Phase 3 reopening to see partial restart of Riverside Drive traffic

By Updated: June 11, 2020 7:11 PM CT | Published: June 11, 2020 2:45 PM CT
<strong>Riverside Drive will reopen to weekday traffic Monday, June 15, if local officials give the greenlight to start the third phase of the city&rsquo;s business reopening plan.</strong> (Daily Memphian file)

Riverside Drive will reopen to weekday traffic Monday, June 15, if local officials give the greenlight to start the third phase of the city’s business reopening plan. (Daily Memphian file)

Riverside Drive will reopen to weekday traffic Monday, June 15, if local officials give the green light to start the third phase of the city’s business reopening plan.

But the traffic artery by the Mississippi River between Union and Georgia avenues will remain closed to cars after the Friday afternoon rush hour and all day Saturday and Sunday, city chief operating officer Doug McGowen announced Thursday.

“We think that is the best mix of allowing people who have to get to work to let the traffic flow,” McGowen said. “But on the weekend, we will allow people to enjoy our regional riverfront in a way that allows them to socially distance and have a wonderful experience down on the river.”


Shelby County coronavirus cases continue to rise as testing levels off


<strong>Alisa Haushaulter</strong>

Alisa Haushaulter

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland ordered Riverside Drive and many other streets that provide access to city parks closed at the end of March after large crowds gathered specifically in Tom Lee Park and Overton Park on the first sunny days of spring.

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said Thursday she sees nothing in the most recent numbers of virus cases that would delay the start of the third phase of the countywide “Back to Business” plan.

The Phase 2 restrictions and business reopenings underway were extended an extra week to June 15 after an increase in confirmed cases that Haushalter and others have said represents a “new normal” in the path of the virus.

Haushalter said there have been only six days in the entire pandemic locally that began in mid-March when the county has had more than 100 confirmed virus cases.

“There’s not anything that alarms me, that says we couldn’t move into Phase 3,” she said during the Thursday press conference by the local COVID-19 task force. “When I look at the data, I would say we’ve moved to a new normal and have somewhat stayed steady there with a few spikes.”

But those spikes have prompted some City Council members to consider giving final approval to a requirement that masks or face coverings be worn in all public places within the city.


City Council concerned about rise in COVID cases, could call early vote on mask requirement


Council member Jeff Warren, the sponsor of the ordinance, left open the possibility of calling a special council meeting Friday to vote on third and final reading of the measure. Such a meeting would require a 24-hour notice. As of Thursday afternoon, there had been no public notice of a Friday session.

If there is no special council session, the council would take the final vote at its regular June 16 meeting.

The countywide health directive from the Shelby County Health Department only recommends that citizens wear masks. It does not require it.

“Really, from our end, it’s a legal discussion at the current time,” Haushalter said, adding her office has been consulting with its attorneys and the state because there is “some question about our ability to dictate or mandate.”

“It’s our expectation that people wear masks,” she said. “The nuance and language of the health directive really has to have input from the legal team as well as the governor’s office as to whether we may or may not be preempted.”


City limiting access to Riverside Drive, parks


Council attorney Allan Wade told the council Tuesday that under the city charter, it could enact its own requirement even if no other government entity does so.

McGowen said the council is considering “what they believe to be reflective of the community values that we have.”

“I hope that we never have to enforce it either as public health officials or public safety officials,” he said. “The only other option we have is to clamp down on activity. We are trading off restrictions to activities with your ability to wear a mask.”

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do. 

Topics

COVID face coverings Riverside Drive Doug McGowen Alisa Haushalter Memphis City Council
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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