The city of Chattanooga is reconfiguring Central Avenue, one of several streets the city plans to "right size" by reducing traffic lanes in an effort to improve safety for all road users. In most cases, the road redesigns include the addition of bike lanes.
Central Avenue was identified as a future "shared road facility" in the city's first bicycle facilities plan, developed in 2002.
At the time, community meetings were held to determine where bicycle facilities were needed based on the origins and destinations of most people who would use those facilities, Ben Taylor, the city's deputy administrator for transportation, said by phone.
The 2002 bike plan was focused on the downtown area, but it has since undergone many revisions, he said.
"Since those years, we've evolved into understanding that folks need connectivity options throughout the entire city," Taylor said. "So every street we work on, we try to look at how we can best serve all users."
The 1.12-mile stretch of Central Avenue between East Third and East Main streets is being converted from four lanes to three lanes, including the creation of a two-way left-turn lane that avoids requiring turning traffic to stop in through lanes. Dedicated turn lanes will also be added at all signalized intersections, according to a news release.
The Central Avenue project also includes the addition of on-street bicycle lanes where pavement width allows, safer pedestrian crossings and on-street parking near Main Street to accommodate continuing growth on the Southside. A second phase of the project will continue the reconfiguration to Rossville Avenue, the release said.
Another reason for the road redesign is to address safety concerns with the substandard lane widths of some lanes within the four-lane Central Avenue configuration, Kevin Roig, senior adviser for public affairs for Mayor Tim Kelly's office, said by email.
In addition to Central Avenue, the city plans to reconfigure West 20th Street, Willow Street and Orchard Knob Avenue downtown, North Moore Road in Brainerd and a portion of Shallowford Road stretching from Jersey Pike to Airport Road.
"All road projects are reviewed to serve all road users, and the process leading to their completion is multifactorial, sometimes dynamic and informed by city planning, the Regional Planning Agency, transportation planning, strategic capital planning, sustainability, traffic studies, changes in patterns, recurring accidents or other safety concerns, resident input, and more," Roig said, as to why those particular roads were chosen for reconfiguration.
Some of those road reconfigurations are in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency's long-term transportation plan, some are in the Chattanooga Area Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan and others are the result of the city's transportation office determining a particular change could best serve the public, Roig said.
All of the planned reconfigurations aside from the Shallowford Road project will probably include bike lanes, although the design processes for the projects are still underway and could change, Taylor said.
During the past two decades, some of the city's plans to decrease traffic lanes and add bike lanes to city streets were met with resistance, with complaints coming from drivers concerned about increased commute times, businesses worried about reduced parking and visibility, and citizens opposed to funding bike lanes they feel are unused.
"There are very surprising numbers of folks that often drive around and will say that they don't see many cyclists," Taylor said. "Cyclists are a lot slower, and I can say that when we're out parking and designing plans, I don't think I've been on a route where we've been designing a facility that a cyclist hasn't gone by us.
"So we do see these folks that have a need for it, and, of course, the more safe and comfortable we make these options available, the more folks are going to take advantage of them."
Designs for the planned reconfigurations are in various stages, and the funding sources for different projects affect the process of finalizing those plans and the timing of those projects, Roig said.
Since the Shallowford Road project is federally funded, its design must be approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration before it is finalized, Roig said.
While Willow Street and Orchard Knob are also receiving federal funds, they are further along in the process and will likely happen sooner.
The North Moore Road reconfiguration is a city project intended to address resident concerns about speeding and to provide a left-turn lane, and its final design is being developed through in-house review by city transportation engineers, Roig said.
The West 20th Street project is not yet funded, so the final design process has not been determined, he said.
Roig said the city leans on its experts, plans and established design processes.
"Ultimately, the mayor has the option to make a go/no-go call on a project should a big change or unforeseen situation be brought to his attention," Roig said.