Since its earliest days, Memphis has been a city of dichotomies.
It existed in the slave South, but made money in commerce with both sides in the Civil War. It was capital of the segregated Delta but it was a place defined more by African-American culture than almost anywhere in the South. It was decimated by yellow fever epidemics that left Memphis a city of poor whites and blacks whose cultures intermingled enough to eventually give birth to the authentic forms of American music.
It existed in the early 20th century when it was known for its considerable number of churches and for having more houses of prostitution than any city in the South except New Orleans. It prospered in an era where its country club leadership turned a blind eye – for personal and political reasons – to the “anything goes” atmosphere of Beale Street.
And so it goes. One of Memphis’s many contradictions is that although it is a city shaped by innovations in commerce and art, it still tends to be hidebound when it comes to change. Case in point, the rightsizing of Riverside Drive from four lanes to two lanes.
The Dramatic Gesture
We travel this route at least twice a day and often several times more, and for the first time in our memory, traffic is moving at the speed limit (even the normally speeding WREG-TV trucks are slowing down) and Memphis has attracted significant national coverage for its protected bike lanes in downtown Memphis on Riverside Drive.
The present configuration executed by the City of Memphis Engineering Division is different than the one recommended by author, planner, architect, and urbanist Jeff Speck in his report to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. His concept envisioned two lanes for traffic, but with one lane on each side of the existing media. The easternmost lane would become parallel parking and the westernmost lane would become a two-way bike/ped path.
That said, we were encouraged by the willingness of city government to do something innovative and dramatic to slow down traffic as the park usage of the riverfront increases; however, opposition surfaced as it always does when a road diet adds bike lanes and slows down traffic.
It’s all curious considering how many cities are doing the same across the country, and in Paris, where you’d think tradition would be the most immovable, the expressway through the city and bordering the Seine is closed for a couple of months each year so it can be converted into a beach and pedestrian activities.
Paris as Inspiration
Meanwhile, a few months ago, Paris shut down two of its busiest lanes of traffic on the banks of the Seine in the area of its most visited tourist attractions and transferred it from cars to people. Perhaps, we could take a cue from the City of Lights and activate the two protected bike lanes with some innovative uses that would draw more people to them.
In Paris, the former two lanes of roadway are a 1.4 mile pedestrian boulevard packed with recreational activities, restaurants and bars, and creative patches of blooming flowers of plants and trees, according to the New York Times. There are even teepees that can be reserved for children’s birthday parties, a painted maze, and a sprinting track. Previously, the two lanes moved as many as 2,200 cars an hour, but today, they attract 2.5 million people to it in a year.
Surely, if a world capital like Paris can reimagine its streets, Memphis can at least take its more modest steps to add bike lanes all over the city and right size city streets that no longer carry the volume of traffic that they once did.
Back to Mr. Speck, his report to Mayor Wharton said: “Riverside Drive is the highway that was famously killed to become a parkway, but now functions too much like a highway, speeding cars in a seam between the city and its riverfront.” He said the “potentially easiest win” for the riverfront is a reconfiguration of “Riverside Drive, which is annually narrowed and closed with little negative impact on downtown for Memphis in May International Festival.
Ending the Riverside Speedway
Mr. Speck wrote: “The answer to this question can be found each May, when one-half of the street is closed for two weeks and the entire street is closed for three weeks. While presenting some temporary inconvenience as people adjust their paths, the City’s grid of alternative north-south streets contains more than adequate capacity to absorb the trips typically handled by Riverside Drive. Such an experience has been mirrored in American cities from coast to coast, where highway removals have repeatedly failed to cause traffic crises. From New York’s West Side Highway to San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway, removed road capacity has not had a negative impact on travel times.
“For this reason, and as further studied by transportation engineers at Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, we have the luxury of asking ourselves what kind of street Riverside Drive wants to be. Surely it can still hold cars, but the downtown would benefit tremendously if it were to hold cars moving a bit less speedily, alongside pedestrians and cyclists. Additionally, the inclusion of parallel parking would both provide protection to its sidewalks while eliminating the need for parking lots within Tom Lee Park and at Beale Street Landing.”
He said Riverside Drive “should be converted from a four-lane speedway to a two-lane ‘complete street,’ including parallel parking and a bicycle track along the Mississippi River.” “All you need is a new top layer and paint to restripe it,” he said, drawing on recommendations from his engineering partner, highly regarded engineering firm, Nelson-Nygaard. The parallel parking would allow for the removal of the parking lot from Tom Lee Park, he said. “No great urban park has parking lots in them,” he said. “The parking lot completely undermines the architectural scheme and interrupts the entrance from the park.”
