Representatives from the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy and the Greater Memphis Greenline heard community concerns, most over safety and security, about the new CSX Greenway last night at a standing-room-only meeting.
The 6.5-mile trail will run from Tillman to Shelby Farms Park. The property should be purchased from CSX — which vacated the rail line in 2002 — within the next 60 days, and construction should begin by the end of the year.
Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, representatives from area law enforcement, and several county commissioners attended the meeting at the Central Library, as well as more than a hundred local residents, some of them cyclists and walkers and some of them residents with homes adjacent to the CSX property.
"The trail will not open until we have a comprehensive security plan in place," Wharton told those assembled. "This is more to this than just saying, let's get a trail. This is going to bring neighbors together. ... it's about connecting citizens to sidewalks instead of sofas."
National greenway expert Robert Searns, who has more than three decades of experience with trails, provided evidence that crime generally decreases after the installation of a greenline and that property values increase.
He also said that greenlines attract business development and cited a statistic that for every $1 a community puts into a greenway, it gets $3 back in revenue.
Residents with safety concerns were not convinced.
Representatives from MPD and the Sheriff's Office said the greenway would be closed to users after dark, and that they plan to install themal imaging cameras, and perhaps even loud speakers, on the property. They also said that most of the criminal behavior that neighbors are worried about, such as graffiti and drug use, are already occurring on the property.
Shelby Farms Park executive director Rick Masson also noted that barriers would keep vehicles off the property.
"The key will be to keep vehicles off," Masson said. "Generally, thieves are people who don't like to carry stuff. They like their cars nearby."
Homeowners also had privacy concerns, especially about a stretch of the trail that is at a higher grade than the tops of backyard fences. Richie Smith, designer for the first phase the project, said they would probably plant a fence of shrubbery near the trail to alleviate those concerns.
"Ninety percent of the trail route is screened right now," he said. "It's a vigorous ecological system, so a lot of it can be left alone."
Smith also pointed to downtown's Bluff Walk as place where a public amenity coincides within 20 feet of some of the most high-end residences in Memphis.
There is another meeting tonight from 6 - 8 p.m. at Agricenter International on Walnut Grove. I assume they will be following a similar format to last night: an hour of information about the proposal and greenlines in general and about 30 minutes for comments and concerns.
On a personal note: My favorite moment of the meeting was when someone's phone went off, and the ringtone was Queen's Bicycle Race.