The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper recently published an article and an editorial about the proposed road project:
Article- “With completion of Shelby Farms Park improvements, attention turns to $35.9 million road project” By Tom Charlier of The Commercial Appeal – 9/11/2016
I made some comments (but not many) about the article online on the Commercial Appeal’s site.
Editorial- “Next up, traffic at Shelby Farms” – published this Sunday, 9/18/2016
There are a lot of good things to say about the Park, although some do say “It’s too much! It’s not a quiet peaceful park anymore.” I’m not here to comment on that.
I do want to provide more extensive comments on the Appeal’s recent article and editorial, and then do my best to share this information. Unfortunately, the Appeal’s article and editorial do not tell the whole story, and hence are a bit one-sided. It’s clear that many good people in Memphis and the area support the Park, and have contributed lots of money to build the new “Heart of the Park”. It is also clear that the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy has done “amazing things” in the Park which was a bit of an “unpolished gem” when they took responsibility for it in 2007 (through their Conservation Easement with Shelby County, as a “public private partnership”).
Concerns remain about traffic in and around the park. The congestion on Walnut Grove and on Farm Rd can be “bad” at times. And of course the Conservancy and the many users of the Park don’t want to get “stuck in traffic” when they want to enjoy the facilities of the Park. But, we need appropriate solutions.
I am happy that Tom Charlier contacted me for my opinion before he published his article about the Park. Unfortunately, and expectedly, he did not present all of the information which I had provided to him. I actually admitted to him that I didn’t expect him to publish it all- it’s a lot of info. There are too many good reasons not to build the road- and I realize it was too much to publish in a printed newspaper!
Now, as I said already, I do admit to the congestion. But at the same time, I do not admit that the proposed Parkway is the best solution, or even that it might be a reasonable solution. First of all, there are simpler, less expensive solutions which could be implemented quickly, and which could make major improvements to the existing traffic problems. These could have been done 25 or more years ago, but local officials just hung on to the plans for the roadway. As a result, the congestion lingers and drivers on Walnut Grove continue to clamor for the Parkway. These drivers have suffered from delays year after year, burning more fuel and adding to pollution in the air.
As it turns out, the Memphis City Engineering Department has apparently now realized that one of the fixes we proposed is worth doing. As stated in Charlier’s article, “…the city plans a relatively modest project to alleviate traffic tie-ups at the traffic light at Walnut Grove and Farm. That project will lengthen the eastbound left turn lane on Walnut Grove, minimizing the problems arising from vehicles backing up into the through lanes, blocking traffic, when the turn lane fills up…” Maybe we can convince Engineering to do some of the other small fixes we suggested. We published a detailed description of our suggested improvements to the Walnut Grove / Farm Rd intersection three years ago at this link: https://shelbyfarmsparkway.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/proposed-simpler-alternative-fix-farm-rd-intersection/
[This is getting to be quite a long post, but I still have more important details to share. I promise I will finish it soon…]
Following is the specific input that I sent to Tom Charlier before he wrote his article (with 2 minor corrections). I had talked to him on the phone already, so my most of the explanation of what I was sending had already been discussed. One thing I told him on the phone is that I would send him “2 documents which give detailed explanation and documentation of our view on the planned road”:
=== START OF INFO I SENT TO TOM CHARLIER ===
The 2 attached documents are:
1) January 2016 Letter to Congressman Cohen – Reasons NOT to Build Shelby Farms Parkway- Conservancy’s Claims and our Rebuttals
2) August 2014 Letter to FHWA and TDOT officials – Why Shelby Farms Parkway should not be built
[[blog readers- please read these two letters so you can better understand in detail the reasons not to build the road.]]
If I may suggest- you could say that “the Sierra Club remains against building the road, and has sent detailed letters to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), and to Congressman Cohen explaining their reasons. The Sierra Club’s reasons include a) that the road is not justified (for one thing, TDOT used a traffic forecast that was proven to be too high by 42%), b) that simpler, less expensive alternatives are available and could have been done more than 20 years ago, c) that there are significant environmental issues, including “breaches” into our aquifer which have not been properly addressed and should be addressed before any final plan is approved (why build a road through a valuable park when important issues have not been addressed), d) that the planned road, if built, will take over 128 acres of valuable park land and will require an Interstate-style interchange which would be 11 lanes wide at one point, e) that the claim by the Conservancy that the impact will be “de minimis” (meaning miniscule) is bogus given the points just listed, f) that the cost for the road will be much more than the $35.8 million which has been claimed, g) that completion of the I-40/240 interchange will relieve some of the congestion caused by cars driving through the park to avoid that bottleneck, h) that there are numerous more important transportation projects that need to be done before this one, i) that city, couhnty, state and federal budgets are tight and should not be used to spend money on a road that’s not needed, j) the so-called CSS public planning process was bogus and did not properly consider a reasonable set of alternatives, and k) that the planning team and public agreed that no tractor-trailers would be allowed on the parkway but FHWA says that “you cannot restrict them from the parkway without a Federal Law being passed” (the city of Memphis and TDOT have had more than 8 years to get such a law passed with no success so far).
=== END OF INFO I SENT TO TOM CHARLIER ===
I should have also made these points:
b.2) Documentation of some of these suggestions is provided on our blog at https://shelbyfarmsparkway.wordpress.com/ (this blog)
g.2) We should wait until the I-40/240 construction work is complete, wait a few months for traffic patterns to “restabilize”, then measure the reduction of diverted traffic going through the park, and review the results at that time;
k.modified) “the planning team and public agreed and committed (by signing a document) that no tractor-trailers would be allowed…
There are also three “major” issues which have not been publicly addressed to the best of my knowledge. I did not mention them to Charlier:
1. The highway, if built, will add a substantial amount of additional traffic to the congested roads in front of Baptist Hospital and CBHS. TDOT staff stated that those issues “are outside of the project boundary”. In my opinion, traffic in that area is already a problem, and it is totally wrong to just say “We’re not going to look at those issues.”
2. Traffic within the Park, now that “Heart of the Park” is complete, is going to be an issue. This is especially true at the start and at the end of major events. The Conservancy told me they had hired their own traffic engineer, and I believe it was at least in part to look at this issue, but they have not shared this information with the public. I will ask again to receive a copy of this engineering study. As you can imagine, congestion can be a big problem when everyone tries to arrive at or to leave from an event all at the same time. That’s why football games and Disneyland have special traffic handling measures when their events end.
3. The proposed “Parkside” development overlooking Shelby Farms Park on the north will generate substantial traffic, though much of it will go north and not through the park. In any case, the City Council and Land Use Control Board have only given “Conditional” approval for that project. The developer, through consultants, is required to prepare a traffic study and to work with City Engineering to mitigate the traffic issues that are identified. I have given input into preliminary steps of that process. Some of the road improvements which we have already suggested will be beneficial to handling the Parkside-related traffic.
Thank you for reading all of this, and thinking carefully about it. I admit that it’s a lot. And I know that we all are busy and would love for the planners and engineers to “just take care of it”. But, it’s complicated, and it’s expensive. And if we don’t pay attention, we might get something we don’t want. And Memphis and Shelby County don’t have so much money that we can spend money on projects which are not required. Oh, I have to say one more thing before my final comment- the supporters of the road tell our public officials “We have to do this or we will lose all that federal money.” But this is not at all true!! There are plenty of other more needed local projects on the list which will receive the money.
My last comment- please comment if you have thoughts you want to contribute to this discussion. Thank you.