Happy Trail

Memphis is getting to know its new Greenline quite well.

The Greenline’s new Wolf River Bridge

Photograph by BG

Few developments have impacted the way Memphians play like the opening last October of the Shelby Farms Greenline. A seven-mile paved path from Tillman Street to Shelby Farms (along what used to be a CSX railroad line), the relatively straight, flat track has given new life to pedestrians, runners, cyclists . . . anyone yearning for some fresh air in what would otherwise be considered an urban section of the city.

Adam Taylor, 35, bikes the Greenline two or three times per week, accessing it near his home in High Point Terrace. The Greenline has served as an artery for fellow riders in Taylor’s bike club — a group of around 25 riders — to gather in a central location from various parts of the city. Taylor notes the Greenline itself is too narrow for group rides, but he loves solo rides over the Wolf River to Shelby Farms and trails beyond.

“Especially when the weather’s warm, you see a ton of people in our neighborhood riding bikes now,” says Taylor. “I used to have to drive out to Shelby Farms to access those trails.” Taylor’s only concern is the safety on major roads like Highland or Graham, where efforts have been made to increase the visibility (for drivers) as people using the Greenline cross those streets. “The only way it could improve,” adds Taylor, “is to [extend further] west.”

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of stories like Taylor’s, and the Greenline has yet to see its first spring season. According to Laura Adams, executive director of the Shelby Farms Conservancy, 1,000 people were counted at one location (going one direction) on the Greenline over its first weekend last October, then 436 over eight hours of prime daylight on a Saturday in November. “We have new staff, dedicated to the Greenline, who will be counting,” explains Adams. “We also have a trail ranger and two safety and security rangers. They’ll be out there with counters, too.”

While Adams is excited by the traffic, she stresses the mission of the Greenline goes beyond the scope of any counting tool. “Our primary goals,” she says, “are contributing to the quality of life of the city, economic development in the city, and providing accessibility — no matter where you live — to Shelby Farms.” Businesses along the Greenline — Adams mentions a pizza parlor on High Point Terrace — have already reported a bump in traffic, and clientele that might not otherwise discover locally owned businesses are doing so without the need of a car.

Still in its embryonic stages, the Greenline stands to gain from the observations and needs of its many users. “We are just completing the development of a process by which people can make improvements along the Greenline,” says Adams. “We’ve had groups that want to plant trees, a neighborhood that wants to put in a bench, a community garden. These are all great ideas, but there has to be a process. What are the costs going to be? Who is going to be responsible for maintenance?”

Initial concerns about crime seem to have been inflated. Adams says she’s heard of only one incident (a purse-snatching near the Highland entry point). If anything, the growth and frequency of human traffic may well reduce crime on and around the Greenline. “We’re in regular contact with the police department,” says Adams. “They have a dedicated bike patrol, in addition to our staff. And we have a baseline, using all the reported crime along the Greenline, a quarter-mile out in both directions from the trail. We’ll be monitoring that every six months to see what’s trending up or down.”

If there is a safety issue at all, it’s the need for bikers and joggers to acclimate themselves when approaching busy cross streets where drivers may not be aware of them. “The law is that bikers have to stop for cars, but the cars have to stop for walkers and runners,” says Adams. “But nobody knows that. Everybody needs to be alert.”

Future plans include extending the Greenline all the way downtown, linking it to the Bluffwalk and perhaps across the Mississippi River via the Harahan Bridge. “This project is already so successful,” says Adams. “There will be additional greenways that open and more bike lanes in the city.” To paraphrase Robert Frost (with a twist), the greening of Memphis seems to be following a path well-traveled.  

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