Riverside Drive faces unknown future after coronavirus closure

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The future of Riverside Drive is still in the air.

The road was closed in March and remained closed until last week, when Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland partially reopened the roadway. But some downtown residents said they aren’t satisfied.

Organizations downtown said people are pushing for Riverside Drive to reopen, but other groups gathered very different responses.

Slyvella and Cliff Jones said they often make visits to Memphis, and when coming down Riverside Drive, they were caught off-guard by the nearly empty roadway.

“It’s nice to see everyone enjoying it without the traffic and being able to freely ride the scooters and things of that nature, so it’s definitely a different kind of experience,” Slyvella Jones said.

Mayor Strickland closed Riverside at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to deter people from gathering downtown and to promote social distancing. 

Last week, Strickland reopened the street Monday through Friday. Riverside Drive remains closed on weekends.

Downtown Neighborhood Association President Jerred Price has been a strong advocate for the street fully reopening, raising concerns regarding handicapped accessibility and traffic flow that now pours onto Front Street.

“If you ask the majority of Memphis that I’ve spoken to and the polls that I’ve put on Nextdoor, the majority want this street reopened,” Price said.

But officials with the Memphis River Parks Partnership said they’ve gotten a different response.

“We’ve been counting visitor numbers multiple times a day and conducting intercept interviews,” Director of External Affairs George Abbott said in a statement. “We’ve found that more people have been visiting the park (roughly 12% increase) and using it for new activities and that they have enjoyed the street being closed.”

Abbott also said they found overwhelming support to keep the street closed to traffic, and they have not received any complaints of accessibility.

K. Ellis said he’s lived in the Front Street area for years and said he’s definitely noticed an increase in traffic diverted from the main road.

While he said he wanted Riverside to reopen, he’s also adjusted to the changes.

“Just kind of be mindful of the residents with the music and the noise and the extracurricular activities,” Ellis said.

A City of Memphis spokesperson said if anyone needs handicapped parking, they can call 901-212-5926.

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