Respons to Recent Commercial Appeal Article and Editorial

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.

Who Is Dennis Lynch, Anyway?

I usually try to keep personalities out of my analyses and proposals. But, because some folks have recently shown some concern about “Who is this Dennis Lynch anyway? What does he know? I bet he has never driven in this problem area!” I decided that I would publish this brief bio, so folks would know.

So here’s a brief summary.
My interest in transportation became evident in 4th grade when I began to draw maps. I always enjoyed school, and did especially great at math and science. I had great scores on my SATs and went to the best engineering school in the country, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where I got my BS in Mechanical Engineering, and then my MS in Civil Engineering.

In my first job after the MS, I worked for the Boston area regional planning organization and became manager of the technical analysis group for a few key projects. We created computer representations of the transportation network, and forecasted the traffic impacts of various proposed road and transit projects. Our highly regarded planning process was nationally known for our integration of community involvement with technical analysis.

In 1978 I was recruited by Federal Express (before it became FedEx) as an Industrial Engineer. Within a year I became a Project Manager in Marketing, then Forecasting Manager, Market Research Manager, and International Market Planning Manager. I won numerous awards, but did not reach the next level of management at FedEx.

I pretty much stayed out of local issues in Memphis due to the all-consuming nature working at FedEx. Once I left FedEx, I did get involved. When I reviewed and gave feedback to the Memphis MPO’s Bike/Ped plans, the Sierra Club “noticed” me and asked me to become the Transportation Chair for the Chickasaw Group (of West Tennessee). Within a year, they asked me to be the Transportation Chair for the entire Tennessee Chapter, and soon overall Chair for the Chickasaw Group.

The Sierra Club’s Mission Statement, which I proudly support, includes the following phrase, “To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.” Since my strength is transportation, I see much of my personal effort being focused on matters that relate to the “human environment”. I make numerous efforts to contribute positively to the health and growth of the Memphis area and the state, and have contributed to numerous projects. I am well recognized and respected within many local governments, plus public and community organizations. My most public visibility has been in the Memphis MPO, where I frequently give input in their open public meetings (More people should know about the MPO- they control distribution of over $100 million of federal money per year). I also often attend Memphis City Council and make comments on various subjects when appropriate. I have met personally with individual Councilmen/women on some issues.

The Parkway DOES NOT Free Up 200 Acres

The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy states that the building Shelby Farms Parkway will “free up 200 acres for use by the Park”.

But, they have not created any new acres. The land is already there, and is already used or could be used now. True that the current use is “low intensity”, but they could use the land in various new ways today if they wanted to, and if they spent the funds.

Also, it is very important to understand that the Parkway, and the new entrance road, and the planned 6000 car overflow parking lot “take away” 198-208 acres. Here are the numbers:

From the 200 “freed up acres”, you must
– Subtract 128+ acres for the Parkway
– Subtract 10 acres – New Park entrance road
– Subtract 60-70 acres – 6000 car overflow parking (space per car is higher in unstriped, unpaved parking lots)

Thus, in TOTAL, you must
– Subtract 198-208 acres from the 200 which the Conservancy says are freed up.

2006 Agreement to Parkway Plans are No Longer Valid

Eight years ago in 2006, there was an agreement signed by 15 members of the 17 member Shelby Farms Parkway Advisory Team (sometimes referred to as the “CSS Team”). There were two individuals “not in attendance” at the key meeting, and there were two “proxy” signatures among the 15. Some individuals still support the agreement, saying “It’s a good compromise, people signed it and should stand by it.”

But, there are significant reasons to no longer stand by that 8-year old agreement [CLICK on the blue links for more details on some items]:

Key environmental factors were never shared with team members or with the public;

– The forecast used to justify the road was too high by a 42%;

Traffic in the area of the park is declining;

– The 2006 agreement included a provision that tractor-trailers would not be allowed on the Parkway. However, subsequently, TDOT has informed stakeholders that they would have to be allowed unless an exemption was passed into Federal Law. So far, even though it’s been 8 years, and local officials agree to the exemption, and even though the Conservancy has appealed to Senators and Congressmen, no such exemption has been passed, and there is substantial resistance from the “highway lobby”;

– Some members of the Advisory Team state that it was a collaborative process, and all had a chance to participate. The Team was told that a CSS process would be used, and that it would involve collaboration between the team members, and an openness to planning issues and alternatives. However, discussion was substantially limited and consideration of alternatives was severely constrained;

– The major I-40/240 Interchange Reconstruction project is going to change travel patterns significantly, and will substantially reduce the amount of traffic that diverts through the park, further reducing the need for the Parkway;

– The city, county, and state have significant budget issues;

– The true cost of this project is still not known. It has gone up from $15.5 million (DSEIS) to $35.8 million (TDOT April 2014 document), and the costs of environmental mitigations are still not included in the calculations;

– The project has had no “Cost-Benefit Analysis”, whereas other proposed major Memphis area projects do have such an analysis (and should have a higher priority if well justified).

