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City looks to embrace 'multimodal development'

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Sep 30, 2019 at 9:18 PM

Johnson City’s commissioners recognize the city’s transportation needs are changing, and they hope to embrace the change — albeit in a safe manner. 

And it’s because of safety concerns the commission won’t vote on a proposed ordinance regulating the use of regular and electric bicycles on city sidewalks during their meeting scheduled for Thursday. The ordinance would also prohibit the use of electric scooters.

“We want to be more bicycle friendly, and we need to figure out how we’re going to do that within the constraints that we have if we don’t open up sidewalks,” Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said during the meeting. “I would encourage us to consider that from here on out we don’t add regular sidewalks anymore, just trail sidewalks.” 

Over the last decade, the city has prioritized building the so-called “trail sidewalks” as a means to connect the city to more non-motorized methods of transportation.

“My own personal goal would be that, eventually, we get to a point in Johnson City where our sidewalks and trails are connected in a way that somebody in their neighborhood can get on (a sidewalk) and then get onto the main trail system we have here,” Brock told the Press in March.

The issue is likely to come up at the commission’s second October meeting, scheduled for Oct. 17. Vice Mayor Joe Wise said any decision on an ordinance regulating bikes or scooters should be made in consultation with East Tennessee State University, saying the city “doesn’t want to do something (ETSU) will overtly counteract,” and that ETSU has signaled a desire to follow suit with whatever the city adopts. 

“I would much rather have a robust investment in bike-sharing and no scooters than have a mishmash of both and the chaos ensuing,” Wise said.

The commission also heard an annual report from the Washington County Economic Development Council, mostly focused on the status of several payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) programs, and where current businesses benefitting from them stand. All currently on a PILOT plan have either met their job-creation goals or are on track to. 

WCEDC CEO Mitch Miller also said that ebm-papst, a company manufacturing electric fans and motors, is also looking to potentially hire some of the 120 employees set to lose their jobs in Erwin when Morrill Motors shuts down its Erwin plant. 

“When you ultimately have companies that are going to leave this area, I think you’re going to see a lot of these industrial employers basically try to jump on it and snatch (the workers) up,” Miller told the commission. “Right now, the workforce in general is tight. When you’re in the 2-3% unemployment rate, it’s very tough.” 

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