Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bike Lanes Welcomed at Rhodes Meeting

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 8:20 PM

Kyle Wagenschutz
  • Kyle Wagenschutz
The plan to reconfigure North Parkway to accomodate bike lanes between downtown and the zoo got a warm reception from a crowd of about 200 people at Rhodes College Tuesday.

During the 75-minute meeting, there were questions about safety but no outright opposition to the project, which could be completed this year. Kyle Wagenschutz, the city's bicycling coordinator, said it would be a first step and some details have not been worked out. It would not require widening or repaving North Parkway, but it would reduce from three to two the number of lanes for cars on both sides of the median.

The bike lanes would begin near the entrance to Rhodes College on North Parkway, pass Snowden School, cross McLean, go around the underpass at North Watkins, and connect to Danny Thomas. From there to Front Street and the bridge to Mud Island, the street name changes to A. W. Willis and would be unchanged.

Between Danny Thomas and McLean there would be a bike lane and a parallel parking lane on each side, plus two lanes for cars. There are also bus stops in the proposed bike/parking lane and several intersecting driveways and cross streets. Between McLean and West Drive in Hein Park, which is across from the north entrance to Overton Park, there would be a bike lane and a buffer lane but no street parking. The East Parkway and North Parkway intersection is considered to be too busy for bike lanes, and plans are to eventually route bikes through the park and connect with Broad Street and new Greenline to Shelby Farms.

People at the meeting asked about "dooring" (car doors opening as bikes go by), congestion when parents are taking their children to Snowden or picking them up, signs (the bigger the better was the general sentiment), storm drains and grates, pedestrian crossings, the connection to Broad Street ("murky," Wagenschutz said), riding on the sidewalk (legal) and turning across car lanes or bike lanes (be careful).

Charles McVean, who is backing the bike trail over the Harahan Bridge, also spoke to the crowd and got a nice hand. He said his hope is to eventually see Memphis as the epicenter of a bike trail along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis on the river levee.

"Unless there is a fatal engineering structural flaw, we're gonna go across that bridge," he said.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Flood 2011: From Rescue to Recovery

Posted By on Tue, May 17, 2011 at 12:08 PM

The Mississippi River is falling about eight inches a day and could be back in its banks by Memorial Day.

That was the report Monday from officials at the daily briefing on the Great Flood of 2011.

As the water recedes, the response is shifting from rescue to recovery. Starting Tuesday evening, responders will go to a shorter schedule at the operations center, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. instead of round-the-clock. This week there is only one daily briefing instead of two. The crowds in the briefing are smaller and the reports are fewer. The national media has shifted its attention downriver to Mississippi and Louisiana.

Bob Nations, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, said Monday "the cleanup looks like it will be fairly massive." He said some 700 mobile homes were flooded to the rooftops and are probably uninhabitable. They may have to be cut up and crushed. The receding water is revealing debris left behind. Nations used words like "messy," "nasty" and "just plain stinks" to describe the scene in badly flooded areas.

The National Weather Service said the river was at 44.8 feet Monday, or three feet below its crest, and should be at 42 feet on Friday. Flood stage is 34 feet, which could be hit by Memorial Day.

The briefings over the past few weeks consist of various departments giving their reports. The local Red Cross has been conspicuosly absent from the daily briefings. Instead, faith-based organizations are giving reports and providing shelters, although the Red Cross Mid-South Tennessee Region at one time also had three shelters open in Memphis and one in Tunica. It now has one shelter in Memphis.

Nations characterized the Red Cross as playing a "support role."

Nancy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Red Cross, said "every operation and every political situation is different." She said Red Cross response in Memphis has also included meals, cots, blankets, nurses, and mobile support units. But the Red Cross has not had overall responsibility for shelters, as it did following Hurricane Katrina.

The Red Cross carefully screens volunteers and does background checks because they will be dealing with a "vulnerable population," Rodriguez said. It is not clear whether all volunteers at faith-based centers have undergone background checks. More than 500 people were in shelters last week when the flooding was at its worst.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cookin' Come Hell or High Water

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2011 at 4:06 PM

The high water came, and so did the cooks and the visitors, undaunted by panicky media reports.

"We don't have water coming out of our ears," said a grinning Mayor A C Wharton during a visit to the city's cooking tent at Tiger Lane, substitute site for this year's Memphis In May International World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. "They said they would do it come hell or high water and they did."

Some 247 teams are taking part, with only three dropping out, and one of those was from the very busy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The contest was moved from flooded Tom Lee Park, but Memphis in May executive director Jim Holt said plans are to hold the Sunset Symphony on the riverside at the end of May.

Sisters Kathy Lawson and Mary Rodriguez from Lansing, Michigan drove 750 miles. The thought they were going to have to cancel their trip until they saw Wharton on CNN saying that reports of the demise of Memphis were somewhat overstated.

"We heard about it on the Food Network and just had to come," said Lawson, a travel agent. "I just loved seeing all those booths set up."


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bud Chittom Gets a Note on Beale Street

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2011 at 10:23 AM

Bud Chitton (in beige suit) and friends
  • Bud Chitton (in beige suit) and friends
Club owner Bud Chittom got a brass note on Beale Street Tuesday in recognition of his efforts over the past 16 years and in celebration of his 60th birthday.

Kevin Kane, head of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Chittom has grown his businesses at the western end of Beale Street, including Blues City Cafe, by 1200 percent.

