City leaders are working to get feedback from residents and business owners in the Martin Luther King Boulevard area because they are looking at improvement options for the corridor.
"We've developed some concepts and have developed some options and are trying to make absolutely sure we understand ... the feedback from citizens," Chattanooga Department of Transportation Administrator Blythe Bailey said.
The city has a federally funded grant that is meant to pay for a bike network throughout the city, as well as support for the creation of safer street facilities along an east-west corridor, such as MLK Boulevard.
"The project is funded, and we are looking to build it in spring of 2017, but before we do, we are making sure [to] hear from as many people as possible," he said.
"We are working extra-hard to make sure we hear from as many people as possible. We have some ideas that are designed, and we want to make sure we hear from everybody.
"People didn't trust us [with the North Shore project]. We would tell them we were listening to them and they would say, 'This is a done deal.'
"That's not the case. It's not a done deal."
Source: Blythe Bailey
Leaders have developed an online survey and hosted multiple meetings on the potential changes.
The distance of the planned changes runs from Georgia Avenue to Palmetto Street, and a main focus is safety—getting cars to slow down for the benefit of pedestrians, cyclists and businesses.
"It will benefit the business owner by slowing down traffic, making businesses more visible to passersby and creating a safer avenue for pedestrians and bikers," Hutton & Smith Brewing Co. co-owner Melanie Krautstrunk said via email.
Leaders are looking at taking MLK from four lanes to three lanes and adding bike lanes.
MLK turns into Bailey Avenue and has high-speed traffic, with about 10,000 cars a day passing through.
"That's well within the threshold of a four-to-three lane conversion," Bailey said. "It will slow cars down, but [they will] still be able to move fairly efficiently."
The idea is to get the street to work better as a whole to increase accessibility for all travelers. It will likely include sidewalk improvements/replacements and brick-patterned crosswalks, he also said.
When leaders brought a similar project to merchants on Frazier Avenue, they got negative feedback. Merchants didn't want the changes to impede what they said was working well as it is, Bailey said.
But the situation with MLK Boulevard is different, he said. There's a better grid network of side streets around MLK, and there are already many businesses that are thriving.
The city got a $1.8 million grant that will help with improvements around the city. Leaders are focusing on the MLK area now and later will move toward the Orchard Knob/Willow area.
The grant is funding $500,000 of the MLK improvements. That's 80 percent funding from the grant, and the city will pay about $100,000, Bailey said.
There are also additional local and federal grants that will help with paving, sidewalk and other pedestrian improvements.
"MLK can be that and historically has been that," Bailey said of a thriving MLK business economy. "There are a number of new businesses that are dipping their toes [into the area]. Making a change will make the street work better for everybody. Economic development in [MLK] is totally different than [the North Shore]."
Business owners such as The Bitter Alibi/Fix Lounge co-owner Jason Bowers said he's been in communication with city leaders through meetings and that everyone in the area seems to be on the same page about the potential changes.
"We are totally on board for it," Bowers said. "We like the changes MLK has had recently, and this is one more [positive] step."
New MLK business owner Jay Boyd, who is opening OddStory Brewing Co., said he signed a petition in support of the changes.
And he hopes that they activate the area more by promoting walking, biking and slower traffic.
"When you're out on a street and you see people walking around and out and about, you have a sense there's something there you want to see or want to be a part of," he said.