The Edge District

A new plan is forming for parking problems in Downtown Memphis, Medical District

Depending on the time of the day or day of the week, parking in Downtown Memphis can be a relatively hassle-free experience. It may cost you a few bucks or a stretch of the legs, but there are plenty of spots to be had.

If you show up on the wrong time on the wrong day, the costs can grow exponentially.

With continued growth and investment in the Medical District and Downtown, it’s a safe assumption that the bad days will eventually outnumber the good without strategic efforts to combat future parking congestion.

To get ahead of the problem, the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Memphis Medical District Collaborative are partnering to develop a Transportation Management Plan.

The plan will include recommendations for managing traffic at peak times and how to better utilize existing parking; strategies for more responsible development of new parking options; and ways to encourage more bike travel, pedestrian traffic, and shared transportation like buses or carpools. 

“We do not have a parking shortage. However, there are hot spots where parking demand creates pinch points and where the current parking supply will be exhausted in the future,” said Lauren Crabtree, program manager with MMDC.

“It’s critical that we plan our transportation network strategically and cohesively. The TMA will allow us a space to do so."

The partnership is a result of recommendations made in the 2019 Downtown Memphis Parking Study.

Conducted by the DMC, that study concluded that existing parking should be better utilized before new structures are built. It notes that there are some 71,000 parking spaces in Downtown alone and advocated for other solutions to the growing demand besides new parking garages, like incentivizing drivers to park in off-street parking lots that are currently underutilized in favor of on-street metered parking. It further suggested that developers be intentional to ensure new parking structures are built in conjunction with existing mass transit routes and optimally placed to spur investment and development in neighborhoods they serve.

The DMC is a community development organization that promotes the economic interests and development of the downtown district. MMDC plays a similar role in the Medical District, which includes The Edge, Victorian Village, and Madison Heights.

Once complete, the draft will be sent to an advisory committee for evaluation. Crabtree said the partners’ next steps are to gather a diverse group of stakeholders to form an advisory committee.

“This committee will review and approve the draft plan. We hope to have the plan approved in early 2021,” said Crabtree.

The partners sought input from numerous organizations in developing the TMA. They include: Memphis Area Transit Authority, Innovate Memphis - Commute Options, City of Memphis, Tennessee Department of Transportation, Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization, Shelby County Health Department, and the Greater Memphis Chamber.

One of the plan’s core components is development of strategies to manage traffic and parking flow at peak times.

Brett Roler is vice president of planning and development for DMC. Roler said peak times include typical work hours, as well as event-based parking congestion that can put a damper on evening and weekend activities.

“While there are numerous empty parking spaces in Downtown Memphis at any given time, they may be perceived as too far away from where people want to be,” said Roler.

The TMA will outline strategies to limit single-occupancy vehicles traveling in and out of the districts. Among these will be a flex-route, on-demand transit system available Downtown, in the Medical District and New Chicago in North Memphis. Described as a micro-transit rideshare, a fleet of six passenger vans will transport commuters to and from their homes and workplaces. Memphis Area Transit Authority is working alongside DMC and MMDC to facilitate the project.

“It will feel similar to taking a shared ride through a service like Uber or Lyft but will be part of Memphis transit,” said Crabtree.

There are several existing options aimed at reducing single-rider vehicles.

MATA currently offers rides by bus and trolley. The latter only runs north-south on Main Street and east-west on Madison Avenue from Downtown to Madison Heights in the Medical District. Explore Bike Share bicycles and scooters are abundant in both districts. And the Medical District’s Groove Shuttle offers free rides to students who live downtown and attend classes at one of the Medical District’s many universities and teaching hospitals.

The Shelby County Health Department also provides a rideshare program that includes private-vehicle emergency pickups for people who carpool, bike, or use public transportation. For example, a ride would be provided for free to a carpooler whose a boss asks them to work late or a bicyclist who gets sick at work and can’t bike home.

“Walking and biking are also options that cannot be overlooked as part of any healthy transportation network,” said Crabtree.

The TMA will expected to include improvements to sidewalks and building exteriors, as well as additional pedestrian safety features and bike facilities.

In addition to developing solutions for parking and traffic, the plan will consider staffing options, stakeholder engagement strategies, funding recommendations, and performance indicators.

A timeline for implementation will also be included.

Read more articles by Jim Coleman.

Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.