Tina Sullivan Talks Trams in the Old Forest 

Memphis Zoo says they want to run shuttles through Old Forest; OPC says no way.

As the final vote on Greensward parking approaches, park leaders said they'll fight any plan to run shuttles through Overton Park's Old Forest.

Running shuttles or trams through the Old Forest has emerged as, perhaps, one of the final sticking points on an agreement that would end parking on the Greensward.

Mayor Jim Strickland's plan would put a surface lot on the site of what is now the city's General Services area. Shuttles, buses, or trams would carry Memphis Zoo visitors from the lot to the zoo entrance on city streets.

Zoo officials have said the General Services lot won't work unless they can run shuttles on Old Forest roads. However, state officials have said no motorized vehicles are allowed in its state natural area. — Toby Sells

click to enlarge Tina Sullivan
  • Tina Sullivan

Flyer: Hasn't the state already ruled against motorized vehicles in the Old Forest?

Tina Sullivan: I re-confirmed [last] week with a representative of [the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation] that they see no reason to consider re-opening those roads that have been closed for 30 years. Even if the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) weren't opposed to it, TDEC would still be opposed to it.

So what is the play here?

As often as OPC has said we would never support vehicular traffic on those Old Forest roads, the zoo has said just as often that parking at General Services does not work for their visitors, unless they can run vehicles on those Old Forest roads.

If that is a solution that the zoo is going to continue to pursue, then they'd be setting themselves up for direct battle with OPC and, potentially, with the state. So, yes, they'd have to pursue it at the state level, in addition to pursuing it at the local level.

What can we expect with the council's vote on Tuesday?

I think that the council — as much as anybody — would like to see this resolved as quickly as possible. I think that the mayor's plan is the best chance we've seen so far in getting this matter resolved. He didn't throw it together quickly. It was a result of some pretty comprehensive analysis. I can't imagine that the council would come up with — in the next week and a half — a dramatically different set of solutions that would solve this problem. The quickest and easiest way to get this matter behind us is to adopt the mayor's plan.

Why are the Old Forest roads important to park users?

Kids are learning to ride bikes [on the roads]. There are senior citizens that rent tricycles from the golf clubhouse and ride them on the protected roads. We have so many 5Ks on those Old Forest roads.

Those roads have a very clear place in that kind of recreation for people across the city. We want to make sure we aren't introducing something completely disruptive [like trams].

So, if you can imagine 1,000 runners on a Saturday morning competing with trams moving back and forth through a significant part of the road, it's just not a compatible use.

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