Park proposed for space beneath Olgiati Bridge in Chattanooga

Cars above, bikes below

Noel Durant, Chattanooga Program Director for the Trust for Public Land, talks Thursday, July 23, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., about a proposal to build a bicycle park on this two-and-a-half acre space underneath the Olgiati Bridge on the north side of the the Tennessee River. The Tennessee Riverwalk will pass through the site when it is extended from Renaissance Park to Moccasin Bend.

Thousands of cars and trucks drive daily over the Tennessee River on the Olgiati Bridge.

In a few years, mountain bikers may play underneath the U.S. Highway 27 bridge.

That's the hope of Noel Durant, Chattanooga program director for the Trust for Public Land, which has an office on Tremont Street in North Chattanooga.

The conservation group is leading the charge to get a bike park built on 2.5 acres owned by the Tennessee Department of Transportation underneath the Olgiati Bridge - now just a jungle of weeds and brush, graffiti-painted concrete columns and debris left by homeless people who camp there.

The group announced its plans for the bike park Thursday. It aims to raise about $30,000 in donations to hire experts to draw up a detailed bike park proposal.

photo Noel Durant, Chattanooga Program Director for the Trust for Public Land, talks Thursday, July 23, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., about a proposal to build a bicycle park on this two-and-a-half acre space underneath the Olgiati Bridge on the north side of the the Tennessee River. The Tennessee Riverwalk will pass through the site when it is extended from Renaissance Park to Moccasin Bend.
photo Noel Durant, Chattanooga Program Director for the Trust for Public Land, talks Thursday, July 23, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., about a proposal to build a bicycle park on this two-and-a-half acre space underneath the Olgiati Bridge on the north side of the the Tennessee River. The Tennessee Riverwalk will pass through the site when it is extended from Renaissance Park to Moccasin Bend.
photo Noel Durant, Chattanooga Program Director for the Trust for Public Land, talks Thursday, July 23, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., about a proposal to build a bicycle park on this two-and-a-half acre space underneath the Olgiati Bridge on the north side of the the Tennessee River. The Tennessee Riverwalk will pass through the site when it is extended from Renaissance Park to Moccasin Bend.

"Right now, nothing's there," Durant said. "It's just a neglected space in our city."

It would be the ideal spot, he said, for a park like Seattle's I-5 Colonnade, a mountain bike skills park built underneath Interstate 5. Cyclists there ride on such features as paths, rocks, bridges, stumps and logs. The proposed park would be for all ages and skill levels, Durant said.

"What we envision is something that would be a park for [anything from] a 2-year-old on a strider bike that doesn't have pedals to a pro-level mountain biker," Durant said.

Eventually, the Tennessee Riverwalk, which now stops at Renaissance Park, will extend to Moccasin Bend.

So the Riverwalk could be routed underneath the Olgiati Bridge through the proposed bike park, Durant said. The city of Chattanooga would operate the proposed bike park, Durant said, which wouldn't charge admission.

One advantage of bike park under the freeway, said Kevin Smith, vice president of Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) Chattanooga, is that it's covered and protected from the rain.

"I think having a covered park that would have year-round access would be very compelling," Smith said. "When it's raining, we have nowhere to go."

While the space under the Olgiati Bridge looks tight near Manufacturers Road, closer to the river "it's kind of a cavernous space, when you get in there," Durant said.

This isn't the first time the bike park idea has been proposed. SORBA Chattanooga members suggested it in 2009, said Trey Wheeler, an architect who belongs to the group and sketched a bike park plan.

"We didn't very far with TDOT at all," Wheeler said.

Durant said TDOT was opposed then, because of homeland security reasons, but is open to the idea this time around.

It would be years before the park could be built, since two lanes will be added to the Olgiati Bridge in the next phase of improvement along Highway 27 south to Interstate 24. The entire project won't be complete until 2019, though the bridge may be finished before then.

"Nothing is going to be developed or installed underneath the Olgiati Bridge until after the widening project is complete," TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said. "Once the project is completed, we can have the discussion about what might happen in that area."

The Olgiati Bridge is named after Peter Rudolph "Rudy" Olgiati, who was Chattanooga's mayor from 1951-1963. The bridge was built while Olgiati was in office.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu @timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.