POLL: Should the city add bike lanes to Frazier Avenue?
The potential implementation of bike lanes in the city's core is proving controversial again.
City officials are just hearing more of the concerns on the front end this time.
Tentative plans call for North Shore's Frazier Avenue to be reconfigured between the Market Street Bridge and Veterans Bridge next year, dropping it from four lanes to three, with the addition of protected bike lanes.
The proposal would reduce traffic from two lanes in each direction to a single lane in each direction, with the third lane functioning as a turn lane.
It's the latest in a series of lane-reduction maneuvers on iconic Chattanooga thoroughfares, following the reduction of a downtown portion of Broad Street from six lanes to four and the addition of bike lanes there last year.
The city also narrowed a section of North Market Street and added bike lanes last year, upsetting many with businesses in the area who said they received little or no communication about the project until it was underway.
City officials are taking a more deliberate approach before launching the Frazier Avenue project.
"We've met with a number of folks already and are not finished at all," city transportation director Blythe Bailey said. "We are not going to be doing anything to Frazier in calendar year 2016 and certainly would not be doing anything before we had the chance to get good input from everyone, in particular the merchants."
Area business owners and residents have used their input to voice plenty of concerns thus far.
City transportation officials met with North Shore merchants and Heritage Landing residents last week to discuss the plan inside the gated Heritage Landing neighborhood that sits just east of the Veterans Bridge.
Security guards at the neighborhood's entrance denied a Times Free Press reporter entry into the neighborhood, even though the meeting consisted of public officials discussing a matter of public policy. But business owners who attended the meeting said discussion was spirited as residents and business owners expressed their skepticism over the project.
Many of the area's business owners reiterated those thoughts Wednesday, voicing a range of opinions ranging from approval of the proposal to hesitance and fierce opposition toward it.
"The whole concept from the beginning doesn't make any sense," said Suzanne Bishop, owner of Frankie and Julian's, a women's clothing store. "You don't compare Chattanooga to a city like Amsterdam. Then a lot of people like to envision this like a Portland or a Seattle, but it's not like that at all in any way, shape or form.
"It's not going to happen. This is a city where everybody smokes and goes to the McDonald's drive-through."
Though not all spoke with Bishop's level of vehement opposition, the majority of merchants expressed skepticism or hesitation of some sort. Others, like Pura Vida Artisan Juices manager Clotilde Evrard, said it's a good idea.
"There should be more people biking," said Evrard, who rides a bike to work. "The people who live here really don't need to use their cars so much. Everyone can just walk or bike."
Bailey said the idea of the project is to create a safer street — crash rates on Frazier are about six times the state average — with more comfortable access for pedestrians and bicyclists. While it's too early to definitively gauge how similar projects on Broad Street and North Market Street have affected business, Bailey said research and similar projects in other cities back the idea that safer streets and better multimodal access increases business.
Bruce Weiss is not yet sold.
"There has to be a lot of consideration for the merchants in this neighborhood," said Weiss, the owner of River Street Deli, as the Wednesday morning lunch crowd began trickling into his restaurant. "There's more merchants on the North Shore than anywhere but the mall. That's what this area is about."
Weiss said he notices only a couple of bicyclists per week who come by his restaurant.
"People will pay here to go to a gym and walk on a treadmill," said Weiss, a New York City native. "But they will not park their car a block and a half away to walk and go shop. That's just the way it is here. I don't know how many people are going to go shopping on a bicycle."
Tina Harrison, owner of Blue Skies gift shop, said she is not opposed to having a bike-friendly city. She said she just wants to make sure the details, such as the logistics for delivery trucks, are planned for by the city before implementation would begin.
Bailey said he would like to talk through those concerns with business owners and added that the bike lanes would not include a raised curb like the curbs accompanying the Broad Street bike lanes. The city acquired funding for the project through a 2014 Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant from the federal government.
Others questioned if Frazier Avenue is a wise place to implement the bike infrastructure.
"I think it's a dumb idea," A Children's Boutique owner Jeanne Trewhitt said. "I just don't think we need it for this road. But the city is going to do what they're going to do, no matter what."
Bailey said he plans to continue explaining the idea to businesses and residents of the area and receiving their feedback — a representative from the city traffic office is scheduled to speak at the North Shore Merchants Collective meeting on May 10 — and if merchants are overwhelmingly afraid of the project, it won't move forward.
"If it doesn't benefit the commercial district, it won't go very far," he said. "It's primarily geared toward making the environment of Frazier Avenue a better place to be, which should improve safety, make it more comfortable and improve business.
"We feel like it certainly does. But the perception of the business owners is very important."
Bishop said she would relocate her business if the plan proceeds.
"People are getting killed every day, gang members getting shot right and left," she said. "Why don't you worry about that? Why don't you worry about the gangs and the crime? Worry about that. Don't worry about putting in bike lanes that 15 years from now somebody might get on."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.