Back on the Bike

Back for more urban design this week...

The urban design story of the year is probably Broad Street. In 2013, I was lead consultant for the Center City Plan (client: River City Company). The plan’s primary recommendation for transportation was to reconfigure Broad Street- moving from three car lanes in each direction to two car lanes with a dedicated bike lane. This was a slam dunk recommendation for many reasons- excess capacity, origins and destinations, adjacent residential developments, (the list goes on). I admit, however, that I wasn’t overly optimistic about implementation in the short term, primarily due to costs and secondarily due to the fact that consultants are always making bike-related recommendations that never make it (I’m man enough to admit that I’m jaded on multi-modal proposals). Additionally, River City Company, not the City of Chattanooga, commissioned the plan and they have no control over implementation.

Lo and behold, this fall the City of Chattanooga unveiled a design and built the bike lanes from M.L. King to the Aquarium (7 blocks). Our boy B. Bailey (CDOT Director, C.Rushing crony, honorable Phi, and all-around stand up guy) and his excellent team did a great job of design and implementation, and the work was completed this fall. Of course, the reward for a job well done is criticism. The main point of contention is that we lost a small number of on street parking spaces. This criticism reminds me of those who fought against the Aquarium (who will come to Chattanooga to see catfish in a tank?), and the conversion of M.L. King and McCallie to two-way (there will be wrecks and carnage all of the place), and perhaps more appropriately, the fiber optic network. All of those projects ended up being successful.

Over time the criticism will die down as people adjust. The design is well suited to traffic volumes, so this should cause no real issue in the operation of the street. The big question, however, is not if the design will simply do no harm, but will the design function as intended and improve the corridor (and indeed downtown and the broader city). The answer to that ultimately lies in what CDOT decides to do next. The Broad Street bike lanes in isolation will not do much. Those lanes as part of a larger network, however, will have the potential to make a tremendous positive impact on the city. While it’s fine for the City to take stock of what has transpired to this point, they need to take care to not lose momentum. Broad Street seems the most difficult portion of the downtown core network, now that it is finished they need to move on to the next success. If they stop now, they will have gone through the tough portion without realizing the full benefits that they have worked so hard to generate.

I urge the City to strengthen their resolve and continue the work they’ve started. Any time you take on a project there will be critics. If you're convinced that your work is righteous, then you need to enthusiastically pursue it. There's no reason not to continue building the downtown network (posthaste). Indeed, continuing that work is the only thing that will unlock the promise of what they've already worked hard to achieve.

On the road this week, we'll see what kind of impact that on next week's post.

This week’s listen: Obviously.

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