In Marc Cohn’s homage to the Bluff City, “Walking in Memphis,” the singer shares his experience of touring local sites and reaching them, presumably, on foot. Memphians, though, know that much of Cohn’s described route is marked with uncomfortable, inhospitable, or downright dangerous conditions for pedestrians. The lyrics specifically call out Union Avenue on Cohn’s jaunt around Memphis. Today, elongated driveway aprons, surface parking lots, and crumbling or sun-baked sidewalks characterize much of this primary artery through Downtown, the Medical District, and Midtown. In short, it’s an environment oriented toward and dominated by cars. With our improvement projects underway, however, Memphians will one day be able to stroll down Union Avenue with a spring in their step.
In the years ahead, the City will embark on a major reconstruction of Union Avenue. The first segment to reach construction will be from Marshall Ave. to Manassas St., and is known as the Union Avenue Complete Streets project. Proposed improvements will heighten the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists along the corridor, enhance transit stops, beautify the street, modernize traffic signals, and manage storm water run-off with eco-friendly approaches. This first segment will not only set the tone for the reconstruction of the rest Union Avenue over the next five to ten years, but also the general direction in which the City is moving in regards to high-quality, people-oriented street design.
We presented and sought feedback on plans to retrofit this key segment of Union Avenue in the Medical District at a public meeting on Jan. 8, 2019. If you missed the meeting but would still like to be informed and provide input, please download the presentation and questionnaire below.
DOWNLOAD: Public Meeting Presentation from Jan. 8, 2019
DOWNLOAD: Questionnaire for Union Ave. Complete Streets Project
Instructions for the Questionnaire: Review the presentation before completing. Once filled out, scan or take photos of the questionnaire form and email to Maria Bruner (firstname.lastname@example.org) with subject line of “Union Avenue Complete Streets”. The deadline to submit completed forms is Jan. 22, 2019.
Here are some preliminary responses to common topics voiced by meeting attendees last night:
- Protected Intersection Video: At the meeting we showed a clip from a six-minute video about protected intersections. Some attendees wanted to view the video in its full length. Follow this link to watch the video. Though new the US, this design concept is proven abroad and quickly expanding domestically. Its incorporation in this project ensures that Memphis remains in the avantgarde of street design.
- Marshall Ave. Intersection: The current proposed conceptual design does not depict significant changes at this intersection, which many individuals rightfully feel needs more attention. One popular idea is to widen the sidewalk in front of Sun Studio and create a small plaza. This would slow down drivers turning right from Union onto Marshall, and provide ample space for people to linger and take photos in front of an iconic Memphis attraction. We are not excluding this intersection from the project, but are holding off on presenting proposals until conversations with adjacent stakeholders and the Tennessee Department of Transportation progress further. The latter is more of the primary reason, as we are in talks with TDOT — as well as other sources — to possibly secure more funds for the project and ensure that a consistent level of high-quality design can extend into the Marshall Ave. intersection.
- Transit Service: Some observers stated that the current proposal does not consider bus service and stops. MATA, which sits on the project’s steering committee, is preparing to restructure its route system and launch a so-call Bus Rapid Transit service along Union Avenue. This separate but coordinated project to launch the BRT line and install the appropriate infrastructure — known as the Innovation Corridor — will be the means for reconstructing much of the rest of Union Avenue. As MATA progresses with its design and stop analysis for the Innovation Corridor, the design for the Union Avenue Complete Streets project will adjust as needed.
- Extent of the Proposed Bike Lanes: The proposed bike lanes shown in the conceptual design would connect the existing protected bike lanes on Manassas St. (which received some national accolades recently) with other existing bike lanes in the Edge District. In this way, the project will fill in a gap in the bikeway network and provide greater connectivity for people using bicycles and e-scooters. What’s more, new protected bike lanes on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. are due to be installed this spring and will connect the Medical District (via Manassas) with Midtown. At this time, the City does not plan to extend the proposed bike lanes on Union west of Marshall or east of Manassas. Again, the proposal to add bike lanes on Union Ave. applies to this one block only (Marshall Ave. to Manassas St.) in order to improve connectivity within the existing bikeway network.
As mentioned above, this project will model the high-quality, people-oriented design that we intend to apply to all major street improvement projects moving forward. This transformation of our streets will not take place over night. Three-quarters of a century were needed to arrive at the car-oriented streets of today. The shift to a street network that truly balances the needs of all users and prioritizes the safety of the most vulnerable will similarly take decades, but must start at some point. The Union Ave. Complete Streets project is one of those starting points.
For updates about the project, continue to follow along on the blog or our Facebook and Twitter accounts (@BikePedMemphis).
A public meeting held on Jan. 8, 2019 presented proposed changes to Union Ave. from Marshall Ave. to Manassas St.