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Eastbound Fourth Street traffic moves past the McKenzie Arena at UTC on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. The road becomes Third Street as it curves around the Chattanooga Citizens Cemetery.
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After crossing Riverside Drive from Battery Heights, UTC student Daniel Shults (CQ) pushes the button for the walk signal to cross Third Street to walk to class along Houston Street on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.

Preliminary project area

For the Planning Phase of the project, the project limits are defined as follows:

* Lindsay Street and Houston Street, from Riverfront Parkway to McCallie Avenue for one-way to two-way conversion.

Riverfront Parkway, from Lookout Street to Central Avenue Extension. Including potential intersections of Siskin Drive and Hampton Street, and access to bicycle/pedestrian facilities.

› Third Street, from Lindsay Street to Hampton Street, including Hampton Street to Central Avenue improvements included in concept plans prepared by Erlanger hospital.

Fourth Street, from Lindsay Street to the intersection with Riverfront Parkway, from Lookout Street to 500 feet east of the Fourth Street on-ramp.

At the conclusion of the Planning Phase, the scope of the project to be evaluated as part of the NEPA process, and the preliminary design phase, will be established.

Source: www.3rd4thstreetimprovements.com

Chattanoogans invited to talk about a plan to rebuild the Third and Fourth Street area near UTC and Amnicola Highway didn't hold back Thursday during a public input session.

People stood around tables at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's University Center, poring over aerial photos of the city's core that looked in places like they'd been cluster-bombed with maraschino cherries — round stickers showing the trouble spots. Traffic congestion. No sidewalks. Noisy. Dilapidated, unfriendly, hard to navigate, abandoned.

Lime-green dots showed what folks like about the neighborhoods where they live, work and play: the Tennessee Riverwalk, the downtown full of attractions and restaurants, the historic campuses and buildings. Pale blue stickers showed where these folks wanted to see improvement, particularly areas around Engel Stadium and Warner Park.

The photos, maps and stickers were a way for Chattanooga planners to visually gather ideas for the proposed plan that aims to ease congestion, improve vehicle and transit connections and boost economic development in the area of Third and Fourth streets between Lindsay and Hampton streets, including their connection to Riverfront Parkway.

The idea has been around since 2000, but solid steps began this year with budgeted money for designers and consultants. Chattanooga is working with the River City Co. and both have hired teams of advisers.

Thursday's meeting was the first of two public meetings scheduled; another will be in November when concrete ideas will be unveiled. Construction on the estimated $15 million project won't start before mid-2017 at the earliest.

Blythe Bailey, administrator of the city's transportation department, told the 40 or so participants that improving traffic flow and making better connections between the city's street grid and Riverfront Parkway will have both practical and intangible benefits.

"We believe streets are fundamentally for neighborhoods and to be for neighborhoods, we have to find out what people who live and work in those neighborhoods like and need," Bailey said.

And if there's one thing people in the area — from Erlanger and Siskin hospitals, from UTC and the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, to business leaders, churches and local residents — agree on, it's this: The area of Riverfront Parkway, Third and Fourth streets is a tangle of inhospitable streets, confusing for vehicle drivers and threatening to walkers and bikers.

Figures from the Tennessee Department of Transportation show daily traffic counts of 14,625 on East Third Street and 18,035 on East Fourth in the study area.

Standing at a table and looking at a map, Battery Place resident John McDonald invited anyone to stand close to CSAS and look toward downtown at the flyovers, underpasses, 90-degree turns, one-way streets and tangle of traffic lights within just a couple of blocks.

"Who in their right mind would do this?" he asked.

John McDonald and his wife, Sue McDonald, have lived in Battery Place for more than 30 years. They love how close they are to downtown, how conveniently they can jump onto the Tennessee Riverwalk for walks or to reach museums and restaurants.

But their street curbs are "a sea of student cars" owned by UTC students looking for free parking, Sue McDonald said.

And the intersection where the riverwalk crosses Mabel Street with no warning signs or traffic controls is "an accident waiting to happen," John McDonald added.

There were commonalities and differences in the maps at the various tables.

The McDonalds weren't the only participants to say how badly access needs to be opened from Erlanger hospital to Riverfront Parkway via Central Avenue — even though several were sympathetic to Lincoln Park residents worried the proposed Central Avenue Extension would wreck their historic neighborhood.

"There's probably as many people who've died trying to get to Erlanger as live in Lincoln Park," John McDonald quipped.

But local resident Olin Ivey had a suggestion: Build a "very large" roundabout at Third Street and Central Avenue, then fill the central area with statuary memorializing Lincoln Park's history as a key neighborhood in the black community during segregation.

"I think that's a good compromise," Ivey said. No Lincoln Park residents were at the gathering to respond.

At one table, residents talked about adding more lighting and better pedestrian access between the UTC campus and the downtown/riverfront area

At another, a group focused on traffic tie-ups at the east end of Third Street from patients and workers headed for Memorial Hospital, and emphasized the need to refurbish the area that includes historic Engel Stadium.

Folks worried that the downtown housing boom is out of reach for middle-class buyers, and wished for a Trader Joe's somewhere around Warner Park or a way to route big trucks so they don't have to use downtown streets to access Interstate 24.

At the end of the two-hour exercise, Burt Kuyrkendall with the Chattanooga Department of Transportation said the planners had learned a great deal.

"It's been a great week of input and that has really been the point — input," he said.

"People have a hard time getting where they want to go. No matter what mode you are going in, there are problems in that zone, but also great opportunities."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timefreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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