A poll on Chattanoogan.com shows that over 85 percent of those who responded are against bicycle lanes on MLK Blvd. and Bailey Avenue. My email is much stronger; I’ve gotten an overwhelming majority of harsh and even hateful opinions about bicycles. But I worry there is a darker cloud looming and we need to set the matter straight. For instance, you may have seen an angry opinion that proposes we put a road tax on cyclists and, no, we must never do that. Those who ride and encourage bicycling are not the bad guys in this folly at all.
What is concerning is my notion that some good people with bikes are being used as pawns. Not one cyclist among the wonderful ones I know wants to cause trouble, hamper another human or eventually become pariahs. Yet increasingly, the majority of the public’s ire seems to be pointed at the cyclists instead of the city’s traffic department or, what is growing more obvious by the day, the feeling our leadership at City Hall is becoming more and more tarnished.
City Councilman Larry Grohn, now running for mayor, has said he believes the city’s entire Department of Transportation needs to be totally revamped. He listens to people and agrees with most motorists and cyclists alike that our traffic efforts are woeful, both in planning and in maintaining our neglected streets. By every account almost all of our city and county streets need some type of repairs or improvements. See for yourself.
All of us, pro or con, should focus on what we are recognizing as the real truth behind why the bike -lanes have been forced upon our community. Case in point: I am now told many of our best and most experienced cyclists are just as opposed to bike lanes as the motorists are? One of the top competitors in the Chattanooga area for a number of years shared it in an email this week. Here is part of what his message said:
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“Please, please, be aware that no (serious) bicyclist asked for or wanted East MLK Blvd to be changed for our pleasure. I am an avid cyclist, wearing the well-suited cycling attire (!), and me and my riding buddies never use East MLK Blvd. Why would we? If we must ride in that direction (or from) we would use Oak or Vine Streets or 10th Street as to strictly avoid the crowded and very dangerous East MLK Blvd.
“It is the higher-office-seeking politician and his City Hall hipsters who wanted the bicycle lanes including the Broad Street and North Market Street fiascos. This so they can put it on a resume and tout their work. ‘Look at what I did.’ It’s trendy and the federal government is doling out the cash to make it happen.
“It is my fear that the misinformed reader will think cyclists are taking over our lanes of travel. It’s just not so. If you happen to see a human on a bike on East MLK Blvd. it is more than likely a student or a (inexperienced) commuter. It is bicycle foolishness. And they too should be on the less traveled back streets.”
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In essence, it is generally believed that our beleaguered Mayor Andy Berke and his disillusioned “hipsters” are using the cyclists to advance their agenda when, in fact, they are casting many fine people who enjoy cycling as the villains in the public’s eye. With federal grants apparently readily available, any California-type politician can readily create a smokescreen to hide the fact our streets are in the worst shape in years.
Bicyclists have seen an alarming uptick of disdain and the very real fear is that soon somebody will be injured in what is hardly an accident. We’ve already had several serious bicycle mishaps this year and rarely does the cyclist win in a duel with a car. As another bicycle devotee wrote, “I would never dare ride down Broad Street. The (auto/truck) traffic is too dangerous already.”
While I am very much against bike lanes and anything else that impedes traffic flow – because it clearly isn’t working! -- I am very much an advocate of walking, running and cycling. Our city is the perfect place for any type of outdoor recreation. I admit I worry that not enough drivers use extra caution around cyclists.
The law requires a vehicle to yield three feet behind, beside, or in front of a bicycle. That aside, I believe you owe a common courtesy to your fellow man, woman or child who is walking, running or cycling. It is simple decency, even if it requires the driver to wait for the chance to give the bike a wide berth due to oncoming traffic.
Cyclists have as much right to the road as I do but the one on the bicycle bears the added responsibility of not putting one’s self in a threatening situation. A bicycle on the now-crowded McCallie Avenue, especially with its on-the-street parking adjacent to UTC’s campus, is clearly asking for trouble.
Some traffic expert decided on-street parking on McCallie Avenue would – what? – make the UTC experience cozier? When the wizards funneled one of three main thoroughfares between Brainerd and downtown it was as senseless as a single lane of traffic in each direction. And now they want to do it to Bailey/MLK? Why not share the wide yet rarely used sidewalks?
When UTC built the new dorms south of McCallie Avenue, students began to dart across the street anywhere they want. Yes, I did it as a kid and often still jay-walk as a senior citizen; my point is this -- between trucks that are now too wide for the lanes, students wearing ear buds, and cars vying for the on-street spaces, not nearly enough of us drivers are avoiding the UTC congestion.
With the new dorms now south of MLK, it is past time for overhead walking bridges like they have found so wonderful at UT-Knoxville. What is equally obvious is that by already avoiding McCallie Avenue, it cuts down a driver’s options, forcing the traffic – in this case – to Third Street, MLK/Bailey, or over-crowded I-24.
I ain’t as excited about “our vision for the future” as I am about “the precious present.” Oh, I have “planted a tree to shade those in the next century” but I’m told we are on the very brink of 2,599 more apartments, 268 condos, 748 hotel rooms and a half-million square feet of office space in our central city. I mean, this is happening right now.
So let’s be real candid: Do you think the people who will fill these apartments and condos will drive cars or ride bicycles? I can almost guarantee the 748 hotel rooms will each require a car. And, what’s more, that every soul who responded to the Chattanoogan.com poll has a car.
Thank goodness I’m not a traffic planner. If I was, about 15 percent of those answering the MLK/Bailey poll would have to encrypt their emails.