published Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Chattanooga seeks bike lane grants

Artist conception of what the Broad Street protected bike lane will look like when it's complete. The city has proposed removing the third lane of traffic to add the bike lane.
Artist conception of what the Broad Street protected bike lane will look like when it's complete. The city has proposed removing the third lane of traffic to add the bike lane.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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    Chattanooga officials hope a new state grant will fund protected bike lanes on Broad Street downtown and on Virginia Avenue in St. Elmo. The city also plans on installing a new bike share rack at the foot of the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

If Chattanooga is awarded a new state grant next year, officials will narrow Broad Street to build the first protected bike lane in the city from M.L. King Boulevard to the road's end at the Tennessee Aquarium.

A second project would create a new walking and bike path to run parallel with St. Elmo Avenue, a stretch of road that mainly is used as parking for residents.

City Transportation Director Blythe Bailey said both ideas give alternative means of transportation for residents, and officials hope the Broad Street project will encourage bikers now afraid to share the road with cars to bike downtown.

"It encourages people to move around in different ways," he said.

The city now has shared bike lanes within the city limits, along popular roads such as Market and Main streets.

But national research shows many bicyclists are afraid to use those lanes because of safety concerns, Bailey said.

This proposal is to narrow Broad Street from three to two lanes on both sides of the road.

The road will shift, and the bicycle lane will be built where the on-street parking now is and run parallel with the sidewalk that also will be widened. The on-street parking will be built in the eliminated lane, Bailey said, and won't eliminate any parking spots.

One business owner said as long as the city doesn't take away the already limited parking on Broad Street, she is OK with the proposal.

"I think people like to ride bikes; it's a good thing," said Polly Henry, owner of All Books Inc. on the corner of Fourth Street. "But bike lanes won't help bring in customers; we just need more parking."

Bailey said the Transportation Department estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 cars drive on Broad Street each day, and the road could handle three times that amount. So he doesn't believe narrowing the road will increase traffic downtown.

Officials won't know until mid-February or March if they will receive the Tennessee Department of Transportation grant. If so, the city will match both grants. The City Council approved the payment, which hasn't yet been determined, in early December.

As for the St. Elmo greenway project planned for Virginia Avenue, the idea was mapped out during a citywide cycle workshop earlier this fall.

The plan would include repaving, installing new lighting along the road and adding traffic-calming techniques such as speed bumps at the crossing of St. Elmo Avenue at Ochs Highway. The plan also includes a bike and pedestrian path to the Incline Railway to connect eventually with the Riverwalk extension.

Multiple St. Elmo residents approved of the plan and sent letters of support last week to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. Residents said this project offers an alternative that doesn't now exist -- a safe, well-lit path for the community, which could eventually have an economic impact.

"This is a fantastic idea," said Jeffrey Cross, a St. Elmo resident who runs a neighborhoodwide email list.

"As close as we are to town, we have still always been somewhat "off the beaten path," Cross wrote in support of the project. "We have the potential to become an outdoor crossroads, business destination, and an example for others demonstrating how a neighborhood can function multimodally."

In another letter of support, a resident highlighted how the project could relieve residents of some of the challenges that exist on the busy throughway that runs to the Georgia state line.

"Given the dangerous and scary pedestrian experience on Tennessee and St. Elmo avenues, which the state and others refuse to address, having a pedestrian/bike priority greenway that sits in between them would give back some of what St. Elmo loses," wrote Noel Weichbrodt.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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