“I own two bikes and enjoy bicycling, but I'm furious about this because it's going to hurt my business and that of a lot of other small businesses downtown.”
Robert Raimundez bikes four miles every day to his job on Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga.
He's just the kind of person Chattanooga officials had in my mind when they decided to reassign two of Broad Street's six lanes to bicycles.
"They're designing it for me, and I'm not going to use it," said Raimundez, who doesn't like the bike lanes' design. "I'm a cyclist, and I don't think a cyclist designed it."
He's not the only person who works on Broad Street who's got an opinion about the new bike lanes, which the city is building to help encourage more Chattanoogans to bike in the city.
Some business owners say customers have steered clear during construction and wonder if the bike lanes will be worth it.
"I own two bikes and enjoy bicycling, but I'm furious about this because it's going to hurt my business and that of a lot of other small businesses downtown," said Kelly Brock, co-owner of Natural Body Spa and Shop. "We've been here (at Third and Broad streets) for 18 years and parking is already a real challenge downtown and we don't need to be taking away parking just to add more bike lanes."
In the 300 block of Broad, the new bike lanes will replace 35 angle parking spaces with 15 fewer spaces, Brock said she was told by city leaders.
"We're already seeing the impact last week even though they not even starting construction on our block until this week," Brock said.
Construction of the new bike lanes also has slowed business at Yacoubian's Tailors, said members of the family-owned business, who hope customers will return once the work's done.
"When it's completed, maybe we change our mind. Right now, it's not good," the store's founder John Yacoubian said.
The Yacoubians had a customer trip over the new curb outside their store. Ani Yacoubian, John's daughter who works as a buyer in the store, worries that it will be hard for older customers to cross the bike lane to get to the parking meters and the sidewalk.
"I'm worried about elderly people, especially," she said.
But other downtown merchants and city planners say they are optimistic that the $250,000 project will be a boon, over time, to downtown.
The city is installing new curbs, or ankle-high concrete barriers, in what were the outside lanes of Broad Street. The barriers will keep cars and trucks from driving there and create a space for cyclists. People will park next to the new barriers, and parking meters will remain on the sidewalk.
The bike lanes will extend six-tenths of a mile from Aquarium Way to M.L. King Boulevard both ways. Once completed the six-lane boulevard will be cut to only four lanes of vehicular traffic — two in each direction.
The bike lanes are part of a city initiative to boost bicycle ridership in Chattanooga from about 1 percent today up to 5 or 6 percent levels in cites like Portland, Ore.
Bert Kuyrkendall, city transportation engineer, said cutting the number of lanes shouldn't be a problem since Broad Street currently handles only about 10,000 cars on a typical day.
The Broad Street project is the first of several separated bike lanes that will be built in Chattanooga. Kuyrkendall said Eighth Street, M.L. King Boulevard, Bailey Avenue, Willow Street and Orchard Knob will soon have bike lanes, too.
On Broad Street, the curb has breaks so bicyclists can get in and out. But Raimundez says cars and trucks will block the entrances, and the line of parked cars will make bicyclists hard to see and put them at risk from cars making right turns.
"What's the point of the bike lane, if there's cars blocking it?" he asked. "That row of parked cars, that's an obstruction of view."
But the new bike lanes were welcomed Evelyn Wheeler and Eileen Mason, the co-owners of Chattz at the Block, a coffee and tea shop with wine tasting about a block from the Tennessee Aquarium.
"It's going to make the city better," Wheeler said. "It's progress."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.