We see that there are some issues with transportation. We experience them personally when people are even trying to come to the park and get in the park. People on a busy Saturday will turn away.”
Lynch is leading the move to review a possible fix to the intersection of Walnut Grove and Farm roads as an alternative to the parkway.
“We stood at that intersection and watched it in the evening rush hour. The left turn lane if you are going east on Walnut Grove Road, only holds 18 or 19 cars … and then they fall into the travel lanes,” he said. “By increasing the length of that turn lane and adjusting the traffic signal properly, that problem can be relieved.”
But Adams argues the traffic problem the parkway is supposed to eliminate also relieves a problem that wasn’t present when planning for the road began. The conservancy’s long-range plan calls for use of Farm Road as an internal park road only.
“The downside to us, the hard thing to us, is Farm Road puts all of the cut-through traffic right in the heart of the park. It’s a visual and noise disturbance currently to people who are using the heart of the park,” she said. “As we implement the new part of our master plan … we’re troubled by the prospect of people not having an easy way to get into the park. We’re troubled by the prospect of an expanded Farm Road that would bring more traffic and more congestion right near the heart of recreation.”
Adams said the conservancy is not opposed to exploring the option suggested by Lynch and the Sierra Club.
Smith doesn’t see much in a fix of an old intersection that he views as nowhere near up to handling the traffic currently coming to the intersection.
“No one would design Walnut Grove that way if we were in the scenario now with this park. If you even had to put a road through the park, it would be a beautiful parkway that fits the land and fits the aesthetics,” Smith said. “Farm Road is a version of (Walnut Grove). It’s a straight gash. It was designed for utilitarian functions. It’s unattractive. It’s linear. It doesn’t work with the land or the topography or the aesthetics.”