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VOL. 129 | NO. 78 | Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Bicycle Trails at Heart of Transit Changes

By Bill Dries

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The formal dedication of the Overton Park Bike Gate Saturday, April 19, begins a new season of bike and pedestrian trails, including an ambitious experiment with Riverside Drive once the monthlong Memphis in May International Festival comes to an end with the Sunset Symphony.

With the opening of the Overton Park Bike Gate, coordinators of the city’s program of bike lanes and trails have plans for more miles of both.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Construction on the Hampline that connects the bike gate plaza on Overton Park’s western edge to the Tillman Street terminus of the Shelby Farms Greenline continues. But enough of the work before paving had been completed that dozens of bicyclists were able to use the first section on the other side of East Parkway Saturday in their ride to Shelby Farms Park after a victory lap around the trails in Overton Park.

“May you ride safely through the streets of Memphis and find respite in Overton Park,” said Overton Park Conservancy executive director Tina Sullivan at the end of the ceremony.

A paved trail at the bike gate funded by the state links cyclists and pedestrians with the trail system in the park’s Old Forest area.

The gate is a symbol of several milestones, including the 1970s-era court fight that stopped Interstate 40 from being routed through the park, as well as more recent changes in the city’s transit culture.

Those changes advance with 150 more miles of new trails and bike lanes planned over the next three years.

“We’ve doubled the number of miles of new trails and bike lanes in the city over the last three years,” said Kyle Wagenschutz, the city’s pedestrian and bicycle director. “We have five times the number of people bicycling every day in Memphis, and we’ve seen bicycle accidents drop by 35 percent.”

Wagenschutz and city planners are still mapping out design details for Riverside Drive between The Pyramid on the north and Channel 3 Drive on the south.

“Once Memphis in May ends, the city is planning to do a pilot program along Riverside Drive to add new capacity for bicyclers to ride north and south through Downtown Memphis to reach the future site of the Harahan Bridge (boardwalk) and the future site of Bass Pro Shops,” he said, adding the pilot program is to “test and understand the feasibility of moving Riverside Drive from four lanes for automobiles to only two lanes for automobiles.”

“How the rest of that takes shape is still a little fluid at the moment,” he said. “We’re still in the design phase.”

The plan for now is to continue to block all auto traffic on what are now the southbound two lanes once the Sunset Symphony closes out the festival. Those two lanes would be open to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

What are now the two northbound lanes of traffic on Riverside would go to two-way traffic, with one lane remaining northbound and the other southbound.

“What are the traffic impacts of that configuration when there’s not 20,000 extra people coming Downtown for the festival?” Wagenschutz said of the questions to be answered by the pilot program before any permanent changes are proposed for Riverside Drive in 2015 or 2016.

It’s not the first time such a change has been proposed for Riverside Drive.

Urban planner and designer Jeff Speck advocated in March 2013 turning the curb southbound lane on Riverside, the one closest to the Mississippi River and Tom Lee Park, into an on-street parking and bicycle lane, but keeping both northbound lanes on the other side of the drive’s median strip open to automobile traffic.

Speck, who was hired by the city to review 20 past and current plans for the city’s riverfront, said the change would allow the city to eliminate new parking lots that are currently part of the Beale Street Landing development and turn them back into greenspace.

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