To collect data to inform a long-term redesign of the roadway, Frazier Avenue on Chattanooga's North Shore will have a new temporary traffic pattern every weekend until the end of December, the city announced Monday.
The speed limit along Frazier, a four-lane road with two lanes in either direction, will also permanently be reduced to 25 mph. Speed radars will be added along Frazier, and Chattanooga police will increase enforcement of speeding violations.
The city's move to modify the street's traffic pattern comes after a crash during Thanksgiving weekend that killed two people — Ana Posso Rodriguez, 41, and her son, Jonathan Devia, 1, of Jacksonville, Florida.
Randy Vega, the 44-year-old driver from Tampa, Florida, who crashed his minivan into Rodriguez and Devia as they were walking on the sidewalk, was booked into jail last week and faces charges including two counts of vehicular homicide assault, driving under the influence and reckless endangerment.
The crash happened at the foot of the city's signature Walnut Street walking bridge, in a high-profile tourist area. The van also crashed into a gift shop storefront.
"Local government should be responsive to the concerns of its residents and effective in its response to the challenges in our community," Mayor Tim Kelly said in a news release announcing the changes. "This tactical intervention, accompanied by enforcement, will allow us to improve conditions on Frazier Avenue on the remaining holiday weekends when pedestrian and cyclist traffic is at its peak and to analyze the effectiveness of an alternate design without impacting workday traffic patterns."
The temporary weekend traffic pattern, which begins Saturday, will close the inner eastbound lane at the intersection of Frazier and Woodland Avenue to allow for a turning lane onto Woodland.
From the Woodland intersection to the Tampa Street intersection along Frazier, the two inner lanes will be closed, aside from an eastbound turning lane added to the following intersections: Forest Avenue, Delmont Street, Tremont Street and Tampa Street.
A westbound turning lane will also be added to the Tampa intersection.
"Residents have spoken loud and clear about their concerns. This immediate action will slow cars down and make Frazier safer," Chattanooga City Council Vice Chair Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, said in the news release. "Moving forward, we will focus on learning what solutions best meet all stakeholder needs so we can develop and implement a permanent solution."
Monday's announcement was made in conjunction with the Northshore Merchants Collective.
"We want to be a part of the process of making our neighborhood a safer place for everyone," said Catharine Daniels, the collective's president, in a news release. "This neighborhood is one that everyone loves. We love it as residents and merchants, and we want folks to continue to come here and enjoy it."
In 2016, the city considered a redesign of Frazier Avenue that would have reduced the number of lanes to three.
Despite receiving a federal grant to fund the redesign, former Mayor Andy Berke's administration decided not to proceed with the project due to pushback from business owners and residents.
Berke could not be reached for comment either by phone or text.
At last week's City Council meeting, Council Member Chip Henderson, of Lookout Valley, said a traffic-pattern test was conducted on Frazier in 2016, similar to what the city will do the next few weekends.
"That was a different time," Henderson said at the meeting. "Maybe we're willing to accept that now."
Bert Kuyrkendall, a transportation consultant who was working with the city in 2016, said in a phone interview the four-lane design of Frazier lends itself to competition and speeding since drivers have another lane to pass in each direction.
"They're trying to pass each other. They're trying to get ahead," said Kuyrkendall, who also sits on the board of Bike Walk Tennessee. "They're trying to beat the next light."
Such lane-changing friction precipitated the crash on Thanksgiving weekend, according to the police report.
Kuyrkendall said a three-lane redesign could accommodate pedestrians and cyclists more.
"Providing more space for pedestrians and people biking," Kuyrkendall said. "The Walnut Street Bridge — it's one of the most or the most active walking and biking corridors and hubs in the city."
Regarding vehicle traffic, Kuyrkendall said four lanes aren't necessary given the level of daily traffic on Frazier.
Three lanes, including a middle turning lane, can accommodate up to 21,000 vehicles a day, Kurykendall said. That's above what Frazier has seen each year since 2018, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Frazier Avenue's average daily vehicle traffic count
— 2018: 17,104.
— 2019: 16,991.
— 2020: 13,400.
— 2021: 15,172.
— 2022: 15,788.
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation
The fact that Frazier lacks a middle turning lane is also an issue, Kuyrkendall said.
"The problem with four lanes is when there's no left turn lane. You have cars stopping in the passing lane to turn left," Kuyrkendall said. "They have a lot of rear-end collisions."
Jon Jon Wesolowski, a pedestrian advocate with the Chattanooga Urbanist Society, said in a phone interview that given November's crash and this year's spike in pedestrian deaths citywide, it's time for action.
"Nothing really has been tried on a large scale, and we're past the point of surveys and opinions," Wesolowski said. "We're at a crucial point of action."