VOL. 133 | NO. 77 | Tuesday, April 17, 2018
New Plans Would Change Memphis Medical District
By Bill Dries
With 27,000 people who either work or attend classes in the Memphis Medical District, and about 375 acres of parking space, something has to give.
Following last week’s release of a reconfigured city bus system plan and a new shuttle system that the Memphis Medical District Collaborative is working on, officials hope to convince 2,500 people to leave their cars at home.
“We are seeing only 913 employees or students having access to viable transit,” said Glenn Gadbois, the transportation project manager for the collaborative. “(The goal) is a big difference. In my business you are not shooting for 100 percent. You are shooting for 10 to 20 percent to change.”
Gadbois was a guest on the WKNO TV program “Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News.
“(The available parking) is slightly larger than Overton Park,” Gadbois said. “It’s a huge dedication of space and money. If you are trying to strengthen that area it’s also unfriendly.”
The bus system reconfiguration is part of the larger citywide Memphis 3.0 plan. The plan shifts bus service from its current mix of 60 percent coverage and 40 percent frequency to 70 percent increased frequency and 30 percent coverage with less frequency.
Gadbois said more frequency – less time between buses – is essential to changing the way the district works.
“An hour between buses doesn’t work very well for employees getting to work,” he said. “But the range of times are nice improvements. What we do know is that the number of employees given the high frequency routes – the number of employees that can use transit will greatly increase.”
The shuttle to Harbortown, where many Medical District employees live, would be a privately funded undertaking.
“It hasn’t ever worked very well for MATA (Memphis Area Transit Authority) to be able to get transit service there,” he said. “They are not charged with expanding the footprint.
“So we will work on how we can get them the private sector employers to show proof of concept,” he said. “And that’s one of the things that we ought to put on the table. The private sector can invest in this stuff. There’s no reason to expect it’s all a public sector issue.”
The discussion among Gadbois, Suzanne Carlson of Memphis 3.0 and Innovate Memphis and transportation consultant Scudder Wagg can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
The plan comes with a call for $30 million in new funding for MATA but doesn’t specify where that funding would come from.
Last year, MATA CEO Gary Rosenfeld estimated that with $30 million in new recurring funding that the transit authority could deliver bus service with routes that get passengers where they are going in an hour or less.
“That will be the next major hurdle is figuring out how we are going to pay for it,” he said. “The goal is to be able to get people where they need to go in an hour or less. There shouldn’t be a penalty for riding the bus. There shouldn’t be a time penalty.”
The first reaction from Memphis City Council members who got a briefing on the plan Tuesday, April 10, was mostly muted.
Council member Martavius Jones wanted to know which areas would see service cut.
“We have to strike some kind of balance between frequency and coverage,” he said. “It’s a very delicate balancing act that we have to take into account.”
Rosenfeld said the changes will be more about frequency than where the buses run or don’t run.
“In those areas that don’t produce a lot of ridership, you will see a reduction in the frequency of service,” he said. “In the areas that do produce a lot of ridership it will increase in frequency. That increase in frequency of service is what enables people to get to the job that they are trying to get to and expands that opportunity.”
Jones said that is an important consideration.
“Somebody’s not going to work right now because it takes them more than hour,” he said.
Carlson said the report and its recommendations will likely change.
“At this point, we are really taking the temperature,” she said.
Wagg said the shift in bus service also represents a larger shift in the philosophy of how urban cores operate.
“Cars take up a lot of space and cities are places where people have relatively little space per person,” he said. “And when cars take up a lot of space, both to move and to store, there is less space available for everyone else to have offices and shops, restaurants.
“Cities have to be places where people can get together in large numbers with very little space,” he said. “And when you do that there’s just not very much room for cars.”
Gadbois said the status quo amounts to a tradeoff between employers and employees. In the Medical District 97 percent of the employees and students are part of a tradeoff in which they drive to and from the district one to a car.
“The deal is you drive we’ll store your car,” he said. “That means they have to change policy, benefits, a lot of different stuff for their employees to actually change their behavior. We also help their employees to figures out how to change their behavior and what options might work for them.”