BY TAMARA WALKER
On July 14th, 2008, the Cooper-Young Business Association initiated talks with Mary Baker of the Office of Planning and Development and Bill Schaffer of the Memphis City Engineering Office to discuss ways to slow down traffic on Cooper Street. After meeting with Mary and Bill, we asked the ETI Corporation, an Engineering Planning Company, in March of 2009 to design different possible configurations of Cooper Street that would help us make the street more pedestrian friendly and easier for patrons of our area to access, as well.
At first, we thought that we could reduce the four traffic lanes to two traffic lanes and install a median down the middle. The median would act as a landing spot for the patrons between the traffic lanes. Diagonal parking along Cooper Street was another consideration during this first phase. We thought that if we could increase street parking and make it more accessible than we would effectively eliminate some of the residential parking that occurs during the weekends and on weeknights. The diagonal parking would also help slow down traffic because vehicles would be backing into the street.
The Memphis City Engineering Office determined that diagonal parking was not possible, however, due to all the curb cuts along Cooper Street. In addition, the Engineering office wanted to install parking meters, which we thought would drive business to areas of town where parking is more convenient and free (i.e. East Memphis). At this time, we had ETI Corporation design several mock-ups to include existing parallel parking, a median, two traffic lanes, bike lanes and a turn lane down the whole of Cooper Street from Central to Young. This design would slow down traffic, keep a place in the middle where a pedestrian could land, add bike lanes to connect Midtown, and still maintain the current required parallel parking spaces that exist and are needed by business owners.
We were then faced with the physical limitations of Cooper Street starting at the Young intersection. At the intersection, Cooper Street’s width narrows to 40 feet wide as it goes south toward Southern. This made a real challenge opposed to the 60 foot width that runs from the Trestle Art to Young. At this point, it only made sense that the bike lanes would go from dedicated lanes to ride-share lanes at the Young intersection. These ride-share lanes are common all over the Memphis area and certainly the 2 blocks from Young to Southern shouldn’t be a problem. The last design had two traffic lanes, bike lanes (3/4 dedicated, 1/4 shared), a middle turn lane and parallel parking. It was submitted to Engineering in December of 2009, and it is a win-win for all.
I wanted to provide a background on the modification of Cooper Street that has been on our table for the last several years. The Cooper-Young business district with its thriving retail shops, service locations, antique stores and restaurants is in a delicate position when it comes to losing even one parking space, let alone two whole blocks of parking. In this economy, we must do everything to protect the limited parking that we have otherwise we lose our patrons. If we lose our patrons, we lose our shops.
This opportunity to improve Cooper Street will be a positive for our neighborhood. I hope that the all or nothing attitude of some doesn’t put a negative spin on the whole process. It will be a benefit for our residents, our business owners and our patrons regardless of their mode of transportation.
Tamara Walker is the Executive Director for the Cooper-Young Business Association.