New greenway jewels

New greenway jewels

August 22nd, 2011 in Opinion Times

Aaron Sanchez, left, and Jacque Banther pedal their bicycles along the Tennessee Riverwalk on Monday afternoon.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

City and county planners and greenway advocates long have envisioned extending the Tennessee Riverwalk from its current terminus on the north end of the Walnut Street Bridge to Moccasin Bend, making it the green gateway to the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District that was approved by Congress in 2003.

The city also has planned for several years to extend the riverwalk from its terminus at Ross' Landing, rounding the south shore across from Moccasin Bend to the Alstom plant near Main Street, as agreed when Alstom decided to locate in Chattanooga. From there, it would continue to St. Elmo, terminating at the foot of Lookout Mountain. There, it would connect walkers directly to the rich grid of existing trails on the side of the mountain in the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, affording a wealth of hiking options and extraordinary views.

Both projects promise to significantly boost the city's downtown amenities and quality of life, making the city more appealing to outdoor-minded residents and tourists, walkers and bicyclists. And now both, after years of talking and dreaming, are at last getting traction.

Proposals for the south shore extension have been mapped, and a substantial portion of the funding has been committed or tentatively allocated, subject to matching grants. The latest grant of nearly $1 million, a portion of a larger federal bloc grant awarded by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, was announced Thursday. It brought the total of pledged funding for the project to $8.2 million. County officials hope to receive another $2.3 million from TDOT, as well as gifts from other donors, before finishing the detail design and requesting bids.

The funding in hand should prompt work on the entire 3-mile greenway to begin next spring if land easements for rights-of-way across several key parcels of land can be secured. It's hard to see other barriers. The funding already committed is more than enough to kick-start the work. By contrast, the high-end estimates of $10 million to $14 million for the 3-mile corridor seem high, even if plans call for widening the riverwalk from eight-feet to 12-feet to accommodate more bicyclists.

In any case, the new stretch of greenway promises a new and welcome view across the river of the long flank of Moccasin Bend that is now seen mainly from the windows of whizzing cars on I-24 or from the top of Lookout Mountain. It should nurture the revival of the Broad Street area, and at the same time relieve the congestion of heavy pedestrian and bicycle use on the existing riverwalk from downtown north to the Chickamauga Dam.

Though it will take years and significant funding to flesh out, the proposed Moccasin Bend gateway area should provide similar benefits once it is completed. The proposed pedestrian, bicycle and traffic lane designs presented Thursday at a public hearing suggest that well-designed linkage from the north shore along Manufacturers and Hamm roads can make pedestrian and automobile access to the proposed Moccasin Bend Park District's visitor's center both beautiful and functional.

The greening of the connector roads and pedestrian ways would be designed to protect natural resources in the connector area, to complement the ongoing commercial nature of the core connector routes, and to develop a parklike setting between Renaissance Park and the 755-acre National Park land on Moccasin Bend. Collateral planning also will provide a similarly well-designed pedestrian and bicycle connector route to the new 90-acre Stringer's Ridge park.

The planners' renderings of their vision for these new urban greenspaces elevate them from the dryness of abstract concepts to an almost tangible sense of their potential beauty, charm and recreational dividends. They are bound, one day, to provide aesthetic appeal and outdoor resources that will make downtown Chattanooga an increasingly unique mid-sized city, a place laced by a web of interconnected greenspaces amid a vibrant downtown and a nationally unique and historic National Park district just across the river. Construction of these crowning new features can't begin too soon.