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‘Pedal power’ ignored in city development

 

Walking through the downtown area Saturday, on my way to the Roxy Theater to review Tuesdays with Morrie, I took a first hand view of Legion Street in progress, its roads and sidewalk tumbled bits of dirt and broken asphalt. Such things always look worse before they look better.

I couldn’t help trying to imagine a refurbished Legion Street, with a fountain, perhaps some trees and shrubs, a cascade of flowers somewhere. Not bad. Then I wondered, who’s going to use it? Festivals a few times a year?

A block away, Franklin Street holds some if the most interesting shops and building facades in Clarksville. Their back doors and loading zones open to Legion Street. Somehow, it is hard to picture a Budweiser truck unloading beer or a panel truck dropping of carton of clothes or a load of antiques on a street ahead of its time, though I hope its time will come — soon.

I think a lot about downtowns. And downtown development. And community development as a whole. Studied it. Lobbied for user-friendly communities. Found user-friendly communities all over the country, communities that mixed heritage with progress to the benefit of its citizenry.

Dozens of much larger metropolitan cities with a fraction of Clarksville’s greenspace have integrated biking into their economic landscape. San Francisco (CA). Boulder (CO). Davis (CA). Monterey (CA). Northampton (MA). Portland (Oregon). Louisville (KY). Chattanooga (TN – pictured at top of page). Carl Sandburg’s city of big shoulders (Chicago) has over 8,000 bikes racks around the city to accommodate riders. Biking has a huge economic and fitness impact on these communities.

“It’s an effort to reduce congestion, improve quality of life, improve health and fitness levels of people living here and actually reduce cost in building new highways,” said Bike Coordinator Ben Gomberg. That was back in 2003 (Chicago Post Gazette May 18, 2003). The effort continues to grow.

Having been a resident of regions where not just cities but entire counties and states are linked by rail trails and bikeways, I know that Clarksville is happily ensconced in the dark ages when it comes to the progressive thinking that creates such user friendly, health friendly, family friendly activities. Snap out of it! Grow up.

“Top Spot” cities are progressive. They are health conscious. They are small business and Main Street friendly.

My favorite cities across America have bike racks integrated into downtown streetscapes. Riders use specified bike lanes and can pause for a latte or a snake or lunch or do a few errands and get exercise at the same time. One city — Northampton — has multiple bike shops that do a thriving business in sales and service based on the availability and accessibility to bike travel. Montpelier’s walking trail and bike path runs along its riverfront. One west coast city has implemented a bike-loan system with rented bikes that be used to move from point-to-point around the city.

Biking is big business. From clothing and sports apparel to bike sales and service, and the marketing of accessories, there’s a good profit margin to be made. Biking is an activity with multiple benefits.

It is all a matter of priorities. As Tennessee escalates its ranking in the obesity battle, the very things that get people and youngsters up and moving (including sidewalks in new developments) are conspicuously absent, resting on the back burner. Or maybe that pot hasn’t even made it to the stove yet.

For all the city’s talk of new industry and redevelopment, one has to ask: who do they want to attract? And what kind of quality of life will they expect?


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