The Vollintine Evergreen Community Association (VECA) pioneered the city's first rails-to-trails project with its 1.7-mile V&E Greenline back in 1996. At the time, the concept was so new, the neighborhood association couldn't even get the city's backing.
"The neighborhood was so far ahead of the curve on a rails-to-trails project, the city wouldn't even be part of it," said landscape architect Ritchie Smith of Ritchie Smith & Associates, who helped VECA with the greenline's master plan back then.
VECA instead took it upon themselves to transform an old, abandoned rail line set up to serve Sears Crosstown into a walking and biking path leading from Springdale near Rhodes College to Watkins across from the Sears building.
VECA has again called upon Smith to help improve the existing soft-surface path. Monday night at the VECA office on Jackson, Smith presented his plans to improve accessibility at the greenline's nine crossings with city streets. At Stonewall, Avalon, Belvedere, Evergreen, and Auburndale, Smith proposed wheelchair-accessible ramps leading from the path to the street, zebra-striped crosswalks in the street, and new steel bollards to keep cars out of the path.
The Tutwiler and the University/Jackson crossings would also need crosswalks, but because of the way the path connects across the streets at an angle, the striping would deviate from the path a little. The crossing at McLean already has zebra striping, which the city added about two years ago. But Smith is still proposing new bollards for McLean. At the path's end at Springdale, Smith said a ramp connecting the path to the existing sidewalk is needed. Smith also proposed new V&E Greenline signage along the trail to replace the path's aging wooden signs.
VECA received a $40,000 planning grant from the Mid-South Regional Greenprint for the design phase of the entrance improvements, but that grant does not cover the cost of construction. Smith estimated improvements at all nine crossings would cost about $250,000.
Mike Kirby, a VECA volunteer, said the organization expects to have to raise some of that amount, but they're hoping the city will fund part of the construction cost.
"This is a starting point, but I think it's a really important starting point," said Kirby of the design phase.