The city held a public meeting at the Dave Wells Community Center Monday night to gather comments about the Chelsea Greenline, a 2.5-mile proposed off-road bicycle and walking trail that would run along an abandoned rail line from Evergreen and Chelsea to Washington Park in Uptown. It would eventually connect with the planned Wolf River Greenway.
A few residents spoke up with concerns. Chief among those was a feeling of being left out of the planning process. Resident Betty Tyler told city officials that she'd heard from "elders" in the neighborhood that they were just now hearing about the Chelsea Avenue Greenline plan, even though the Greater Memphis Greenline organization has been talking about and planning the trail for several years. She proposed more public meetings to gather input from the community.
North Memphis resident Carnita Atwater said she was worried about the safety of people riding their bicycles through the area.
"The innocent people who are going to be riding their bicycles on the Greenline," Atwater said. "I hope y'all give some serious thought to the cameras or whatever because the police can't be everywhere. I know for a fact because I have a daily relationship with the gang members in the area. And they will be waiting. Don't let innocent people go into an environment that they don't know anything about. I live there."
Landscape architect Ritchie Smith from Ritchie Smith & Associates, who is responsible for the trail's design, said they are talking with the Memphis Police Department about installing cameras that would feed into the Real-Time Crime Center. Two police officers — one from Crump Station and one from the South Main precinct — were on-hand at the meeting, and they said trail users could expect a heavier police presence along the trail.
But one man in attendance said he wasn't comfortable with police cameras, which he referred to as "Big Brother," in his neighborhood. He expressed fears about gentrification from rising property values around the trail. And he worried that the trail would lead to more corporate development in the neighborhood.
"People are just going about their normal life, and you drop a big spotlight on top of that," he said. "I don't want a Starbucks. I want a Joe's Coffee that's owned by a black guy who lives in North Memphis."
Eighty percent of the project will be funded by federal monies distributed through the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the other 20 percent will come from the city of Memphis. The project is currently in an environmental assessment phase, which TDOT requires, and part of that phase includes a public comment period. The city will accept comments and concerns about the project until November 16th.
The city and the Greater Memphis Greenline organization will be working to obtain right-of-way from the Union-Pacific railroad in 2016 and 2017. The trail will go into a design phase in 2016, and construction should begin in 2017.
Earlier this year, more than 50 artists painted a mural along the flood wall near where the trail head at Evergreen will be. Smith said, once design is complete, there will likely be a parking lot added to the area near that wall.
A handful of North Memphis residents aren't thrilled with the city's plan to reuse the abandoned Union-Pacific rail line along Chelsea Avenue for a rails-to-trails project.