The new bike lanes under construction on Broad Street -- and soon to be elsewhere -- appear to be an idea that was not fully formed before being implemented.
The city goal for the $250,000 initiative is to boost bicycle ridership in Chattanooga from 1 percent to the 5 or 6 percent levels in cities like Portland, Ore. But Chattanooga is not Portland, and Portland is not Chattanooga.
Bicycling has unquestioned health and environmental benefits and is growing in interest in the area. No problem there.
What the lanes are doing, though, are cutting down parking for cars at a time when downtown Chattanooga has become a place for people to be when they're not working. If people who take 30 to 45 minutes to drive in from the suburbs of Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy and Signal Mountain find it more — rather than less — difficult to park downtown, they will find fewer and fewer reasons to return.
And the parking that will result from the bike lanes will be even more perilous than parking is now. With Broad Street cut from three lanes to two, cars must park on the outside of the bike lanes. Since the street has fewer lanes, those lanes will be busier, so motorists who exit their car will run a greater risk of being hit.
Some of the parking lanes, if the lanes are not re-drawn, do not accommodate anything larger than an average car. Indeed, on Tuesday, several trucks snugged up against the bike curb on one side stuck out into the traffic lane on the other side.
And motorists who exit their car then have to avoid cyclists just to feed the meter on the other side of the higher-than-ankle-height bike lanes. If, as often happens in downtown Chattanooga, trucks are double-parked, pedestrians who have just exited their vehicles to step across the bike lines may not see cyclists coming around the double-parked trucks, and vice versa.
The situation is fraught with dangerous scenarios.
Those scenarios will worsen on always busy roads such as M.L. King Boulevard and Bailey Avenue (as well as Eighth Street, Willow Street and Orchard Knob Avenue), where bike lanes are planned. If those roads are cut down to one lane (and one bike lane) on either side, the potential for traffic nightmares is huge. Imagine, for instance, a day in January where snow begins falling, schools let out and employers release their workers to go home. It's a snowmageddon in the making.
Chattanoogans have — and should — embrace more cycling downtown, but the city should do so only if cycling can mesh seamlessly with the visitors the city wants to have downtown and their overall safety.