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    Bike connector plans for Memphis' Overton Park unveiled

    Michael Kelley - The Commercial Appeal -

    Promoters and engineers for the Overton Broad Connector, a protected, two-way, bicycle path that will connect Overton Park with the western trailhead of the Shelby Farms Greenline on Tillman, are showing off nearly completed plans for the project and predicting a summer 2013 debut.

    The 2-mile connector, located along the west edge of Tillman Street from the trailhead to Broad Avenue and the south side of Broad to East Parkway, will put Memphis in rare company among American communities striving to catch up with their Western European counterparts in the construction of cycle tracks that provide physical barriers to enhance the safety of cyclists.

    It's also a key element in broader efforts to increase the connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians throughout Greater Memphis.

    The plan is getting favorable reaction not just from cyclists, runners and the like but also from business owners, said Pat Brown of the Historic Broad Business Association.

    Brown said the city's experience balancing the needs of the business community and residents with those who like to travel by bike or on foot have no doubt helped generate a degree of comfort with the connector.

    Members of the organization discussed the project in detail at a meeting this week and came away generally impressed with the plan. It calls for repaving, striping, the erection of bollards to separate cyclists and pedestrians from automobile traffic wherever possible, curbs where they're needed to prevent parking in the bike lanes and traffic signals.

    "What's been interesting is the business community has helped drive this," said Brown, an art gallery owner on Broad. "As we approached the restaurants, even those who live on Broad Avenue, everyone saw it as a way to increase traffic and further revitalize the area.

    "Two years ago when we started talking about it, there were a lot of questions," Brown added. "Even I didn't know the true parameters of it. Would it be safe? How did you deal with public safety and crosswalks? How did you put all those pieces together? Not that we didn't want bike lanes on Broad."

    During that two-year period, support has grown, Memphis' City Engineering Division has worked with traffic engineers from various cities around the country to focus on safety issues and the BikesBelong Foundation has chipped in with a $10,000 grant. Also promoters of the project, including Livable Memphis, have closed to $25,000 of the $200,00 needed to pay for engineering and design.

    The city has dedicated a portion of its Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program funds toward construction of the project, which was originally estimated at $1.5 million but might be done for less, depending on the details revealed in the completed plan.

    Eventually, project promoters hope to begin raising $2 million to $8 million for Phase II, which will involve further enhancements, such as landscaping, decorative lights, public art and the like. Funding sources have not yet been identified.