Section 4(f) “de minimis” NOT valid

Federal Law (“Section 4(f)”) requires special procedures be followed when you want to take any park land in order to build a roadway across a public park.

The issue even went to the Supreme Court in 1971 (“Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe”)- In the published opinion in that case Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, “Section 4(f) ‘is a plain and explicit bar to the use of federal funds for construction of highways through parks; only the most unusual situations are exempted.’ Further, the court recognized the place of cost, directness of route, and community disruption in highway routing, but that the existence of the statute “indicates that protection of parkland was to be given paramount importance.”

So, according this Federal Law, what is a “Park”? Well, the law makes no distinction, nor definition of a park. Section 4(f) does not say that only “recreational areas” of a park are protected- thus, all areas of any public park are protected. Further, Shelby Farms Parkway officials, and the Memphis and Shelby County Mayors (current and previous) have each stated numerous times that Shelby Farms Park is 4500 acres.

The law does allow that “some” of the park can be taken for a roadway, if certain procedures are followed. Two of those procedures are that- 1) The public must be told that they have a say-so in any “de minimis determination” (meaning they have the right to comment on whether they feel the impact is “negligible”), and 2) “the officials responsible for the park” must declare in writing that the plans, including “mitigations”, will have “de minimis” impact on the park. (Note that the Executive Director of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy has done so in a letter to TDOT on June 2, 2014. See comment about the letter below.)

Well, here is what’s wrong any de minimis determination, and with the Conservancy’s letter:

– The Conservancy’s letter claims that the Conservation Easement specifically excludes “Alignment Q”, which is TDOT’s current planned alignment. Actually, the Appendix of the Easement excludes a non-specific right of way for a parkway. On the other hand, the first paragraph of the “Grant” section of the Easement requires that the Conservancy to “protect, maintain, preserve, and enhance” the “conservation, natural, scenic, … [17 environmental attributes of the Property]”.

– The public was never informed of what “de minimis” means, and what their role is in determining if the impact should be considered to be minimis”.

– TDOT even stated that “We never define ‘de minimis’ in our public notices.”

– Plans for the road require over 128 acres of park land to build the road.
  — This number of acres is 3 times bigger than the biggest de minimis ever granted anywhere in the country.

– Plans for the road require 11 lanes of traffic in the interchange they propose to build.

– The entire Park is protected by Section 4(f), not just “recreational areas”. But, TDOT’s planners have attempted to claim that only the recreational areas are protected. The 4(f) law makes no such distinction.

– TDOT’s public notice of their September 24, 2013 Public Meeting was published with 2 different times, thus confusing the public.

– TDOT’s public notice of this same public meeting had an incorrect map of the planned location for the road, thus further confusing the public, and never documenting the size of the interchange, the number of acres to be taken, or the environmental issues of the correct location.

Planners’ Forecast of Traffic Too High by 42%

Planners have said that traffic near the park and around the region is growing, and as a result, they have forecast that traffic would be growing near Shelby Farms Park.  Those doing the plans for Shelby Farms Parkway published their forecast 2007 Oct 17 in the DSEIS (“Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement”), and 2012 Feb 02 in the SFEIS (“Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement”), (SFEIS body and SFEIS Appendices).

But, their forecast was high by 42%.  … You may ask, “How can you already say their forecast was too high?”  The answer is that the SFEIS document they published in 2012 included a “forecast” for 2010, which was already history, and their “forecasted” volume was higher than the actual by 42%.  We don’t even know how high their forecast for 2020 or 2030 or 2040 would be.  But, one can only imagine.  Here are the details of their over-forecast for 2010:

Estimate = 56,202 (Avg Daily Traffic)
Actual = 39,472
Error = 16,730
Pct Error = 42.4%

Traffic Near the Park Has Not Grown Since 2004

The following table and graph show that traffic near Shelby Farms Park have not increased since 2004. In fact, six of ten locations have traffic declines and only two have increases. The numbers are from the Tennessee Dept of Transportation (TDOT) website (http://tdot.state.tn.us/).

Location Increase  + / –
Walnut Grove, by Agricenter 0.8% 0
Humphreys Blvd, at Kirby -18.0%
Humphreys Blvd, S of W.G. -9.6%
Macon Rd, E of Sycamore View 8.2% +
Whitten Rd, N of Mullins Stn 43.8% ++ (flat since 2006
Raleigh-Lagrange, by Dog Park -3.9%
Sycamore View, S of Macon -19.3%
Mullins Station, N of Farm Rd -13.7%
Macon Rd, N of Dog Park -12.4%
Mullins Station, at Greenline -0.5% 0

Traffic-trends