In Mayor A C Wharton's effort to add 55 miles of bike lanes throughout the city over two years, new lanes are being planned for Millbranch Road in Whitehaven. But not everyone is thrilled about it.
The lanes are being added as part of the repaving of Millbranch, but to include two bike lanes (one on each side of the road), the city engineer's office has removed one northbound vehicle lane.
Before the repaving, there were two vehicle lanes going north, two going south, and a turning lane. Now, Millbranch has one vehicle lane going north, two vehicle lanes going south, a turning lane, and bike lanes in both directions.
Although the bike lanes have not been striped yet, vehicle traffic lanes have been laid with temporary paint. In a Memphis City Council committee meeting last week, Harold Collins, who represents Whitehaven, said some constituents have complained that the reduced number of lanes going north has become a headache.
Collins said the northbound lane could become extremely congested when the city begins improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard.
"There has to be a better way to put bike lanes in and have the same amount of lanes for the traffic going north on Millbranch," Collins said. "It's one of the main arteries in Whitehaven, especially when the groundbreaking takes place on Elvis Presley and the streets begin to go through redevelopment. Millbranch will be the alternate route that people take to escape the traffic."
When studying Millbranch to determine how to incorporate bike lanes, engineers observed more traffic traveling southbound than northbound, according to city engineer John Cameron.
"One thing we were considering was to put in the bike lanes and eliminate the turn lane, and that would give two travel lanes each direction," Cameron said. "But we got to thinking about the convenience and the safety of having the center turn lane retained."
Cameron said eliminating the turn lane would require drivers to stop frequently in the left lane to turn, similar to the configuration along Union Avenue. But unlike on Union, where there are three lanes in both directions, Millbranch would have only have two, creating a possible safety hazard.
"For the convenience of businesses and homeowners, I feel like they would feel a lot safer having a turn lane rather than being stopped in the left lane, which is usually the fast lane of the roadway," Cameron said.
There are three schools — Robert R. Church Elementary School, A. Maceo Walker Middle School, and Hillcrest High School — within blocks of the intersection of Raines and Millbranch. The Whitehaven library is also located in that area. Collins said the elimination of the northbound lane will negatively impact traffic going to and from these sites.
"I live in Whitehaven, and this has affected me personally," Collins said. "I travel [Millbranch] most of the time going to and from home and when I visit different parts of the community. The engineers are talented enough to incorporate bike lanes and make sure they have the same amount of travel for car lanes."
The city engineering division returned to Millbranch this week to give the traffic pattern another look. Cameron said he isn't yet ruling out the possibility of changes to the current striping configuration.