The month of May has wrapped up, and with it the Memphis in May
activities in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. It will be another two weeks, however, until Riverside Drive reopens. When it does, it will be a reconfigured roadway, sharing space with bicycles and pedestrians.
In an effort to make the road--with its panoramic views of the river, bridges and city skyline to the northeast--safer, more active and more accessible, a pilot program will be put into place. Riverside Drive will be reduced from four to two lanes for vehicular traffic between Beale Street and Georgia Avenue for the next 12 to 18 months.
In a statement from the Mayor's Office, City Engineer John Cameron says, "The pilot project helps the public envision how Riverside Drive could be repurposed for greater enjoyment by bicyclists and pedestrians. It also gives technical experts a chance to evaluate traffic impacts on Riverside Drive and the downtown street network as the ultimate configuration of Riverside Drive is determined."
In the executive summary of his 2013 Memphis Riverfront Analysis and Recommendations
, urban planner Jeff Speck writes that Riverside Drive should become a "complete street," which would include "... parallel parking and a protected bicycle track along the Mississippi River. This change can be accomplished through a mere restriping, with no curbs reconstructed. Canopy trees should be added where they are lacking and can be planted at limited cost."
Riverside Drive was dedicated in 1935 at a cost of nearly $1 million, funded largely through the Works Progress Administration. The grading and building of the roadway were handled through the Memphis Harbor Commission and City Engineering, with landscaping of the bluffs designed by the City Beautiful Commission
Though Speck's recommendations call for the reconfiguration to extend from Georgia Avenue on the south end to Bass Pro Drive on the north end, the pilot program will extend only to Beale Street.
Within his analysis of the six priorities for proposed changes to the riverfront, Speck writes, "The potentially easiest win on the Memphis riverfront is the reconfiguration of Riverside Drive."