All in the Timing

Memphis cyclists will just have to be patient.

The city is on its way to becoming more bike-friendly, as evidenced by the recent passage of the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization's (MPO) long-range Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. Cyclists spent hours in meetings about the plan last year, putting in their two cents' worth about which local streets needed better bike and pedestrian access. One that kept coming up: Walnut Grove.

Construction crews have already begun widening the portion of Walnut Grove that extends between I-240 and the Wolf River bridge. So why are the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and the city engineer's office just now considering bike lanes along Walnut Grove?

"The problem we had was one of timing," said Ed Cole, chief of environment and planning for TDOT. "[The Walnut Grove project] was pretty well adjusted when the MPO adopted the [bike-pedestrian] plan back in December."

The design for the Walnut Grove construction project was complete in early 2004.

The possibility of adding bike lanes along Walnut Grove was included in a section of the bike-ped plan called the vision plan, which includes projects that, while important, wouldn't have to be implemented before 2026. Another section of the plan includes projects that should be complete by 2026.

TDOT has contracted with RPM Transportation Consultants, a firm in Nashville that worked on the bike-ped plan, to determine how to incorporate bike and pedestrian access into the Walnut Grove project.

Bob Murphy, president of RPM, says they are considering several alternatives. One suggested by the city would place a shared bike lane along Shady Grove, which runs parallel to Walnut Grove. Bicyclists would travel along Shady Grove, until it intersects with Humphreys Boulevard, then cross the Wolf River on the Walnut Grove bridge.

This plan would keep most of the bike traffic off heavily traveled Walnut Grove.

"We've been saying all along that the most reasonable and safest route into Shelby Farms is not along Walnut Grove," said city engineer Wain Gaskin. "Walnut Grove carries 60,000 vehicles a day and is projected to carry almost 100,000. I don't consider that the most appropriate route when we can get on a much less traveled roadway to decrease the potential for conflicts."

One possibility RPM is considering along the Wolf River bridge is separating one of the already designed 10-foot shoulders with a barrier for a safe bike and pedestrian trail over the river. The current Wolf River bridge has no shoulders at all and is marked at the entrance with a "no bikes" sign.

Murphy says RPM should determine within 90 days which alternatives would work best. Cole says the addition of a bike lane should fit within the existing construction schedule.

As for future projects, Katherine Turner, senior transportation planner for the MPO's Department of Regional Services, says when a municipality submits a road project to the MPO for funding, they are asked to look into possibilities for bike-lane access.

Although the MPO does not have the power to force anyone to include bike access, Turner says MPO ranks the projects for funding. Projects without bike and pedestrian facilities are given lower ranks, and are thus less likely to receive funding.

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