About three weeks ago our hearts broke after learning of the tragic crash that occurred at the intersection of Farm Rd. and Walnut Grove Rd. A driver passing through the intersection crashed into another vehicle, causing a chain of events that led to the death of one person on a bicycle – Mr. Arnold “Noli” Castro – and a life-altering, incapacitating injury of another – Mr. Anthony Jamias. Both gentlemen were simply waiting at the crosswalk to cross Walnut Grove and enter Shelby Farms Park.
At the time, we shared on Facebook and Twitter that we would coordinate with our City colleagues to urgently deliver safety improvements at this location. We’ve been doing just that over the last couple weeks, and are ready to publicly share the immediate steps the City is taking.
What are the immediate improvements?
After assessing conditions on site as well as the resources at our immediate disposal, we will be entirely re-configuring the queuing area at the southeast corner of the intersection. The image above (available for download as a PDF here) displays the planned improvements. A new paved pedestrian/bicycle path will be installed to the east of the current queuing area, and protected by concrete barriers. As a result, people waiting to cross will no longer be standing on a wide expanse of open asphalt, exposed to cars and trucks moving nearby at 50 MPH or more. The push button for requesting the WALK signal will be relocated to this protected area. The crosswalk on the southern half of Walnut Grove will be re-aligned to reduce the crossing the distance. Additionally, new pavement markings and fresh asphalt will be applied in the general area to better guide drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
To recap, the benefits of these improvements include:
- Greater separation and physical protection between people waiting to cross and vehicular traffic on Walnut Grove Rd.;
- A shorter crossing distance across Walnut Grove Rd., allowing people to walk, jog, or ride through the intersection in less time;
- A larger and defined queuing space that physically separates people from Farm Rd. and the access road that runs parallel to Walnut Grove Rd.; and
- Better guidance to all users on how to navigate the space south of the intersection.
What’s the timeline?
The first phase includes the grading and laying of compacted gravel for the new path, placement of the barriers, relocation of the pushbutton, and application of temporary pavement markings. This work will be complete by mid-January, at the latest.
The laying of asphalt and application of permanent pavement markings are more weather-dependent. This time of year is generally difficult for both of these activities, which require specific temperature and moisture conditions. The second phase of work will occur as soon as weather conditions allow. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a few consecutive days in January or February that permit the work to proceed. However, having to wait until early spring is a possibility.
Additional Near-Term Improvements
The improvements we’re undertaking should be thought of as an interim step. They are the most impactful changes we can pursue in a timeline measured mostly in weeks. A next step would be upgrading some of the changes with more permanent materials. For example, the roadway edges delineated by the thick white lines in the sketch could be replaced with concrete curb and gutter. The crossing area at the northeast corner could benefit from similar upgrades with permanent construction.
Fortunately, we already have a couple leads for funding sources. Together with a coalition of community groups, particularly the Memphis Hightailers and the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, we’re awaiting word on a grant application to the Tennessee Department of Health. Our fingers are crossed, but we’ll continue to search for additional funding no matter the result.
Other Long-Term Improvements
Since the crash we’ve received several inquiries about a pedestrian/bicyclist bridge or tunnel at this location, and read many comments on social media expressing the same idea. A bridge or tunnel is a worthy long-term pursuit, but will require years of planning, design, and permitting, not to mention significant funding. In fact, a bridge near this location would be considered as part of the Shelby Farms Parkway project, which recently cleared some environmental hurdles. Despite that advancement, the project will still take a number of years to reach construction. We’re aiming for that solution, too, but safety improvements are needed at this location today, as well as the intervening years until a bridge becomes a reality.
Some Belated Giving of Thanks
We want to thank the many individuals who reached out to us after the crash to express their concerns, frustrations, and expectations for a response. You helped move these improvements forward.
We especially want to thank the Memphis Hightailers for organizing a memorial bicycle ride to honor Mr. Castro. We participated in the ride. Seeing nearly 200 people come together to remember a man who lost his life to traffic violence was a powerful and stirring event. More so, the ride vividly reinforced the human element at the heart of a street’s or other public space’s design. A few photos from the ride are below.