published Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Chattanooga cycles up plans to improve safety for bicycle transportation

A truck drives on West 22nd Street on Monday next to a bike lane. Bike lanes, as well as lower downtown speed limits, are part of Mayor Berke's safer streets plan.
A truck drives on West 22nd Street on Monday next to a bike lane. Bike lanes, as well as lower downtown speed limits, are part of Mayor Berke's safer streets plan.
Photo by Shawn Paik.
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Speed limits could be lowered, parking spaces added and more speed bumps installed in neighborhoods as part of Mayor Andy Berke's plan to improve transportation in Chattanooga.

But with the city's rising reputation in the world of bicycling, the newly formed Department of Transportation is already studying where to add bike lanes.

In May, the Scenic City hosted the national cycling championships, with return visits scheduled in 2014 and 2015. Add to that the area's reputation as a mountain biking hub and the citywide bike sharing program, and more accommodation for bicycles is needed, cyclists and others say.

There are too many places where cyclists who want to bike to work or tourists trying to get around downtown have to share the road with trucks and cars. To avoid the traffic, some even bike on sidewalks, running the risk of hitting pedestrians.

"[Cyclists] know this area," said Aaron Curtis, a local rider who works at Cycle Sport on Main Street. "Now it's up to the city to build the infrastructure."

To that end, a Netherlands-based cycling group has been invited to Chattanooga to host a two-day workshop called Think Bike.

The Dutch Cycling Embassy and the Royal Netherlands Embassy, which have studied how to improve cycling in Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; and Portland, Ore., will offer suggestions for the city's current projects that include a bike lane running the length of Cherokee Boulevard through Frazier Avenue and another in the St. Elmo neighborhood.

The workshop is scheduled for Sept. 23-24, and Transportation Director Blythe Bailey said plans call for starting the bike lanes project right away.

  • photo
    A car passes Zac Holford, who owns the Main Street Bike Cooperative, as he bikes along Main Street while running errands Monday in downtown Chattanooga. Mayor Andy Berke is considering lowering speed limits and adding new bike lanes as part of his safer streets plan.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

The biking project is one of several the Transportation Department is spearheading as part of Berke's initiative to improve neighborhoods. Others include conducting speed analysis across the city to see where speed limits could be lowered, adding on-street parking and bolstering a program that pays for traffic-calming measures in neighborhoods.

"We're planning to broaden the [neighborhood] program," Bailey said. "There are all kinds of things that can be done to increase safety or the feelings of safety."

Some local business owners say they support city ideas to slow traffic, and they welcome any additional parking.

Terry Turner, who owns Cigar Man on Main Street, said as the Southside continues to grow in popularity he sees more people biking to work and kids biking along the sidewalk. Yet cars speed down the street daily despite its 35-mph limit, he said.

The Transportation Department has conducted a speed analysis along Main Street and determined the safest solution is to lower the speed limit there, Berke spokeswoman Lacie Stone said. The request to reduce the speed limit to 30 mph will be brought before the City Council, she said.

Other business owners say parking is the biggest obstacle to downtown foot traffic.

At All Books Inc. on Broad Street, owner Polly Henry said she needs more options for potential customers, who share parking spaces with Lupi's Pizza Pie and Five Guys across the street.

"I chose downtown as opposed to the mall," she said. "We definitely have to have more parking."

NEIGHBORHOOD SAFETY

Since 1995, the city has funded a Neighborhood Traffic Management Program that examines how to slow down vehicles in residential areas and control cut-through traffic.

Since 2004, the city has funded about 12 neighborhood projects a year, including adding speed bumps to Alabama Avenue in St. Elmo and roundabouts in multiple neighborhoods. The program is so popular that neighborhoods have been on waiting lists for a year or more just hoping to be considered, officials said.

Berke's proposed budget includes $150,000 in projects, which is about $50,000 more than what has been funneled to the program in the past several years, Blythe said.

The Transportation Department, which absorbed the program, will look at other ways to encourage traffic to slow down such as narrowing roads and adding on-street parking and sidewalks, Bailey said. He said the department isn't looking at doing more projects in the neighborhoods but is examining how to have a greater impact on more streets.

St. Elmo Neighborhood Association President Paige Wichman said the community is excited Berke has prioritized finding ways to slow traffic and that residents hope to see more projects that improve their area in the coming months.

"We're encouraged by the fact that it's being recognized as a public safety issue and quality-of-life issue," she said.

As for biking, several locals say they welcome more bicycle lanes because that means fewer tourists and other cyclists will use the sidewalks. The lanes could attract bicyclists to more businesses where it's now hard to navigate on two wheels, they said.

Zach Smith, who owns the Top It Off frozen yogurt shop downtown, said more attention to cyclists would be beneficial.

"Anytime you cater to any type of speciality, it's a positive thing for downtown," Smith said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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