In the latest installment of the West End bike path debate, Gerry Nicely has faxed Public Works, Hizzoner has phoned Nicely, a certain aide is keeping her mouth shut, a meeting has been set, and oh yeah, this is all just about painting stripes on a road.
“It’s one of those routine things that got out of kilter,” Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips confesses. “Kind of like families at Thanksgiving.”
To refresh, some very diligent Metro planning types months ago set about trying to add bike lanes on West End Avenue. These officials were doing so with the best of intentions, that being to add a much-needed bicycle and pedestrian element to our car-centric lives.
The Metro officialsin Metro Planning and Public Works departmentsbegan communicating with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) about adding the bike lanes. TDOT is scheduled to repave the state road in March, from the split at state highways 70 and 100 to the Interstate 440 exit. What better time to add bike lanes and paths, the planners thought, than when the road is to be repaved?
TDOT’s response to Metro’s request was a big, fat no, as the Scene reported two weeks ago. A collective outcry ensued from the city’s bicyclists, pedestrians, neo-urbanists and miscellaneous Portland transplants. That was expected, but what was not was a comment from the mayor’s special assistant for transportation issues. She seemed to throw up her hands. “It’s TDOT’s call,” Diane Thorne said, implying that the mayor’s office had no plans to keep the bike plan alive. That seemed especially strange, because Mayor Bill Purcell has been the most aggressive of any mayor in the city’s history in advocating for greenways and bike paths.
A critical new development in all of this came with the inauguration of a new governor in mid-January, who brought with him a new TDOT commissioner, Gerald Nicely. When Nicely read the story in the Scene about the bike paths being torpedoed by his own agency, he reversed course and faxed Metro officials a letter. “I would like to propose a method by which the Metropolitan Government could assume responsibility for the project,” Nicely wrote in his Jan. 30 letter, devising a scheme to resurrect the project. Nicely said TDOT would cancel the repaving project and contract with Metro to do the job instead. If Metro wanted to add the lanes, he wrote, it could certainly do so.
The letter was a brilliant masterstroke. It put TDOT in the position of appearing newly sensitive to the needs of people interested in alternative transportation. It also defused Metro’s claim that TDOT was to blame for bungling the project.
Then Purcell read the letter. To his credit, he acted reasonably, calling Nicely early this week to arrange a meeting to discuss the issue. Phillips says Metro isn’t interested in assuming responsibility for the road, so Nicely’s idea won’t fly. “We’ve got more than 500 miles of road, and we don’t want that.”
But Phillips holds out hope for some other resolution, adding that the “plan is to have bike lanes there some day” and that “we’re interested here in some consensus.”
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