We Brake for Bikes? 

Cyclists unhappy with planned paths to Shelby Farms.

Cyclists who ride in and around Shelby Farms may be in line for a longer workout, courtesy of the city of Memphis and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Under a proposed plan for a bike and pedestrian path, cyclists traveling east on Walnut Grove will have to detour south to Shady Grove, adding 1.7 miles onto the ride to Shelby Farms.

The proposed paths, which were not included in the original Walnut Grove construction project, were presented at a public meeting November 8th inside Shelby Farms.

The Walnut Grove construction project design was presented in early 2004, several months before the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) completed a study on how to incorporate bike access across the city over the next 20 years. Designers then went back and added bike access to the completed Walnut Grove plan.

"Any kind of good bike or pedestrian access was an afterthought," said Laura Adams, president of the Shelby Farms Park Alliance. "We're not going to be successful at building a world-class park unless we develop a way for people to get there without automobiles."

According to the proposed plan, cyclists will ride south on Brierview to Shady Grove and then travel north on a multi-use path along Humphreys before arriving at a new bike/pedestrian bridge over the Wolf River.

For cyclists not interested in the detour, the city presented another option. Two six-foot sidewalks are planned for Walnut Grove from I-240 to the Wolf River Bridge, but cyclists said that route is not wide enough for two-way bike traffic.

"We wanted a mixed-use trail on the north side [of Walnut Grove] because that would be an extension of the bridge over the Wolf River," said Steve Sondheim of the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. "What if they could just make it an eight-foot sidewalk on either side of Walnut Grove and not call it a mixed-use trail? That would allow bike and pedestrian traffic on each side."

City engineer Wain Gaskins said widening the sidewalks with the intent of using them as multi-use paths but not calling them such would be illegal unless barriers were added to separate the sidewalk from the traffic on Walnut Grove.

"In the city, a bike can ride along the sidewalk, but that does not mean that we're designating the sidewalks as bike routes," said Gaskins. "If you designate something, you can't have any drop-offs associated with it. If a bicycle swerved suddenly to avoid a pedestrian, they could hit the drop-off and flip out into traffic."

Gaskins said adding crash-proof barriers wouldn't be feasible because they would create sight problems for vehicular traffic pulling onto Walnut Grove. Other concerns about the proposed routes included safety issues along Shady Grove and placement of light posts on sidewalks that would block a bike's ability to pass.

"All in all, I don't think Memphis has made a commitment to bicycling yet," said Anthony Siracusa, who manages Revolutions Bicycle Co-op. "We've got to get Wain Gaskins and the MPO thinking in new ways. I don't think cycling is on their radar as a way to improve the economic situation in our city and the quality of life here."

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