Frayser studies neighborhood sidewalk needs

Frayser is a suburban setting with wide streets that encourage fast drivers. Livable Memphis is bringing its toolkit to analyze sidewalk needs in the community to make it safer for pedestrians.
Sidewalks in need of replacement or repair are commonplace across Memphis, and that includes Frayser and its suburban setting with wide roads and fast cars.
 
Livable Memphis has been involved in active transportation for years. But one aspect of its job that hasn’t always been clear is how to integrate with the community development corporations in neighborhoods. The Frayser Community Development Corp. reached out to Livable Memphis to discuss pedestrian safety and traffic safety.
 
“We always try to focus on the needs of member organizations and the Frayser CDC is a strong member,” said John Paul Shaffer, Program Director with Livable Memphis. “Organizations like that are our core membership. The Livable Memphis program is trying to serve needs of those neighborhoods and then the core city.”
 
The challenge, if there is one, is that the walkability efforts usually are developed for compact neighborhoods such as Crosstown. Frayser is a larger suburban-style setting.
 
The walkability toolkit popped up in Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s first 100 days in office. The stretch of Watkins Street in Frayser has been identified as part of a first phase.
 
Frayser has a number of larger roadways. Thomas Street, for example, is a dangerous hot spot for traffic, where pedestrians have been hit and killed through the years. Livable Memphis is bringing its walkability tool to study what the sidewalk needs are, specifically on a 1.5-mile stretch of Watkins Street.
 
Shaffer talked to the Frayser Exchange Club in March. He said there was a real interest in the room, particularly with the story of 12-year-old Daniel Mitchell who was killed by a hit-and-run driver more than 12 years ago. His No. 11 retired basketball jersey now hangs in the Ed Rice Community Center. He was hit on the road in front of the center.
 
On Monday, May 16, Livable Memphis brings one of its Pizza with Planners event to Frayser. Pizza with Planners is a monthly event that features someone who can discuss a variety of issues, from affordable housing to the Greenprint plan.
 
“We get them to talk about their work but it’s also a way for people to engage with professionals,” Shaffer said. “We want to present a case for walkability, why it makes the neighborhood safer and more economically sustainable.”
 
Shaffer said the hope is that typical professional jargon is demystified. The case for walkability and why it makes a neighborhood safer and more economically sustainable is presented and participants are shown how to use the city’s 311 app.
 
“If you see a really bad sidewalk on a walk to school you can take a picture or call it in or go online to report it,” Shaffer said. “We’ll go through common sidewalk violations, what to look for. One thing we see is people report an issue that isn’t actually an issue. We go through the nuts and bolts of how to report sidewalk violations.”
 
That will be followed by groups of volunteers that will canvass Watkins looking for sidewalk needs. While people are encouraged to use the 311 app to report issues, the canvass is when real issues often are uncovered. But those volunteers will still use the 311 app because it allows the city to track all reports and put a level of accountability as the city must respond to every complaint.
 
Livable Memphis works through neighborhood partners to get volunteers to conduct surveys. The organization doesn’t have the capacity to do every neighborhood or street; the plan identifies 3,500 miles of sidewalks across the city. With that many miles and with years of deferred maintenance, it would cost over $1 billion to replace or repair all the sidewalk needs in Memphis.
 
The city of Memphis does have a hardship fund that can help offset some sidewalk maintenance costs. Sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners and the city will provide funds for those who meet certain criteria.
 
When sidewalks are reported, the city then sends the property owner a letter. If the property owner does nothing the complaint goes to Environmental Court, which can then require the city to take care of the issue.
 
Sidewalks are just one step in the overall safety issue for pedestrians across the city. Shaffer said while in Frayser, the group will look at opportunities for traffic calming methods, such as the narrowing of lanes at intersections.
 
“There are things that can be done on a lower-cost basis as long as the need is there,” he said. “A big part is getting advocates in neighborhoods.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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