It should be easier, one day, to walk between the town centers of Lookout Mountain, Ga., and Lookout Mountain, Tenn.
The sister cities are building pedestrian pathways on Lula Lake Road heading toward the state line where they’ll connect — like the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah, to create the transcontinental railroad.
“We have every intention of continuing to build until we get to the state line,” said Bill Glascock, who was elected mayor on the Georgia side in 2009 after promising to make sidewalks his top priority.
“When I ran for office, my whole program was pathways first,” he said. “People love it. They are really excited about it. Everywhere I go, people comment about them.”
Lookout Mountain isn’t alone in its sidewalk revival. Other communities in the Chattanooga region that lack pedestrian paths are tapping a variety of funding sources and using in-house labor to build everything from sidewalks to a “pedestrian lane” separated from traffic by striping.
Residents have responded enthusiastically.
“Oh God, they love ’em,” said Ron Goulart, city manager of Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., which has an expanding network of pathways that link neighborhoods to such civic amenities as City Hall and a city-owned pool and tennis courts.
“I have not had any complaints about them at all,” Goulart said.
Signal Mountain, Tenn., just finished building a paved path along James Boulevard that links existing sidewalks.
“I’ve received more comments about how great that sidewalk is in the last month than on any other issue,” City Manager Honna Rogers said.
Next, Signal Mountain hopes to refurbish aging sidewalks in its “old town” area, she said.
Chickamauga, Ga., finished 2.9 miles of new sidewalk last spring. Users include kids walking to school because the school district doesn’t provide busing.
“Everybody loves ’em,” City Manager John Culpepper said. “We’re becoming a walk-friendly community.”
Why did sidewalks disappear?
If sidewalks are such a hit, why were so many neighborhoods built without them?
“That had a lot to do with sprawl,” said Sally Flocks, president and CEO of PEDS, an Atlanta-based pedestrian advocacy nonprofit organization. “When you live in the suburbs, you pretty much had to get around by car. Post World War II, people thought sidewalks weren’t important.”
Flocks founded PEDS in 1996 — basically in self-defense. Because she has a seizure disorder and isn’t able to drive, she has walked and used public transit for most of her adult life.
“Nobody was really representing people who walk, and that’s why I started the organization,” she said.
Some aspects of suburban development are inherently pedestrian-unfriendly, she said. For example, long, uninterrupted suburban streets with cul de sacs are harder to navigate on foot than a traditional city grid of parallel streets and short blocks.
Suburban single-use zoning adds to a walker’s woes by isolating housing far from shopping, dining and other destinations, she said.
Fort Oglethorpe, which incorporated in 1949 on surplus U.S. Army property, fits the category of post-war suburban development. Strip malls and chain restaurants line its major routes, and most subdivisions were built without sidewalks.
“I guess the cost was a factor because it is pretty expensive,” Goulart said.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Glascock donned a baseball hat and took a stroll on the Lula Lake Road sidewalk to show how its construction evolved to save money. He stopped at a spot where the sidewalk veers away from the edge of the road.
Moving the sidewalk closer to houses eliminated the need for curbs and gutters and cut the sidewalk’s cost in half, he said. Most of the money spent on sidewalks goes toward hiring outside contractors to install curb and gutter, catch basins and culverts, Glascock said. The city used in-house employees to install catch basins and culverts to save money.
“When we got to here, we were absolutely through with curb and gutter,” he said.
A side benefit: Pedestrians enjoy the extra separation from the road provided by the strip of grass and a smattering of trees and bushes.
Glascock said the city has spent about $150,000 in special purpose local option sales tax money to build the sidewalk, compared to the $375,000 estimated cost to hire outside contractors to build it to the stateline. He won’t know how much the city saves until the entire sidewalk is done.
“I’ve still got 780 feet to go,” Glascock said.
Lookout Mountain, Tenn., is saving money by building a pedestrian lane on Lula Lake Road separated from traffic by striping and a “rumble strip.” The path leads south from Bobby’s Bridge; north of the bridge, there’s already a concrete sidewalk to the town center.
“It’s going to be a lot safer for people out walking,” town consultant Dwight Montague said.
A sidewalk is out south of the bridge because “there are a lot of requirements that would cost millions of dollars to meet.”
“We don’t have the millions of dollars,” he said. “Sidewalks are great to have, but they’re expensive.”
The pedestrian lane is being funded with private contributions from Lookout Mountain residents and by Tennessee’s State Street Aid program, which comes from gasoline taxes, Montague said. The city also is accepting private contributions since funding is still needed, he said.
Signal Mountain has spent $480,000 to build 9,415 linear feet of sidewalk — close to two miles — since 2005, Public Works Director Loretta Hopper said.
“We funded most of it through grants,” she said.
Grants also have paid for most of Fort Oglethorpe’s new walking trails.
“We’ve gotten pretty much every grant we applied for, except one,” Goulart said.
Chickamauga scored federal stimulus money about a year ago after its city manager heard about the funding’s availability at a regional transportation meeting.
“I walked out of there with $1.1 million,” Culpepper said.
Incorporated in 1891, Chickamauga originally was built with sidewalks linking its two mill villages and schools, Culpepper said. Sidewalk construction then lapsed for a time, but now is required when subdivisions are developed.
Culpepper think sidewalks add to the city’s appeal.
“The appeal of Chickamauga is nostalgia. You go back to a small Southern town like it was 50 years ago,” he said.
Charm is definitely an element of the new sidewalks in Lookout Mountain, Ga.
While the city used in-house labor and figured out how to shave costs, the sidewalk has artistic touches: flagstone strips interspersed with concrete, rock from a Dayton, Tenn., quarry used as benches and masonry work done by city employees.
As a trade-off for having trees cut down to make room for the sidewalk, one couple got a boulder that doubles as water fountain in front of their house. The city’s in-house stone mason will soon add a doggy drinking bowl, officials said.
Glascock bubbles with excitement about the project.
“This is just pure fun,” he said. “It is the most exciting project that I have taken on in a long time.”
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.