The Chattanooga City Council gave the Transportation Department a green light to begin drafting a complete streets policy to guide future transportation projects.
Transportation Administrator Blythe Bailey sought the changes that will make multimodal access a priority for city streets. The ordinance approved Tuesday defines complete streets as being designed, built and operated to enable safe access for all users.
“It’s a vote of support for providing infrastructure for all forms of transportation,” Bailey said. “In many respects, we won’t do much different than what we’ve always done-providing places for people to walk and good connections across the board.”
The proposal was initially slated for approval last week. But Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem urged that the vote be delayed. He wanted the Transportation Committee to look closer at the administration’s proposal. Earlier that day, he had sent a letter that said he wanted Bailey’s position defunded. His complaint was later dropped.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, he questioned Bailey on the desired outcome for the complete streets policy. His questions prompted a debate on whether city government focuses too much on downtown Chattanooga.
“We think we should have a vibrant downtown,” he said. But whenever new council members get elected, a lot of funding tends to go there instead of other neighborhoods and communities. “We just don’t get out there to fulfill the needs that we have.”
Councilman Ken Smith echoed that sentiment during the committee meeting.
“There’s definitely been a feeling brought up among many council members, and certainly the general public at times, that there’s a tremendous amount of attention paid to downtown when it comes to spending money,” he said.
Part of their concern stemmed from a state grant the Transportation Department applied for to renovate a downtown section of Broad Street to include bicycle lanes. Chattanooga was ultimately denied for the grants referenced throughout the discussion, Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for the mayor, confirmed Tuesday.
Councilman Chris Anderson, whose district includes downtown, told his colleagues that hospitality and tourism were two of the city’s biggest industries.
“A vibrant downtown is key and crucial to a successful city,” he said. “If we allow the downtown area to crumble, people will stop coming here. They will stop emptying their wallets here. And we will stop reaping the benefits of it.”
He said he worked with Bailey and department officials to apply for grants from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Those downtown projects “most closely met the criteria for the grants that were being offered at that time,” he said.
With the council’s approval, the Transportation Department will spend the next six months writing a formal complete streets policy. The ordinance references new national standards that the department will begin using, Bailey said.
Hakeem, Smith and Councilman Larry Grohn voted against the measure.
Teresa Groves, executive officer for the Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga, told council members that the association wants to play a more active role in the development of the city’s complete streets policy.
“We’re open to meeting with any group of industry leaders,” Bailey said. “The Homebuilders Association has a membership that plays a big role in building our streets. So we felt like it was important to get in front of them.”