Monday, October 18, 2010

Southern Avenue Set for Bike Lanes

If you've been on Southern Avenue between Perkins and Cooper in the past month you probably had a bumpy ride.  But soon enough Memphis bicyclists will enjoy some smooth sailing.    

View Southern Avenue Bike Facility in a larger map

The City of Memphis has been working this month to re-pave most of Southern Avenue.  The process began last month with a prohibition of on-street parking between Patterson and Normal St. on Southern. 

 (On-Street Parking is Prohibited between Patterson and Normal St. on Southern Avenue)

Parking Woes
Many students at the University of Memphis responded negatively to prohibited parking in The University's paper, The Daily Helmsman.  In early September, Darrell Katoe recalled arriving "at 8:20 a.m. for a 9 a.m. class and was late because I was looking for parking.  I was thinking, 'I'm going to be early and eat breakfast,' and couldn't get it because I was late. I was pissed.

"Parking sucks," said student Joseph Smith. "I get tired of getting tickets everyday for trying to get to class on time. You have to drive around campus for an hour to find a spot.""

Kirby Luigs, a sophmore at the University, believes students need more roadside parking.

"Why can't we park on the streets?" she said. "They put up those stupid 'No Parking' signs, and people still park there anyway. It's hectic."

Bikes Help the Parking Problem
Luigs' question, "Why can't we park street?" has a simple answer: Southern Avenue will soon have bike lanes, and the roadway is too narrow to accommodate both on-street parking and bicycle lanes between Patterson and Normal St.

The University, however, didn't lost any parking in the deal.  Two additional lots have been created for students near the intersection of Patterson and Southern.  

Most importantly, bicycle lanes stretching from the Cooper/Young neighborhood to the University of Memphis will encourage more commuters to leave their car at home as they travel to class. 

Best of all: students, faculty and staff can park their bikes next to the front door of their building, eliminating the need to walk 20 minutes from some distant outpost to a destination on campus. 

Students and advisers from the University of Memphis Cycling Club have confirmed a desire among students to ride to campus, citing full bike racks at the University as evidence that many commuters will use the bicycle to commute.  The Southern Avenue bicycle lanes provide another incentive for  bicycle commuters based in midtown.  

Careful observers may note that not all of Southern Avenue is slated for bike facilities this year.      
(Southern Avenue Bike Lanes, October 2010)

The stretch of Southern between Semmes and Highland will not receive bike lanes during the current re-paving cycle.  This stretch of road will not receive bicycle lanes during this round of re-paving because there are four railroad crossings along this .8 mile section of roadway, and by federal law, whenever repaving is completed within proximity of a rail crossing the crossing must be upgraded.

The catch is this: municipalities cannot use federal money to complete the upgrade.

Since the Southern Avenue re-paving project and bike facilities were paid for with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) federal stimulus dollars, The City of Memphis Engineering Division has opted to re-pave this section of Southern and add bike lanes next year using municipal dollars.   

Pedaling in the Right Direction
The bike lanes on Southern are important.  Practically speaking, they connect midtown to the University area--which is a perfect example of prime connectivity.  They also put Southern Avenue on a road diet by reducing the right of way for motor vehicles from two travel lanes in each direction to one travel lane in each direction (this is the case for most of Southern, anyway).  The new lanes also pass by Tiger Lane at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, and they carry riders past the Peddler Bicycle Shop at the intersection of Highland and Southern.  The connectivity along this corridor is superb.  
Maybe most significantly, the Southern Avenue bike lanes are the first bicycle lanes within the 240 loop.
(A map of Memphis' Current Bicycle Lanes, October 2010) 

While a small section of the Shady Grove bike lanes fall inside the eastern edge of the 240 loop, the Southern Avenue bike lanes stand as the first significant investment in bicycle infrastructure within the inner urban core of Memphis.

Advocacy works.  We're beginning to see results here in Memphis, but while we're headed in the right direction I'm not sure it's a tailwind yet.


  1. Wow ... I bike commuted down Southern from my condo over near Perkins for 3 years. Geez ... this is a great addition on a key street that links all kinds of stuff now with the University right in the middle ... just wow.

  2. I was always curious about that big gap in the proposed bike lanes. Do you know if Southern will continue to be two (car) lanes each direction for that stretch?

  3. Hi Brad-

    I'm a bit unsure about what Southern will look like between Semmes and Highland. Just before you arrive at Semmes, drivers have one lane in each direction. Whether this will continue between Semmes and Highland is unclear, though we do hope Southern remains on a road diet throughout this section of roadway.