At a public meeting held last night in the Cossitt Library, together with the UrbanArt Commission we unveiled an innovative, ambitious plan to transform a downtown corridor into a public space amenity as well as a seamless connection by bike from the riverfront to Midtown. We present the Great Streets Pilot Project.
The UrbanArt Commission and the City of Memphis’ Engineering Division aim to dramatically transform a handful of streets in the heart of downtown through the Great Streets Pilot Project. The project will use an approach known as tactical urbanism to quickly achieve its objectives. Tactical urbanism is a method to neighborhood building that uses short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies to catalyze long-term change.
In brief, the project will:
- Create a new, mostly protected east-west bike route through downtown that connects the riverfront with Midtown and points farther east;
- Create a new pedestrian “promenade” along Peabody Place with areas for interactive public art elements, eating and drinking, lounging, and other activities; and,
- Expose Memphians to the concept that streets can be a public space amenity.
Need & Purpose
Through this project, the City of Memphis and the UrbanArt Commission will demonstrate the potential of our public streets to act as great public spaces. A city’s collective network of streets is in fact its largest public space, but citizens often view streets as a mere means of conveyance for automobiles. With high-quality and people-oriented design, streets can function safely and efficiently for all users – whether they travel on foot, by bike, transit, or car – and also be aesthetically pleasing spaces that foster community vibrancy.
Toward the goal of shifting citizens’ perception of a street’s purpose, City Engineering desires to pursue an initial, long-term pilot project to demonstrate the opportunities available on other streets around the city. Likewise, the UrbanArt Commission seeks to establish meaningful public art that transforms spaces across Memphis. These overlapping goals have brought these two organizations together for collaboration on this project.
City Engineering has settled on the proposed corridor as the pilot project site for a number of reasons.
First, the primary segment of the corridor – Peabody Place – already has excess capacity. Decades ago, a suburban-style mold was forced on Peabody Place despite it resting in the heart of Memphis’ urban core. Because of this, Peabody Place today appears out of place in downtown, and the street divides more than it connects. By concentrating on Peabody Place, we have the opportunity to transform an uninviting strip of asphalt into an attractive space that seams together the South Main neighborhood with the Downtown core.
The overall project corridor will also fill an existing gap in the city’s bicycle network. The general route of Peabody Avenue and Dr. MLK Jr. Boulevard acts as the primary entrance to downtown by bike from Midtown. This coming summer the City will install protected bike lanes on Dr. MLK Jr. Blvd., but these lanes will end at the edge of downtown. The project corridor will effectively link the riverfront with Midtown and other points farther east, and act as the primary east-west corridor for bicycle traffic in downtown.
Since the overarching goal of the project is to expose Memphians to great streets, a location with maximum exposure in the community is required. The proposed project corridor achieves this, especially along Peabody Place. At this site, the project will be visible to the thousands of Memphians who work and live downtown as well as the thousands more who journey downtown for recreation, entertainment, and dining.
Finally, in terms of the timing context, the project will align well with the 2017 Professional Development Seminar conference of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, which is coming to Memphis at the end of June. This conference is expected to bring hundreds urban planners, engineers, and related professionals to Memphis. The intent is to complete implementation of the project in advance of the conference. In doing so, the project will convey a strong commitment from Memphis toward supporting attractive, vibrant public spaces.
The total project cost will be under $200,000. As far as public infrastructure projects go, this one will be extremely low cost, high impact. What’s more, we’re dedicated to raising two-thirds of the project cost from private sources. The Hyde Family Foundations, IKEA, LRK, DCA, Silly Goose, and SyberTech have already committed as project sponsors, and more are anticipated.
In order to accurately gauge the success of the one-year pilot, the project team is establishing evaluation criteria and will collect associated data over the life of the project. These criteria will revolve around:
- Safety (Is there an impact on the number of traffic crashes along the corridor? Is there an impact on the number of moving violations along the corridor?);
- Usage (Does the number of people walking or biking along the corridor increase? Is there an impact on the demand for parking along the corridor? For how long do people occupy the new public space?); and,
- Economic Development (Is there an impact to the revenue of retail businesses along the corridor?)
Questions or Concerns?
Contact the City’s Bikeway and Pedestrian Program at 636-6710.
Stay tuned for more announcements and details in regards to this project. In the meantime, remember that streets are more than asphalt and concrete, they’re public space. The time’s come for Memphis to view streets from a new perspective. Together, let’s re-discover great streets!