A new look for Martin Luther King Blvd. Photo: Contributed)

Huzzah, new streets! New streets, new streets, Chattanooga has new streets! Well, one new street. Okay, not a new street per se, but a brand-new old street. MLK, y’all! After what seems like two times the length of the Pleistocene epoch, you can now drive on MLK unimpeded by the ubiquitous orange detour signs, those neon harbingers of drive-time doom and their implacable arrows that might as well point the way to hell. Be gone!

Also, be warned. Though you can now pass through the Miller Park reconstruction on a straight shot, the lead in and lead out to this particular section of MLK—MLK at Georgia and MLK at Market—is, for lack of a better term, ramped. If you value your shocks and struts, don’t drive it fast. Me, I was so excited to see the road re-opened that I must have subconsciously gunned it. It was only through good fortune and G-forces that I didn’t wind up, car and all, on the roof of the Camp House. Take it slow, ‘Noogans.

MLK’s lane-eage is now completely different of course. Whereas before it was two lanes in both directions, now there’s one lane for cars in both directions and the other lanes have been split up so as to make bike lanes in both directions on the far sides of the street and a turn lane in the middle. All this partitioned by thick heavy yellow lines that didn’t used to be there and will, admittedly, take some time to get used to. And though it won’t last long, the asphalt is now in that wonderful state of smoothness that makes former middle school street hockey players like myself, who once zipped around in Rollerblades on cul-de-sacs in pursuit of a bounce-less ball/puck instead of girls, pine for our Mylec Ultracurves. Up top, if you catch my reference.

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One effect of our all-new MLK, I predict, is that traffic through downtown will move much less quickly. Just because of the new design of the road, there are exactly half the available lanes to drive in compared to what there used to be. Unless you’re one of those jagoffs who think a turn lane is just a poorly disguised regular lane and a bike lane can, with the boot-strappin’ mindset that made this country great in the first place, fit your humongous dually.

Sidebar: You know how urban police departments the nation over have those gun buy-back programs to get guns off the streets? Where you can turn in your Glock no questions asked for a Starbucks gift card or something? Chattanooga needs a dually buy-back program. You drive your dually to any police station in town and, as long as you’ve removed your “III%-ers! We’re everywhere!” bumper sticker, you get a free pre-owned Prius. Sidebar to the sidebar: If you’re a III%-er with a Prius, hit me up. I’d like to interview you for this column. First question: When, precisely, did your identity crisis begin?

The slow traffic on the street is also good for business. MLK is now host to several new businesses in the last few years, not to mention those that abode and abideth there still. But take, for example, the Douglas Heights Bakery. Now there’s a place that looks delicious. Problem is, I never remember it until I’ve zoomed past it. Might be nice to see it, consider a cup of coffee and stop to get said coffee all before I’ve arrived at the riverfront.

I also wonder what’s going to happen to the visible signs of poverty along MLK. I wonder how Chattanooga—the city government and individual citizens alike—will respond as the challenges of poverty persist in Chattanooga’s latest hot zone. There was already a tight squeeze on the men, women and families living in homelessness along MLK and its parallel streets. The squeeze is much tighter with even more pressure due mainly to the encroaching development along MLK. There’s the Community Kitchen and the Homeless Healthcare Center on 11th, but the needs are greater and much more multifaceted than any two agencies can handle.

Development along major thoroughfares in any city is typically a message to the poor and homeless in the vicinity. Sometimes the message is intentional, other times unintentional, but the message remains the same. “Scram.” Nobody wants the heartless bastard label—except, I guess, for actual heartless bastards who actually do tend to show up in circumstances like these—that comes along with shoving the poor out.

It’d be nice if Chattanooga’s MLK development could match pace with Chattanooga’s response to the MLK pocket of poverty although it’s not likely to happen. Development—again, not just in Chattanooga—moves at light speed and generally without much thought for the poor. Conversely, the pace of good ideas for social services, development of those ideas and collaborative implementation is typically always agonizingly slow.

So, we’ll see. But in the meantime, I’m looking forward to headed downtown this week. The new MLK is great. It’s a nice look on you, Chattanooga.

Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, “Animal Heart,” is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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