Riverside Drive may be closed on some Sunday afternoons next year to help alleviate the mass of traffic that gridlocks the street, especially around Tom Lee Park.
Closing the street entirely is one option officials with the Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC) are eyeing to stem the “huge amount of cruising” on Riverside Drive, according to RDC president Benny Lendermon. Cars and people jam the area usually on Sundays from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. during nice-weather months in the spring and fall, he said.
“Again, 90 percent of what goes on [in Tom Lee Park and on Riverside Drive during that time] is not anything incredibly wrong,” Lendermon said. “It’s just young people wanting to get out and be with other young people and show off a little bit, sort of very much like you and I did when we were that age.
“But the problem is that there are so many cars and so much cruising activity that the roadway totally locks down and the park almost gets totally taken over. Families can’t really get to the park and they can’t get across the roadway.”
The Memphis Police Department usually assigns two cars to the area in the spring and fall, Lendermon said. Sometimes there are as many as eight cars there and sometimes mounted police and bicycle police, too, he said.
“Sometimes, it’ll look like a sea of blue lights there on a Sunday afternoon in the spring time,” Lendermon said.
The RDC fields question every year about what to do about the traffic, Lendermon said, especially in the spring and fall when cruising activity is highest.
This year, the RDC sponsored an eight-week volleyball tournament at Tom Lee Park on Sundays, Lendermon said, in an attempt to displace some of the car traffic. But it didn’t work, “they basically filled in the gaps.”
Lendermon said other options include closing the Tom Lee Park parking lot on Sundays, or closing two lanes of traffic on Riverside Drive, or closing all but one lane.
More-aggressive policing in the area is another option, Lendermon said, but it’s “not an option we’d like to do.”
Discussions on the topic are ongoing, Lendermon said, with residents, businesses, police, and others. However, there’s a “better than 50 percent chance” that the RDC could handle the situation just as it has in the past.”
When asked about shutting down a public space to citizens of Memphis, Lendermon had a question of his own: “You mean like they do on Beale Street and with Memphis in May?”