Note: From left to right, there is a bike lane, a buffer, parallel parking, traffic going south, traffic going north, a turn lane to Beale, and more parallel parking.
You wrote: “He said the ‘potentially easiest win’ for the riverfront is a reconfiguration of Riverside Drive, which is annually narrowed and closed with little negative impact on downtown for Memphis in May International Festival.”
Little negative impact? I guess you haven’t noticed the S. Front Street neighborhood, where hundred and hundreds of us singles, couples and families feel the impact. Yet we tolerate it for a couple weeks. Knowing it will end soon. Knowing that it is difficult and unsafe to cross streets with no crosswalks nor stop signs. Knowing we cannot safely bike in our own neighborhood due to Memphis In May Traffic.
We don’t want Memphis In May traffic all year on S. Front.
I would be more democratic than the city. And actually listen to and take care of its growing number of tax paying residents on S. Front and Georgia. If I were the city I would put cross walks and stop signs on S Front Street and Georgia. AND carve out a bike path on the existing sidewalk on Riverside AND return Riverside Drive to four lanes of traffic WITH rotaries that would slow down traffic. It would be a win-win for Riverside AND the residents in S. Front/ Georgia Neighborhood.
Thanks, Suz. We have a friend on Front Street who was telling us last year that traffic on his street was increasing back then, and we had noticed it as we traveled the street. But,as we said, we drive in and out on Riverside every day, and it would never occur to us to leave two-lane Riverside Drive to go to two-lane Front Street. We can’t imagine that it’s not the longer trip in the time it takes. We think the city engineer is right in seeing how traffic shakes out and if people learn that Riverside Drive finally has traffic going the speed limit and if people will adjust to that in time. An independent traffic engineering firm that didn’t work for the city government validated the Riverside Drive approach, and we think in time, by taking traffic counts, etc., that people will see if it’s a problem or if it’s an adjustment similar to the bike lanes on Madison Avenue.
Suz missed the point, if I understand it right. We always have an excuse for not doing something different around here. While Paris can shut down lanes and divert traffic, Memphis just can’t do it for a variety of lame reasons. Sad.
Suz et al.,
I have no doubt traffic has increased on S. Front. Additional information will be necessary to ascertain the degree of traffic that is directly related to the Riverside lane reduction and not to-say- the construction of the large South Junction development and other projects in the area.
I definitely appreciate your following comment: “Knowing that it is difficult and unsafe to cross streets with no crosswalks nor stop signs. Knowing we cannot safely bike in our own neighborhood due to Memphis In May Traffic”. What you seem to be describing is not so much a criticism of the act itself, but a criticism of the execution. You are correct, additional stop signs need to be installed in the area along with additional crosswalks. The lack of crosswalks at most of the neighborhoods intersections is untenable. The lack of mid-block crosswalks, specifically along Front and Tennessee where the blocks are ¼ mile in length, is not supportive of a higher density residential neighborhood. It is a residential district and the streets in the neighborhoods should be designed as such. Early design for the Main to Main project included separated bike lanes on certain streets including Front. I am not sure if they made it to final design. However, none of these issues exclude the road diet that has been performed on Riverside.
Personally, while I have no information to support the following opinion, I believe a simple solution would be to divert more traffic to Carolina (by way of a right turn only lane for that intersection as a low-cost phase 1 and installing a traffic signal as part of phase 2). Carolina offers connections to your neighborhood but would encourage drivers to continue to Main, Second and Third. The addition of stop signs along with improved intersections (crosswalks, pavement treatment, etc.) would help slow traffic to speeds more befitting the area while also ensuring that drivers must come to a full stop, thus allowing the opportunity for pedestrians to safely cross.
As an aside- rotaries may seem great, but studies show that they are less than ideal for pedestrians attempting to cross the street. Not only is the driver distracted by somewhat complicated turning movements, the vehicle path does not require a full stop at any point when going through the rotary.
Stop signs are definitely critical for pedestrian crossing around the Midsouth, otherwise you’re toast. I have seen pedestrian crossings work around here however they come with school crossing guards 🙂
It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this brilliant blog!
I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google
account. I look forward to new updates and will
talk about this blog with my Facebook group. Talk soon!
So the need for a GC is alleviated and will usually not be required.
Unfortunately it is impossible to list all state sponsored loans here
because it is too many to mention. In this situation you can ask your lender to extend your repayment time
my web-site: Home Improvement Loans
But if you’re going to develop the property, this is a six to 12
months process. With an experienced construction loan broker you can shop
dozens of the most competitive banks nationwide, work with
wholesale pricing and can negotiate on rates and pricing.
I received a dandy fishing pole in a carrying case.
my homepage :: construction loan rates