We all need the bridge to Binghampton

February 26th, 2021

Scott Street 2

(published in The Daily Memphian)

photo: A truck waits to merge into busy traffic on Poplar from the Scott Street Bridge last December. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Last week’s column was a plea to the Tennessee Department of Transportation: Don’t cut us off from our history and from each other. This week is another.

Memphis meets Memphis in Binghampton.

My wife grew up on the south edge of Binghampton, just off Poplar. Our first house after we married was on that edge, too. So was my father’s engineering business for years, next door to Pappy & Jimmy’s at Poplar and Hollywood. Nora’s father once owned a laundromat on Broad, down the street from Simpson’s grocery store, Pipe’s Shoe Repair, and the post office.

Growing up, we rode Schwinn’s bought on the north edge of Binghampton, ate ice cream from Angel Food on Summer, pizza from Pat’s, and biscuits from Ferguson’s, and we circled Monte’s and Shoney’s.

Grown up, Memphians bought iron from Pickle and hitches from Sweet’s on Summer, and they’ll soon affordably scoot to and from work as part of MyCityRides. Nora and I bought two refrigerators off the dock of Sears discount outlet­ on Broad – the first with a slight dent lower right, the second with a small hole top left – and I bought two Acushnet Bullseye putters from Bert Dargie down the street.

And we bought tomatoes at the Scott Street Market – the farmers market before the farmers markets.

Unique things – and memories – are found on Poplar and Summer between East Parkway and Holmes – and everywhere in between. Binghampton is at the very center of our city but far from the center of our attention.

We drive through it in mass every day on Walnut Grove and Sam Cooper, largely ignoring the decline to our left and right.

Those who went to East, past and present, went to school in Binghampton. Those at the main library and at La Baguette are turning pages and breaking bread in Binghampton. Those at First Baptist Church are praying in Binghampton, and those in all those new apartments going up at the end of Sam Cooper will be living in Binghampton. Chickasaw Gardens, Chickasaw Country Club, and Overton Park border Binghampton. The Greenline dead ends in Binghampton.

What happens there matters.

Once thriving blue collar blocks are now full of neglected homes, now closed churches and lost dreams struggle to survive, but there are proud people there. There are new people coming. The corner of Tillman and Sam Cooper is dancing. Broad is a Phoenix, reborn and burning bright. And there is a plan.

Maybe the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) should read it before they tear down the Scott Street bridge.

It’s called The Binghampton Community Redevelopment Plan, years in the making and published in 2017, and it was followed by The Binghampton TIF Implementation Strategy in 2018. A TIF is an acronym for tax increment financing, a means to attract development and investment in targeted areas of the city. The strategy document is the roadmap developed in cooperation with The Community Redevelopment Agency on how to best use the precious and limited TIF expenditures to address and support the core principals of the plan: affordable housing, infrastructure improvements, equitable community economic development, and blight remediation and vacant lot improvements.

The strategy is actually multiple strategies, developed in great detail, with lots of Roman numeral headings (you remember your outlining instruction, don’t you?), and decimals, and bullet points, and so on – for instance – I might point out to TDOT the four community aspirations of Binghampton:

I.   Strong Community Spaces

II.  Clean and Activated

III. Affordable Opportunities

IV. Safe and Connected

That last one, Safe and Connected, makes the first three possible and viable. TDOT might also be interested in this piece of the strategy, and I quote from page 34:

“b. Replace Poplar-Scott St. Bridge, connect Walnut Grove & improve walkability. The City of Memphis long-term capital improvement plan includes the re-construction of the Poplar Avenue-Scott Street Bridge. This elevated intersection is critically important to connectivity and multi-model access for Binghampton. This bridge is heavily used by pedestrians, as well as bike and bus riders.

“The existing bus shelter at this intersection is a key access point for public transit. As additional scope to the City’s bridge improvement project, the TIF could be utilized for supplemental funding for enhanced bike and pedestrian facilities on the new bridge.”

In other words, when TDOT rebuilds the Poplar viaduct they shouldn’t tear down – as they intend to do – the Scott Street Bridge, something the planners and the city and the people and businesses of Binghampton consider to be vital to their future

TDOT shouldn’t just consider the declining traffic count on Scott when they tear down vital access to Poplar; they should consider the people count – the people who live down there, the businesses down there, the investors and support that will no longer go down there.

TDOT should consider how much a rebuilt, safer and more modern Scott Street Bridge will increase traffic count, livability and viability in a neighborhood long ignored, rather than dramatically cutting it off.

TDOT should try accessing that area in a big truck without the Scott Street Bridge, a hit-and-miss process of tortured turns, acquired local knowledge, and nerves of steel, all the while driving down streets not designed or intended for them or GPS.

TDOT should realize that everything down there counts, and that everything down there should be a part of what’s up here.

All of us should realize that.

I’m a Memphian, and our future depends on the best use of all of our parts, not cutting them off from the rest of us.

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