City takes strides towards improving pedestrian accessibility

Published 9:21 am Monday, April 18, 2016

Taking a stroll downtown is about to get even easier.

This week, the City of Elizabethton will begin work on the first stages of a project to add crosswalks at locations other than intersections. Elizabethton Director of Planning and Development Jon Hartman said this is an effort to encourage foot traffic downtown by making it more safe and accessible for pedestrians.

“By making downtown more of a pedestrian-friendly environment, it’s more inviting, and people will feel more comfortable about getting out of their cars and walking to and from business downtown,” Hartman said. “The whole point is to help downtown businesses get more pedestrian traffic.”

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The crosswalks are being created with handicap accessible curb cuts, thereby increasing accessibility and safety for visitors downtown, Hartman said. Those shopping on one side of East Elk Avenue will now be able to cross without having to go to the nearest intersection.

“Most of the downtown crosswalks that we have are at intersections except one by Carter County Bank, so mid-block crosswalks give them a safe way to cross without having to walk to the intersection,” Hartman said.

For months, city staff considered the addition of raised crosswalks, but City Manager Jerome Kitchens said it would create a drainage issue.  The raised crosswalks were proposed in Downtown Business Association meetings to both increase pedestrian traffic and to slow traffic which may be dense and moving quickly through downtown. Hartman said the new crosswalks will have signs posted to alert traffic.

The project is part of a larger initiative to make Elizabethton safer and more accessible for pedestrians, whether they are visitors downtown or children walking to school, Hartman said.

“Obviously with the Tweetsie coming in, that’s a huge step towards making the community more pedestrian-accessible,” Hartman said. “We will be using new developments off of the Tweetsie and encouraging existing developments to connect to the Tweetsie as well to help and enhance pedestrian accessibility.”

Another project that may begin as soon as this Fall is a sidewalk and crosswalk improvement project planned for the areas near West Side Elementary School and at T.A. Dugger Jr. High School.

Hartman said the total cost of the project is $156,000, but with grants funding, the city is only paying $7,000.

The Elizabethton City Schools (ECS) and City of Elizabethton applied for the grant last fall and were awarded $172,000. Hartman said the difference in the project cost will be given to ECS for different projects like backpacks, Walk to School Day and other initiatives to promote health and safe commute to school.

“Having routes that are safe and accessible for kids to get from home to school is not only a health benefit for them; a lot of parents may not be able to take them to school, but they live close enough that they could walk, but appropriate road crossings are not in place,” Hartman said.

The focus areas are between West Side and the Hunter Street and West G Street intersection, as well as between T.A. Dugger and the intersection of Holly and West G Street.

“At the West G Street locations of both, we’re looking at additional pedestrian signage with flashers so people know that they can push button and alert drivers that a child is crossing the street,” said Hartman.

The work will include the rebuilding of portions of sidewalk and adding crosswalks that are handicap accessible, he said.

“The biggest part will be making curb cuts handicap accessible,” City Manager Jerome Kitchens told Councilmen Thursday.

On Thursday, the City Council approved funding $7,000 from the general fund to allow First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) to manage the project.

“With most grants, there is an enormous amount of paperwork, and with staff and workloads, it becomes tedious and time consuming,” Hartman said. “So they will assess the field work and manage the paperwork and move the project forward, but we still serve as administrators. We will do oversight, making sure its done how we want.”

He said this is a more cost effective means of implementing the project that will help it to begin sooner. Tennessee Department of Transportation manages the grant, and he said their requirements can be very strict.

“If they don’t require environmental analysis, we could possibly see something at the beginning of next school year, but it totally depends on what TDOT requires,” he said.

For the whole project, Hartman said the city only has to foto the bill for four percent.

“We had a public input session in January last year and had no negative input; all comments were positive,” Hartman said. “It’s saving taxpayers money, and we’re getting it for a good deal.”