It's not uncommon to see cyclists risking their lives in heavy Poplar Avenue traffic to access Overton Park since, currently, there is no paved pathway along the south side of the park.
But that will change by late 2015 or early 2016. Plans for a paved pathway that would encircle most of the park were on display last night at one of two Overton Park Conservancy meetings to address the need for improved walkways and park entrances.
Ritchie Smith & Associates presented plans to install a five to eight foot walkway that would begin at Tucker and Poplar, head east down Poplar, and wrap around the Old Forest along East Parkway. The pathway would veer into the Old Forest near the new bike gate, and it would connect with the paved forest loop. But near the East Parkway/North Parkway corner, pedestrians would have the option of continuing on the existing loop or taking a new path that hugs the edge of North Parkway and heads west. Currently, there are no sidewalks along North Parkway through the park, but a well-worn foot path in the dirt proves that many runners and walkers use that route anyway.
Also planned is a new paved path circling the greensward. It would connect with the path around Rainbow Lake and extend out around the greensward in a loop. At the meeting last night, architect Ritchie Smith told those attending that when the zoo parking situation is resolved, the greensward "can be one of the first improvements" they'll make.
"We think people would love a path around the greensward, because we know more and more people are using the park for walking and jogging," said Overton Park Conservancy director Tina Sullivan. "A loop around the greensward would provide more space and more greenery for people to see as they walk around."
Improved access points are also planned for several park entrances. Currently, pedestrians and cyclists entering the park from Cooper and Poplar are greeted with a standard MATA bus stop and green space. But a new stone balustrade and some benches will mark that entrance, and a small paved "gathering area" will be added. It will connect with the new paved perimeter path.
"Maybe we can add a new bus shelter to replace that standard MATA shelter with its unsightly advertisements," Smith said.
A pedestrian path is planned the Tucker and Poplar entrance as well since, right now, park users must compete with cars and enter the park through the roadway. Better crosswalks will be added at Poplar and East Parkway, and steps or a ramp will lead park users up the hill into the park. At East Parkway and North Parkway, a 10-foot shared use path will connect with the existing Old Forest loop. And a better crossing is planned for pedestrians entering the park from Rhodes College across North Parkway.
"We already have funding for the Poplar/Cooper connection, so we'll see movement on that early next year," Sullivan said. "The perimeter trail will be done in late 2015 or early 2016, and we have funding for that as well."
The Overton Park Conservancy is hosting another public meeting on Saturday, May 31st at 10 a.m. in the Playhouse on the Square Cafe.