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VOL. 129 | NO. 147 | Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Riverside Drive Hearing Draws Opposition to Bike and Pedestrian Conversion

By Bill Dries

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City engineers heard a lot of opposition Tuesday, July 29, to not only the recent changes to Riverside Drive by Tom Lee Park but also the way the city went about the conversion of the two southbound lanes to bicycle and pedestrian access only.

The hearing, hosted by city engineer John Cameron, in the breezeway of Beale Street Landing, drew more than 50 people including some very vocal critics as well as some advocates for some kind of permanent bicycle access on the street itself.

One of the most frequent questions asked by those at the meeting as well as on the comment cards they filled out was why the city didn’t hold such hearings before the conversion in June.

Cameron said several times that the city had indicated in the year before the conversion it would be trying some kind of trial period for a reconfiguration of Riverside Drive. But at one point, he told the group, “It is what it is.”

He always emphasized that when the city repaves Riverside Drive in about a year, the permanent configuration of Riverside Drive could be changed back or could see the current set up altered significantly based on traffic data and observations about safety issues as well as traffic counts on parallel streets during the trial period.

By Cameron’s count there were five or six traffic accidents on the stretch of Riverside from Beale Street to Georgia Avenue in the first month of the test run with one in the month of July. But some of the critics of the idea disputed that and said police weren’t reporting all of the accidents.

Others said the two opposing lanes of auto traffic that are now on the east side of the median strip with nothing more than a dotted pavement line between them are too unforgiving along a scenic stretch of road that dips and curves.

Meanwhile, proponents of the bicycle and pedestrian lanes west of the median strip, some who road bicycles or walked to the hearing, argued that the change is a good one for Downtown in terms of drawing people to the riverfront. The comments were greeted with applause as well as some jeers.

Some of the advocates suggested speed bumps as a way to slow auto traffic and similar measures. They also noted that other changes to the riverfront landscape, namely the Bluffwalk above Tom Lee Park was more controversial before it proved to be a popular amenity even with its one time critics.

Cameron said there will be at least two other public hearings – one in the fall and one in the spring – to further gauge public reaction.

The opposition expressed at the Tuesday hearing was the most significant since the installation of bicycle lanes on Madison Avenue in the fall of 2011. In that case, the opposition came from a group of merchants who claimed the bicycle lanes there would harm their businesses.

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