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VOL. 129 | NO. 26 | Friday, February 7, 2014

Arc de Overton

Park’s bicycle arch to serve as gateway

By Bill Dries

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The bicycle arch on the eastern side of Overton Park should be installed Saturday, Feb. 8, where Sam Cooper Boulevard dead-ends into East Parkway.

In the week leading up to it, sculptor Tylur French still has several dozen bicycles to be welded into the larger pieces of the arch, which will be lifted with a 40-ton crane.

And the director of the Overton Park Conservancy says the arch, consisting of more than 300 bicycles welded together, is a symbol of the park’s heritage as well as a gateway to the Hampline bicycle and pedestrian way connecting with the Shelby Farms Greenline and the bicycle and pedestrian trails in the park.

“It’s pretty much where I-40 would have cut through Overton Park had it not been stopped,” said Tina Sullivan, referring to the legal fight over the interstate that was decided in the 1970s by the U.S. Supreme Court. “Rather than having an expressway bisecting the park and pretty much destroying it, we now have a new bike/pedestrian entrance that brings people in to enjoy a thriving park.”

The public art also takes its place in a park that is home to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis College of Art, other public art – including the park’s iconic doughboy statue from between the two World Wars – and the recently redesigned playground. And there is an artistic link with the nearby Broad Avenue district.

“We are a very art-centric park,” Sullivan said. “You see that in our Rainbow Lake playground. I’m really excited that this project honors that heritage and, at the same time, honors the emerging bicycle infrastructure in the city.”

As a gateway into the park for pedestrians and bicyclists, the park is ready for increased traffic.

The nearby gazebo on East Parkway, which is more than 100 years old, was renovated in 2012 as one of the conservancy’s first projects. Bathrooms were added after six years of portable toilets. The existing playground may be renovated down the road, but it is in good shape already. The conservancy is currently looking over the condition of the picnic tables.

In terms of trails, those on foot will have five miles of trails from the gateway, including the park’s paved road system, a dirt trail and a limestone loop.

“Cyclists, they are probably going to be less likely to use the dirt trail, especially road bikes,” Sullivan said. “It’s close to 1 1/2 to 2 miles of paved roads. But what the cyclists are really going to be interested in, once they pass through the bike gate: There will be a paved trail that connects them to the internal road system. They can access all of the different areas of the park from there.”

The gateway is also a connector built with an eye toward other greenprint planning efforts, including bicycle lanes on Cooper Street that improve the connection of Cooper at Poplar Avenue. One of the conservancy’s next projects is a new connector there to take bicyclists to Veterans Plaza Drive.

“You see that through this greenprint planning effort that we are not just working on projects on our own,” Sullivan said. “We are working in partnership with other organizations.”

Among those organizations is the Broad Avenue Arts District, which is working with the city of Memphis on a redesign of the busy intersection at Sam Cooper and East Parkway to make it friendlier to bicyclists and pedestrians as well as a street crossing leading into the plaza with the bicycle arch.

“This grand entrance to the park sort of represents that new direction we are going – not just with the park but with the city,” Sullivan said as she talked of the immediate practicality of “a way to move people to and from the park and the neighborhood surrounding the park to the east, and between the park and the Greenline.”

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