Cycling advocates help Chattanooga 'dream big'

photo Tim Moreland looks over maps of possible improvements to the North Shore area during the Think Bike presentation.
photo Local cyclists take a riding tour through North Chattanooga to discuss bicycle transportation plans as part of the ThinkBike workshop.

Getting from "now" to "wow" on two wheels.

That was the challenge addressed over the past two days by a group of about 30 community leaders taking part in Chattanooga's Think Bike workshop.

The event was led by three traffic specialists from the Dutch Cycling Embassy and funded by the Benwood Foundation and the Friends of Outdoor Chattanooga.

The participants split into two teams and worked on how to make streets more bicycle friendly and encourage more residents to take up cycling in the Frazier Avenue-Cherokee Boulevard area of North Chattanooga and in St. Elmo.

"It was an incredible effort on the part of a really good group of people," said Blythe Bailey, administrator of the city's transportation department. "And we came up with a lot of good ideas. Some of them are far reaching and need to be studied, and some of them are things we can do fairly quickly."

The teams presented their ideas Tuesday evening at The Public Library downtown using the theme "Small steps lead transit from now to wow."

Recommendations ranged from relatively simple solutions such as improved painting and signs on existing bike lanes to ambitious ideas that would involve major redevelopment of streets and intersections.

"I think Chattanooga has already made huge steps toward becoming a more bicycle-friendly city," said Dutch Cycling Embassy representative Sjors van Duren. "You have the Riverwalk project, which is unique to a U.S. city to develop on such a large scale a freeway for cyclists, pedestrians and all the people who want to enjoy cycling.

"What we saw in the last two days is ways to accentuate the Riverwalk and connect to St. Elmo and the North Shore to make a network for people who want to cycle somewhere. ... And I think you'll be able to do that in Chattanooga," van Duren said. "You're way ahead of other U.S. cities."

Brandi Hill, an architect and member of the North Shore Design Review Committee, said it was important to make recommendations that may not seem feasible in the short term to get residents thinking about how to address the city's transportation needs.

"Beginning any major project here in Chattanooga starts with getting input and dreaming big," she said. "If you don't dream big, it isn't going to happen anyway, so you might as well set your sights really high. I think we've done a good job of getting the conversation started."

For team members looking at improving cycling in St. Elmo, the planned extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk into the community is seen as a key to the continued growth and improved cycling both in and to the area. Changes to the intersection of Broad Street and Tennessee Avenue were discussed as well as improvements to the village center and development of Virginia Avenue as a bicycle and pedestrian corridor to improve life for everyone in the community.

"What started as a conversation about biking and transportation has become a conversation about connectivity and community," said St. Elmo resident Joe Martin.

In the North Chattanooga study area, team members recommended starting with improving the marking of bike lanes and looking for ways to develop better traffic flow for cars, pedestrians and bicycles at some of the busy intersections along Frazier Avenue and Cherokee Boulevard. Longer-term concepts addressed adding greenspace and detached bike lanes to allow automobile and bicycle traffic to travel independently.

Bailey said projects such as Think Bike help identify work that the city may want to consider and aid city leaders in directing funds to projects with resident support.

"We're ultimately trying to build transportation projects for people in the community," he said. "So if people in the community are telling us the kinds of things they want to see happen, then that helps us prioritize how we spend our money."

"Everything can't be done all the time right now," Bailey said. "We need to back up and look at the big picture and for synergies. ... Some of the things are kind of easy, but some of the bigger projects will have to be more long term."

The Dutch Cycling Embassy team travels to Chicago today to conduct a Think Bike workshop there, but van Duren said that Chattanooga in many ways is better suited to make the changes needed to make cycling more a way of life.

"I work and live in the city of Nijmegen, and that's about the same size as Chattanooga," he said. "I think these medium-sized cities ... are really feasible for cycling because the distances are not that far for cycling and the traffic isn't that bad. But still there are people enough to provide the infrastructure for getting them on the bike."

Contact staff writer Jim Tanner at 423-757-6478 or