Some want Chattanooga to go further to protect pedestrians after traffic pattern changes on Frazier Avenue

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Vehicles drive along Frazier Avenue on Tuesday.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Vehicles drive along Frazier Avenue on Tuesday.

After Chattanooga officials took steps to enhance pedestrian safety along Frazier Avenue, community members commended the city for quick action, but some voiced the desire for more protections for those outside vehicles.

Starting Saturday and continuing every weekend until the end of December, the city will close the inner two lanes of Frazier, a four-lane roadway — two in either direction — that runs through Chattanooga's North Shore.

Frazier's speed limit has permanently been reduced to 25 mph.

The city's decision, announced Monday, is in response to a crash Thanksgiving weekend that killed two pedestrians.

A driver facing multiple charges, including driving under the influence and reckless endangerment, crashed his minivan into the Walnut Bridge Gift Shop as the two victims were just outside on the sidewalk.

According to a police report, lane-changing friction on the multilane road precipitated the crash.

The city plans to permanently reconfigure Frazier and will collect traffic data over the next few weekends to inform a redesign, which will likely be a part of the street's resurfacing in the spring, a city spokesperson said in an email.

"Paving and restriping cannot take place in the winter months because it is too cold," city spokesperson Liam Collins said in an email. "Depending on the results of our data collection period, the city may implement intermediate adjustments to promote pedestrian safety."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga mayor, council members, residents respond to crash that killed two pedestrians on Frazier Avenue)

Weekend only

A weekend-only option was selected, in conjunction with the NorthShore Merchants Collective, to calm traffic on what the city said its data indicates are the busiest pedestrian days of the week on Frazier.

"The weekend is the busiest time along that stretch of road, especially for pedestrians in particular," Collins said. "This was the best and most effective option to implement immediate safety measures on Frazier Avenue without impeding traffic for commuters or interrupting business opportunities for businesses along Frazier Avenue."

Catharine Daniels, the collective's president and owner of Plum Nelly on Frazier, said in a phone interview the weekend-only decision was made to calm traffic on busy pedestrian days while still accommodating commercial activity during the week, such as commutes and deliveries from large trucks.

"You have traffic flow ... during the week that is work-related versus, obviously, on the weekends, it's more leisure versus work," Daniels said.

Jessica Dumitru, the owner of the building the driver struck Thanksgiving weekend, commended the city for acting quickly and said in a phone interview she would have liked to see the lanes closed every day.

"I'm curious as to why it's going to only be on the weekends versus also including the weekdays because that is also heavily trafficked during the day," Dumitru said.

Jon Jon Wesolowski, a pedestrian advocate with the Chattanooga Urbanist Society, said in a phone interview he's concerned weekend-only data will be incomplete.

"All sorts of false equivalences can come about from an incomplete study," Wesolowski said. "I think we need more than just weekend data."

Wesolowski said during Tuesday night's City Council meeting he appreciated the city taking swift action, but he was troubled by the temporary nature of the solutions and that they would only be in place for two days out of the week.

"With the safety measure put forward, we think it's a step in the right direction, but we think it's a step too short," he told the council. "We need to push for these to be permanent changes through the holiday weekend."

More than a dozen speakers shared similar concerns, stressing the need for more permanent solutions.

Chattanooga City Council Vice Chair Jenny Hill, whose district in North Chattanooga covers the site of the crash, said in a phone interview she's steadfast in pressing for meaningful change by gathering the perspective of all stakeholders.

"Not everyone agrees on how we should fix the traffic pattern or change the traffic pattern on Frazier Avenue, but I have seen a shared commitment to wanting to feel safe when you are a pedestrian and wanting to know that the rules that we have on our books are enforced," Hill said. "As a public servant, I'm always looking for what we have in common to begin our work there."

On-street parking

According to Collins, the two inner lanes were chosen for closure to allow for on-street parking, an accommodation wanted by the Northshore collective.

"We live in the South," Daniels said. "People in the South really like to park as close as they can to the entrance of the business."

She also said that on-street parking provides better access for people with disabilities.

Regardless of which lanes were closed, Daniels said the slowed traffic from more congestion will make it safer for pedestrians.

Dumitru said on-street parking on Frazier is dangerous and not a necessity for her business.

"There's not enough space on Frazier Avenue for on-street parking. I think it's a danger and a hazard. The cars are simply too close together with the oncoming traffic," Dumitru said. "On-street parking is not a necessity, and I think causes more of a liability in dangerous situations than it's helpful."

She said she's nervous about traffic remaining close to the sidewalk.

"You're making very angry drivers. You're putting them that much closer to the pedestrians," Dumitru said. "I'm deeply concerned about that."

A safer backyard

Sushma Shanta, a 45-year-old resident of North Shore who said she witnessed the Thanksgiving weekend crash, said in a phone interview she considers Frazier as her backyard.

She said she appreciates the quick action from the city but wants more permanent infrastructure changes to feel safer in her backyard.

"We need safer crossings if we want to build a neighborhood that's conducive to shopping, people walking around, eating and mingling all around and supporting our local businesses," Shanta said. "We need to make it safer for them."

(READ MORE: With streets built mostly for cars, some want Chattanooga to make way for pedestrians)

Staff writers Ellen Gerst and David Floyd contributed to this report.

Contact Ben Sessoms at or 423-757-6354.

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