Downtown business owners worry for trail users safety on path’s more urban section

Published 7:45 am Friday, July 10, 2015

Star Photo/Kayla Carter Big John's Closeout is another business that is split by the future expansion of the Tweetsie Trail.  Owner Mike Barnett is concerned about pedestrian and bicyclists' safety.

Star Photo/Kayla Carter
Big John’s Closeout is another business that is split by the future expansion of the Tweetsie Trail. Owner Mike Barnett is concerned about pedestrian and bicyclists’ safety.

As funds for completion of the Elizabethton portion of the Tweetsie Trail are being collected, anxiety about safety concerns near downtown businesses is increasing.
Some downtown business owners have spoken out about how they would like to see safety issues near their businesses handled.
Grant Summers, who is the Summers-Taylor president and Tweetsie Trail Task Force secretary, has always had safety in mind when it comes to the trail’s impact on the business.
“The trail crossing here divides our offices and shops, and we have trucks going back and forth,” Summers said. “We have been thinking ahead on some of these issues.”
Within task force conversations, Summers said various other businesses that observe some kind of safety risk have come forward.
“There’s us, Big John’s and Nor-Well,” Summers said. “We need to make sure all those crossings are going to be safe.”
It’s been pointed out that Johnson City’s section of the trail is more rural and didn’t require the same kind of considerations, City Councilman Bill Carter said.
“Downtown Elizabethton is an urban section of the trail,” Summers said. “Everything needs to work out for the existing business owners.”
A solution to the safety concerns has not been nailed down yet, but there has been discussion of erecting a gate of some kind that requires Tweetsie Trail users to stop and look before crossing, Summers said.
“We don’t know what it’s going to be,” he said. “The whole point is just to make sure it’s safe. It’s a crossing that’s been used for many years. We’re happy to have the trail through, we just really need it to be safe.”
Mike Barnett, Big John’s owner, explained that people riding their bikes may need to dismount and walk their bikes across where the trail is located near his business.
“There were some people the other day who almost got hit coming around Lynn Avenue,” Barnett said. “That’s a speed area that is going to need proper signage. I can’t control that.”
Barnett plans to work with the task force in any way possible. He also has had conversations with employees driving into work about respecting and being vigilant about people using the trail.
“We don’t want bikes zooming through and our truck drivers unable to react in time,” Summers said.
Gary Nave, Nor-Well president and owner, does not speak about the issue from solely a business perspective, he said.
“I have biked on the trail many, many times,” Nave said. “I’m an avid cyclist. I love the trail and support it.”
Nave was just unsure how to keep his business on schedule without interfering with people using the trail.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what goes on back there,” he said. “We have property on both sides of the track. Most of our activity is early in the morning.”
Nor-Well is a specialty construction company with lots of large equipment moving around on site.
“While most of our actual work is off premises, sometimes we have 40 trucks come in to load up in the morning and take off,” he said.
People are already riding their bikes on the portion of the trail that has not been built yet, Nave said.
“They are riding by here now and no one has complained,” Nave said. “I guess it will just have to work itself out.”
While there are funds available for the city to put in safety measures at road crossings, it will not be applicable for the areas along the trail that pass through businesses.
“That grant came from TDOT,” Carter said. “It’s my understanding that we will need to put signs up in some of those areas.”
While the city is aware and willing to help, the task force needs to pass along information for finding and funding the solution, Carter said.
“There’s really no issues,” Carter said. “Everyone is on the same page about safety.”
For more information, the public is able to attend Tweetsie Trail Task Force meetings held on the first Tuesday of every month at Johnson City City Hall.
“We’re excited to tie in downtown Elizabethton,” Summers said. “In the end, we think everyone is going to be very pleased.”

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