If you’ve been on the Main Street pedestrian mall lately, you’ve seen that certain sections have been fenced off. The trolleys, absent from Downtown since 2014, are close to making their comeback. MATA is repairing the tracks and cobblestones, damaged by two years of trolley-like buses running that route. I know a lot of people, particularly business owners in South Main, will be happy to see the trolleys back.
However, once restoring the trolleys is complete, the next project should be extending the Main Street line all the way to Crump.
What the trolley tracks were first laid down on Main, it didn’t make sense to go farther south than Calhoun (now G.E. Patterson Avenue). The corner of Main and Calhoun was a destination because of the famous Arcade restaurant. Earnestine & Hazel’s had just been bought by Russell George the year before, transforming the former brothel into a respectable and iconic dive bar. (Yes, E&H really was a brothel into the early 1990s. I won’t name names but I know a couple of people who were customers of the ladies upstairs.) If you didn’t mind a block walk over to Front, you could catch some live music at The South End. But there really wasn’t much south of Calhoun at the time.
Now the south end of Downtown has become a destination. I would like to go to Loflin Yard a bit more than I currently do, but even if I rode the trolley to its end I’d still have another seven blocks to walk. I wish I spent enough time at the Ghost River taproom to call myself a regular, but I have six blocks to walk beyond the end of the trolley line to get there.
Last year The Dirty Crow Inn opened at Crump and Kentucky. Around the time it opened, I had a week off for BBQ Fest and walked down there and checked it out. I immediately got that feeling of “this could easily be one of my homes away from home.” The food there is delicious. Plus, I’d like to get to know Paul who runs the place as well as I know, say, Max from Max’s Sports Bar or Aldo from Bardog. But I’ve only been back twice, because it’s not convenient, with a seven-block walk even after I get off the trolley at Main and G.E. Patterson. Extend the trolley line and all I would have to do is cross Crump.
It works in the opposite direction too. Thousands of homes have been built in South End the past ten years. Give those residents access to a trolley line, and they can use public transportation to get to Grizzlies games and Tigers games at FedExForum, and to Memphis Redbirds games at AutoZone Park. South End residents could use public transportation to get to work at companies like AutoZone, St. Jude, and Servicemaster. Those in South End who want to visit the places I talk about all the time on here could do so without involving a car. They could ride the trolley to get the tacos at Maciel’s, or crawfish mac at Blind Bear, or a pizza pie at Aldo’s.
When I think about the east end of the Madison trolley line at Cleveland, I think, “Why did they stop there? There’s so much good stuff the next couple of miles.” With the rise of South End, the Main Street line has become the same way. There’s too much good stuff south of G.E. Patterson to stop there.
People talk about making Downtown more walkable. Projects like the Main-to-Main pedestrian crossing and pop-up parks on Riverside are all well and good, but you really want to make Downtown more walkable? Lay 6 more blocks of trolley tracks.