by Maya Smith
A mile and a half long riverside bike ride on a newly-paved bike lane from Big River Crossing to Bass Pro Shop might soon be possible, as the city has plans to repave Riverside Drive adding bike lanes once again.
The proposed design would reduce the number of lanes to one going in each direction, divided by the median, with bike lanes on either side of the street.
The street is one of 10 in Memphis that the city’s Division of Engineering has recently made plans to repave under the 80 percent federally-funded Surface Transportation Program Repaving project.
The last time the city decided to reduce Riverside Drive, south of Beale Street, to two lanes, adding bike lanes, was during a pilot phase from June 2013 to May 2014, in which car traffic was pushed to the east of the median and the bike lanes to the west.
Although the pilot was meant to help the public envision what Riverside Drive could be, it mostly served to show the public what they did not want it to be.
Many were unhappy with the exclusion of a left turning lane into Tom Lee Park, causing traffic to back-up behind those turning left.
Other frustrations with the design stemmed from the lack of space for vehicles to pull over in case of emergencies.
Nicholas Oyler, Bikeway and Pedestrian Program Manager for the City of Memphis, says those concerns are mitigated in the proposed design.
"We expect people to be much happier because after hearing many valid complaints, we considered them when conceiving the new design," Oyler said.
Some of those considerations include having a left turning lane near the Tom Lee Park entrance and widened bike lanes which can double as a shoulder for idle cars and emergency vehicles.
Overall, the city says safety for all those who use Riverside Drive, whether by foot, bike, or car, is the main priority of the project.
Drivers speed down Riverside Drive at an average of 10 miles over the speed limit according to the city.
The proposed two-lane street with narrower lanes is designed to promote slower traffic, which will make the pedestrian experience safer and give them a shorter crossing distance.
“It’s currently like an autobahn,” Oyler said. “It’s a dangerous contest if you are trying to cross the street on foot.”
Pedestrians are also protected by the bike lanes, in which the bikers are protected from traffic by a row of planters.
The city foresees slower traffic lessening the amount of serious accidents on the riverfront road.
During the pilot, though the amount of sideswipe and rear-end accidents were higher than usual, the amount of serious accidents was about 15 percent lower than the average.
Oyler iterates that in the proposed design the existing median will divide the north and southbound lanes, preventing sideswipes— another improvement.
he city says the goal of the new bike lanes, per request of many citizens, is to improve accessibility and connectivity to attractions like the Harahan bridge and the Bass Pro Shop at the opposite end of Riverside Drive, adding to the connectivity of bicycle networks in the city.
President of the South Main Neighborhood Association, Don Williams, who resides in condos on Front Street, says that a bike-friendly neighborhood is important to downtown citizens.
“Having more bike lanes attracts millennials to the city and keeps them here,” Williams said. “People have got to have a way to get places and bike lanes are the perfect way to do that.”
Although Williams is in favor of the new proposal, he agrees with the general consensus that the pilot design was not effective.
“That was a bit much, too far in the other direction,” he said. “I think there's a happy median that will make bikers happy and not slow down traffic.”
Others like Sylvia Crum, the director of Revolutions Bicycle Cooperative, are also pleased to see bike lanes being added back to the street. Crum feels the city listened carefully to comments from the previous plan and altered the new design accordingly.
“I’m very excited about the bike lanes, they calm traffic” Crum said. “The Mississippi River is a great resource and attraction, but the road has to be safe in order to get there and enjoy it.”
The Division of Engineering wants the public to have the final say in whether the Riverside Drive plan, along with the other nine proposals, are implemented. They’ve posted an online survey to receive feedback that will remain open through the 17th of this month.
For designs that receive positive feedback, construction will begin in the fall.