Finally a Win/Win plan for the Memphis Zoo and the Greensward!

Dennis Lynch and Fergus Nolan


JUNE, 2017



Thanks to the City Council’s amendment to change the parking space size to 9’X19’, it is now possible to design over 2300 parking spaces into the Zoo’s current footprint, without taking one square inch of the Greensward.

The Zoo wanted 415 extra spaces. This plan provided 1,022 additional spots, almost three times what the City Council resolution requires.

Highlights of the plan include a revised traffic flow pattern, bringing Zoo visitors in from the North Parkway entrance and whisking them to the main parking area, without cross traffic, in less than 90 seconds, for a much improved Zoo guest experience. Traffic will no longer enter from Overton Park or back up on the narrow North McLean.

There are more and closer handicapped parking spaces for special needs zoo guests. The existing Zoo main lot has handicapped parking only for the marked spots in the Zoo lots, and there are no ADA compliant spots for the additional Greensward parking. This plan brings the Zoo back into full ADA compliance.

No longer will guests miss that special feeding or baby hippo viewing because they’re stuck in traffic or lined up waiting to pay the parking fee. This plan allows for the Zoo’s parking needs, to support a capacity crowd of 10,000 guests, makes best use of neighboring roadway capacity, avoids Zoo traffic in the Park and does not require one inch of the Greensward. It is a handsome win for all involved in the Greensward controversy.


The Zoo currently has 214 spaces in Prentiss lot and 632 in the Main lot for a total of 846 spaces. The Parking Plan calls for an additional 415 spots to provide a total of 1261 spots. Although the City Council resolution does not require amelioration of additional issues with Zoo access, we feel that the opportunity provided by this parking redesign is too good an opportunity to miss. In fact, due diligence to our supporters, subscribers, taxpayers, and the City Council requires all concerned to exercise to obtain the best possible value from the development. The major issue we question is the non-optimal traffic pattern around the Zoo. On busy days, traffic starts building up more than thirty minutes before the 09:00 Zoo opening time. It backs up on Morrie Moss Lane and the south leg of Prentiss, all the way out on Poplar where the westbound inside lane sometimes backs up for hundreds of yards. It also backs up on North McLean and on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of N Parkway.

The major influx can last for several hours beyond 08:30, and there is often a smaller traffic backup between 12:00 and 2:00. There is also a Tuesday afternoon backup on popular free attendance days. Although inbound Zoo traffic comes with two peaks, Zoo visitors start leaving by noon and leave throughout the day, with a minor peak at closing time. Outbound traffic rarely backs up outside the Zoo.

Causes of Zoo Traffic Issues

Two major causes were observed. Firstly, the single-threaded parking shack for the main lot and the additional temporary payment point at Prentiss create bottlenecks. Secondly, North McLean is a narrow, two-lane street, and there is no left turn lane at Prentiss for southbound traffic.

Proposed Traffic Solutions

We suggest two traffic improvements.

1. Parking payment is collected after the vehicle is parked. Various schemes for this are readily available. One possibility is to provide payment machines throughout the parking lot, with the customer to display the receipt on the windshield, which is common practice in many lots in town. Another is to charge for parking with admission payment, with a token being provided to activate an automated turnpike on exit. Alternatively, a single automated payment machine can be available to provide an exit token when exiting the Zoo. Any of these options would eliminate the parking shack bottleneck. The Zoo should sell parking tokens without a Zoo admission so that other Park attractions can use the Zoo parking.

2. North McLean and Prentiss are not the highest capacity roadway contiguous to the Zoo. This is North Parkway, where the existing service entrance to the Park and Zoo already has a left turn lane. Traffic should enter via the existing N. Parkway entrance and be conducted to the eastern end of the parking lot by internal Zoo roadbeds which already exist to a large extent. All traffic moves in an east to west direction, along which the access driveways are aligned. Exit turnpikes are located at the west end of the current Prentiss lot, with a right-turn-only exit northwards on N McLean.

In addition, all vehicular access from the south is prevented by a permanent fence, possibly with a keyed access for emergency vehicles, across the Prentiss roadbed, with access for pedestrians and cyclists only. Closing the Morrie Moss entrance will eliminate the emissions and traffic hazards to other Park users, and improve the Park experience for many users.


Proposed Parking Plan

The attached Figure 1 shows our proposed parking plan, which yields an estimated 2304 parking places.
This is 1243 more spots than the Zoo needs.

How we created Figure 1.

  1. We printed the map from Google Earth
  2. The scale was measured, 50 feet being 0.622 inches as measured by calipers.
  3. Access driveways, marked in black, run east to west and around the perimeter. They are 22 feet wide, enough for two lanes, although the majority of traffic will flow westwards unless someone doubles back. The scaled size was 0.274” rounded to 0.27”.
  4. The width of each spot is 9’, scaled as 0.112” rounded to 0.11”
  5. The depth of each spot is 19’, scaled to 0.236”, rounded up to 0.24”
  6. 32 ADA compliant disabled spots had 5’ or 8’ unloading spaces added and there are four van
    accessible spaces. These are arrayed around Zoo Plaza as the nearest possible spaces to the Zoo
  7. We added 9’wide protected pedestrian/cycle access paths at 250’ intervals.
  8. We counted 60 mature trees in the lot and reserved 90 spaces so that mature trees can be retained, based on an algorithm that assumes trees are distributed randomly. We were unable to plot the individual tree positions. There are lots of small trees under 6” in diameter which can be either moved or replaced with similar sized trees.
  9. As our roundings were both up and down, we feel, based on our QA, that the parking map is
    accurate to within plus or minus 5%.

The 1243 spaces which the plan produces which are surplus to requirements provides a lot of options for meeting the Zoo’s parking needs while actually giving back a part of the southern portion to the park.

The plan closes Prentiss as a public street, and also used the new parking area which the Zoo has been using, and running shuttles to, this year. In 2016 this area was used for construction traffic and parking.Access to the Parking.

Access to the Parking

Figure 2 is a sketch of the access available to the parking lot from the North Parkway entrance, which is currently a works entrance to the Zoo and a barricaded entrance to the Old Forest roadbeds.

The N Parkway access point has left and right turn lanes into the entrance. The eastbound left turn lane could be extended eastwards and provided with an on-demand left turn filter light.

The Park access extends a few hundred feet to the Zoo entrance. Inside the Zoo service entrance, there is a one-lane concrete roadbed which follows the perimeter fence to the rearmost Zoo gate. At this point, it turns 90 degrees westward and continues behind a Zoo exhibit which features a pedestrian bridge structure. This roadbed passes north of the 17 acres.

The perimeter roadway terminates in the southerly direction, to be replaced with a jeep trail which follows the southern 17 acres fence.

From the eastern point of the Main Lot, which has a chain-link gate into this area, we can see two roadbeds extending eastwards, towards the roadbed we saw on the other side.

An entry route needs to be established which follows the perimeter roadbed we saw, passes wouth of the Hippo Camp exhibit and connects to the nre parking area north east of Patriot Lake. Traffic would flow to the parking east of that point and also westwards towards Zoo Plaza and the main body of the parking.

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