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Attack on Street Safety Funds Sets Off an Uprising in Tennessee

A proposed state bill in Tennessee would put cyclists and pedestrians at risk. Photo: Bikelaw.com
A bill in Tennessee would put make it harder to build safe streets for biking and walking. Photo: BikeLaw.com
A proposed state bill in Tennessee would put cyclists and pedestrians at risk. Photo: Bikelaw.com

A bill to restrict spending on biking and walking infrastructure in Tennessee has ignited "a firestorm," as the Chattanooga Times Free Press called it.

Thousands of angry Tennesseans are urging representatives to vote against a bill from state senators Mike Carter and Todd Gardenhire that would forbid any state gas tax revenue from being spent on bike/ped projects. A partner bill has been introduced in the Tennessee House.

Almost 3,000 people have signed a petition from by Bike Walk Tennessee against the measure. Another 700 have signed a similar one circulated by Bike Walk Nashville.

House transportation subcommittee chair Terri Lynn Weaver told the Free Press her inbox had been deluged with opposition. And Bike Walk Tennessee's Matt Farr called it the "largest mobilization of bike advocates in state history."

Amy Benner, a Knoxville-based bike attorney and board member at Bike Walk Tennessee, said the measure is bad on a number of levels. "Our concern is that it prevents localized communities from doing what they want to with their roadways," she told Streetsblog. "The way it’s currently written is going to potentially prevent projects that have already been researched and approved and the communities support and mayors have signed off on from happening."

Chattanooga and Knoxville have complete streets ordinances that would be eviscerated if the bill becomes law. "It’s going to make the roads dangerous if communities can’t use funds to make complete streets," Benner said, noting that a pedestrian was just killed Saturday in Knoxville.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation, to its credit, has opposed the measure as well, saying it could lead them to run afoul of ADA laws and jeopardize the state's chances of receiving some federal transportation funds.

The bill sponsors are playing off the state's multi-billion dollar backlog of road projects to make their case. But street safety projects aren't causing Tennessee to fall behind on transportation infrastructure. TDOT only spends about one percent of its annual $1.8 billion budget on biking and walking.

The House transportation subcommittee will host a hearing on the measure March 2, according to the Free Times.

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