Chattanooga turns to 'plan B' for bike lane projects

Chattanooga turns to 'plan B' for bike lane projects

May 18th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Runners head south on Riverfront Parkway just beyond the south end of the Tennessee Riverwalk near Ross's Landing. Expansion plans include an extension from this area to St. Elmo.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Cleveland and Athens beat Chattanooga for a state grant city leaders wanted to use to build a protected bike lane on Broad Street and a cycle-friendly path in St. Elmo.

Both Southeast Tennessee towns will use their $500,000 grants to build sidewalks. Cleveland also will construct three protected bus shelters on two of the town's major routes.

In 2013, the Tennessee Department of Transportation received 37 applications from cities that proposed local projects to improve the way people travel on bicycles and on sidewalks or get around on public transportation. The total amount requested was $30 million. Thirteen cities were selected.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who won Andy Berke's seat in 2012 when Berke decided to run for mayor, said he lobbied the Department of Transportation for Cleveland's request because officials asked him. No one from Chattanooga asked, he said.

Berke's spokeswoman, Lacie Stone, said state officials didn't give a reason for the projects they chose, but the cities surrounding Chattanooga were smaller and were focused on fixing sidewalks.

Regardless, the city's transportation department has a back-up plan, she said.

Traffic officials had planned to narrow Broad Street from three to two lanes on both sides of the road from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Second Street. The new plan, for about $215,000, will include paving the road for cyclists and installing flexible barriers to separate the traffic. That project will be requested in the upcoming 2015 budget, Stone said.

A second project to turn an alley on Virginia Avenue that runs parallel with St. Elmo Avenue into easy access for cyclists and pedestrians and connect to the St. Elmo Village Center is still in the works. The scope of the work includes paving the alleyway, building a pedestrian bridge and slowing down traffic with medians. That request will be included in next year's budget for about $325,000.

St. Elmo Neighborhood Association President Paige Wichman said she is thrilled the city still plans to improve pedestrian and cyclist route and slow down traffic on Virginia Avenue. Residents already use that path as a safer option to the main routes.

"The sooner we get started the better," she said.

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