Earlier this month, a bicyclist was killed after being hit by a vehicle just a block west of Sam Cooper and Tillman, the same intersection that, in about a year, will boast the city's first bicycle-only traffic light.
The special traffic signal for cyclists is part of the planned Hampline bicycle path stretching from Overton Park to the Shelby Farms Greenline.
Zachary Walls, 40, was hit and killed by a vehicle driven by 50-year-old Solomon Johnson. Johnson stayed on the scene but was arrested for driving on a suspended, revoked, or canceled license. The scene of the accident was closer to Lipford, about a block from the traffic light at Tillman, so it's hard to know whether the completed Hampline and its planned bike traffic signal could have made his route safer.
But Livable Memphis Program Director John Paul Shaffer believes the planned bike path will improve bicycle and pedestrian safety overall.
"Sam Cooper right now screams 'You're not safe no matter what happens,'" Shaffer said. "Getting across Sam Cooper is terrifying sometimes."
Once complete, cyclists will approach the Sam Cooper and Tillman traffic signal, and a sensor in the street will detect the bike. An extra traffic signal with red, yellow, and green lights projected through a cutout of a bicycle will tell cyclists when it's safe to cross.
Part of the Hampline is already constructed. It begins at Overton Park and crosses East Parkway onto an existing sidewalk along Sam Cooper that leads to Broad Avenue. From there, the path travels down Broad's existing bicycle lanes.
In the past few months, city crews have erected flexible bollards along Broad between Hollywood and Collins to separate the lane from the parking area. Before those were installed, drivers would often park cars partially inside the bike lane. City Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz said crews are still putting the finishing touches on that stretch of the Hampline project.
"They're about 85 percent done. They can only operate on days when it's warm enough to put the paint down," Wagenschutz said.
But for now, the Hampline ends at Collins. That's because that first stretch of the Hampline was paid for through city funds, but the rest of the project — the lane from Collins to Tillman, the bicycle traffic signal at Sam Cooper and Tillman, and the north-south stretch of lane from Tillman to the Greenline — will be funded using federal money.
The designs must be approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the federal government before that part of the project can move forward.
"If the design approval process goes smoothly, we'll be able to bid the construction for those [final] phases sometime in 2015, but whether or not the physical construction begins before next winter, I don't know at this point," Wagenschutz said.
From Collins west to Tillman and from Tillman south to the Greenline, the lane will be buffered from traffic with a concrete median, some of which will be planted.
"I think there's even a rain garden in one spot. It just depends on how wide they are as to whether or not the curbs have plantings," said Shaffer, whose organization raised $72,000 for the Hampline's design through the crowd-funding website, ioby.org.
Despite the recent bicycle fatality near the Hampline's path, Wagenschutz said bicycle accidents have actually decreased since 2008. Most years, the city only has one or two accidents. So far this year, there have been two, both within the past month. The city doubled the miles of bicycle infrastructure by 2010, and that number is projected to double again by 2016.