"His philosophy is that if we're not making money then we need to create more revenue," said Kane.

Chittom, who has opened approximately 50 restaurants in Memphis, mainly on Beale Street and at Overton Square, thanked his wife and children, his longtime business partners, Beale Street promoters Mike Glenn and Preston Lamm, and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton who was there for the party.

"They say it takes six to bury you," said Chittom in his characteristic drawl, noting that about ten times that many people came to the celebration.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tunica Casinos Take a Hit but Stay Dry

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2011 at 4:28 PM

They don't call them floating casinos for nothing.

To comply with state law, the nine casinos in Tunica County are built on floating barges in manmade lagoons, some several hundred yards from the Mississippi River. What was once considered a legalistic curiousity has, in this historic flood, been their salvation. While their parking lots and in some cases their hotel lobbies are wet, the casino floors are dry.

Valerie Morris, regional vice president for Caesars Entertainment, which has three Tunica casinos under the Harrah's brand, said Tuesday it will be two to six weeks before they reopen. Meanwhile, Harrah's employees are being paid through May, but the state of Mississippi and Tunica County stand to lose about $10 million taxes. The Tunica casinos closed on a rolling schedule, with the last closing on May 2nd.

Harrah's came to Tunica County in 1993.

"This is unprecedented," said Morris. "We're 24/7, so we have never closed."

The golf courses and hotels and amenities on the "dry" side of the levee remain open.


Monday, May 9, 2011

River Approaches 48-foot Stage

Posted By on Mon, May 9, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Mud Island River Park
The Mississippi River flood of 2011 went viral over the weekend, with television reporters for all of the major networks donning waders to report from low-lying areas in Memphis. That caused a combination of amusement and exasperation for local officials as the river passed 47.7 feet on the Memphis gage, one foot below the all-time record set in 1937.

"I want to say this," said Bob Nations, director of the Shelby County Office of Emergency Preparedness at the Monday morning briefing. "Graceland is safe. And we would charge hell with water pistols to keep it that way."

Even as television monitors in the briefing room showed a reporter for the Weather Channel standing in floodwaters, Nations pleaded with the media to "stay out of the water." There was a carnival-like atmosphere in downtown Memphis on Sunday, with families and children playing near or even in the shallow floodwaters just off of the sidewalks to take historic pictures.

More rain is forecast for Thursday and Friday in the Memphis area. Officials say it could take two weeks for the river to fall below flood stage of 34 feet once the crest is reached.

Nations said that the property damage can't be determined yet.

"It's going to be a nasty one, it's going to be an expensive one."

But he emphasized that local infrastucture, government, levees, and the interstate system are functioning well.

"By and large, our community is operating like we do any other time."

There are a total of 383 people in three local shelters that have opened. Most of the flooding in the Memphis area has been in a small section of HarborTown on the harbor side and in the northern and southern parts of the city and Shelby County. The intersection of North Watkins and Highway 51 is closed and there is flooding in Northaven.

"There is a fascination with the Mississippi River, but we have to look at our tributaries because that is where our highest impact would be," he said.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Photo Friendly Flood of 2011

Posted By on Sat, May 7, 2011 at 8:51 PM

With clear skies over a river slowly rising to within inches of a record, thousands of people came downtown to take a once-in-lifetime picture Saturday afternoon.

Floodwater was creeping up Beale Street from Riverside Drive as the Mississippi hit 47 feet on the gage, on its way to a predicted crest of 48 feet May 10th. That would be less than a foot from the all-time high set in 1937.

While the Grizzlies were beating the Oklahoma Thunder at FedEx Forum a few blocks away, visitors took pictures of the water sloshing over the cobblestones, Beale Street, Mud Island River Park, and Riverside Drive. A windsurfer raced back and forth from Confederate Park to Mud Island River Park across the flooded harbor.

It may not be the highest flood on record but it surely the most photographed and family friendly.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flood Sloshes Over Downtown Landmarks

Posted By on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Beale Street at Riverside Drive
The rising Mississippi River on Thursday hit the ''holy shit" stage on the gauge as national news organizations took note, police dealt with crowds of sightseers going over the Auction Avenue Bridge, and water lapped over Riverside Drive on to Beale Street and was about to turn Mud Island into Mud islands.

With the river at 46 feet on its way to at least 48 feet next week, the NBC Nightly News on Wednesday featured a segment shot at HarborTown. On Thursday, police kept traffic moving on Island Drive and the Auction Avenue bridge so that residents and customers can still get on the island which is mostly dry in the residential and commercial areas. A dozen houses on the harbor side are flooding and creating a popular photo backdrop for locals, news teams, and visitors.

The western end of Beale Street and Riverside Drive south of Beale were closed to car traffic and there was a pond of water under the pedestrian bridge Thursday morning. The river was less than a foot from lapping over the flood wall on Riverside Drive at Beale Street. Trees on the Arkansas side of the river are beginning to disappear, and Mud Island River Park is likely to be partially flooded, particularly at the southern tip near the flags. Mud Island underneath the Hernando DeSoto Bridge is also flooded or soon to be flooded.

The flood, publicity, and good weather have brought crowds of sightseers downtown on a weekend when there is a show at the Orpheum and a Grizzlies playoff game. Choose your route carefully, and allow plenty of time.



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