Illusion of choice: Sham “public input” meeting shoves unwanted Riverside Drive plans down citizens’ throats

Readers, I owe you an apology.

I could have attended the public meeting about Riverside Drive last night. It would have been inconvenient. I would have had to leave work early. I could have made it. After hearing what happened, I should have made it.

A year ago, the city converted Riverside between Beale and Georgia from four lanes open to vehicular traffic to two lanes for vehicles and two for bikes and runners. It was said at the time that the change was “temporary,” to last between 12 and 18 months, and public meetings would be held in the meantime to determine what to do. Yesterday was the third of those public meetings.

Who here is familiar with the phrase “illusion of choice?”

I know salespeople are. “Would you prefer to go ahead and sign a 2-year widget protection warranty, or would you like to sign a 1-year warranty and buy some bottles of super widget spray-on armor for additional protection?” Note that there is no option to say, no, I would not like to purchase a bunch of crap that is nearly worthless.

What happened at the meeting yesterday was the illusion of choice. The city presented two plans, both of which would keep Riverside two lanes and both of which were bad ideas. That way the city can say it sought public input on whichever bad idea eventually gets done. The trouble is, according to a friend of mine who attended and gave me notes afterward, is that there was no option for restoring Riverside to four lanes, which is what about 90% of the attendees of the meeting wanted to happen.

Okay. Everything here is second-hand information. I trust my friend that what am I about to write is reliable. If I have anything that was said at the meeting incorrect, please let me know.

One person said he was on his way Downtown on Riverside. There was a wreck and it took 30-45 minutes to clear and he was stuck in traffic. The problem is, Riverside is a major artery into Downtown. If you make it difficult to travel, people are going to look at other options. They could go to Cooper-Young. They could go to Overton Square. They could go to Broad Avenue. Two-lane Riverside hurts Downtown businesses, businesses that are already hurting because of the trolley debacle.

Pat Halloran of the Orpheum told the city that it is choking people off to get Downtown. He’s having to deal with patrons who miss the first half of the shows to which they had tickets, because Riverside caused them to take an extra 45 minutes to get to the theater.

The city presented a statistic: On an average day on Riverside, there are 14,000 motorized vehicles and 18 bikes. I had to stop and ask, “Did I just hear that correctly?” I did. FOURTEEN THOUSAND vehicles. EIGHTEEN bikes. One bike for every 778 cars.

Some more comments from the audience:

“You’re trying to build up the Tennessee Brewery, the Chisca, etc., and there is no way for people to get Downtown.”

“YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO PEOPLE. You’re hearing but you are not listening.” The audience was told the meeting was an “informational meeting only” which means what we all knew, that public input was not actually being sought.

It was noted that there have been 30 crashes on that stretch of Riverside since June.

A tweet went out that it’s pretty evident this was being shoved down our throats. That tweet came from none other than Myron Lowery. He immediately got three @replies and is going to seek a meeting with the mayor today to address this issue.

99% of the time I support progressive moves to make this a more vibrant city. I was a huge supporter of the NBA NOW movement back in 2000-2001 that got the Grizzlies to move here from Vancouver. I thought the Madison bike lanes in Midtown were an excellent idea. I was a huge fan of the move to legalize food trucks in the city. I like the new proposal to put bike lanes on North Parkway. But this is the other 1%. This is not progress, it is a bad idea, plain and simple. I too want to see Memphis become a more livable, bike- and walking-friendly city and I have a lot of admiration and respect for the people working to make that happen. But two-lane Riverside is not the right way to get there.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THIS IS NOT A BIKES VS. CARS ISSUE. I am going to borrow a few sentences a friend of mine posted to Facebook last night:

“It is not appropriate to draw the conclusion that a position in favor of a different route (even only slightly different) than on the existing roadway therefore means that individual is against a progressive and vibrant city filled with bikes and pedestrians. Simply not true & unfair.

The key is that plenty of room exists for four lanes (four very important lanes!) along with bicycles and pedestrians without interrupting the traffic lanes. This meets the goal of ‘balance’ and encourages a useable and attractive riverfront while meeting the necessary function of the roadway – to allow access to downtown.”

As the same friend said, the only way to make real change happen is at the ballot box. If you’re on Twitter, follow @stricklandmayor. I wasn’t fully in the Strickland for Mayor camp until I heard about yesterday’s meeting, but now I am. Wharton has outlived his usefulness in public office and is becoming King Willie the Second.

For those who came here looking for a Friday news post, I will try to get something up after work. Can’t promise it though.