Slowly but surely: Sidewalk, trail connectivity in Johnson City taking shape

Zach Vance • Mar 30, 2019 at 8:00 PM

Look at any long-range plan created in the past 10 years for Johnson City, and most — if not all — will prioritize the need for more trail and sidewalk connectivity.

Only one of the 10 miles that make up the Tweetsie Trail actually lies within the limits of Johnson City. Yet the perceived success of the Tweetsie Trail since opening in 2014 has influenced the city’s current and future planning of non-motorized transportation projects.

The popularity of the trail has increased demand for interlinking trails and sidewalks in all sections of the city, as more and more residents desire connectivity to their doorstep.

“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,” Mayor Jenny Brock said.

In the city’s latest citizen survey, 66 percent of respondents rated the city’s paths and walking trails positively, while 53 percent rated the city’s ease of walking favorably. However, travel by bicycle received the lowest grade for mobility, with just 36 percent giving positive marks.

To make the city more bicycle-friendly, Brock suggests slower speed limits and more bicycle signage, particularly on State of Franklin Road.

“We need to train our car traffic that bicycles are on the road, and that you can cohabitate,” she said.

In April 2016, discussion began swirling about the creation of a 25-mile “State of Franklin Loop Trail” that would circle the city through new and existing trail and pavement segments. The trail would encompass downtown, the Tweetie Trail, Tannery Knobs, Watauga River, Boone Lake, Rocky Mount, Winged Deer Park and the Mountain Home VA campus.

As of late, little has been mentioned about the Loop Trail, but that could be because no money is allocated for the project until the 2020 fiscal year, according to the city’s 2019-to-2023 Capital Improvements Plan.

While the Capital Improvements Plan is not written in stone, it does outline the city’s vision for all future capital expenditures, including future sidewalk and trail construction.

The plan calls for $2.2 million in total to design and construct the Loop Trail, beginning in fiscal year 2020 with $100,000 allocated for the design of the “MSHA Underpass on State of Franklin.”

As for sidewalk and trail maintenance and construction, the city budgeted $205,900 for the current year, and most recently, the Public Works Department finished installing new sidewalks along Watauga and Unaka avenues.

Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said the next sidewalk project will be extending Holston Avenue, and he also hopes to eventually get around to Lone Oak Road. Sidewalk projects along Peachtree Street, and the east and west sides of Market Street are expected to break ground next fiscal year.

The five-year capital plan calls for spending $750,000 in total for sidewalk and trail construction. It entails work on Roan Street to Bristol Highway and Market Street to Walmart, as well as various inner-city neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to provide connectivity as a whole, but we just have to take our time to get there,” Pindzola said. “We’ve done a lot, and there’s a lot to be done. You can’t do it overnight.”

The latest Johnson City Metropolitan Transportation Plan, adopted in February 2018, states Johnson City has approximately 219 miles of roadways with sidewalks, mostly located on local streets. Within Johnson City, Elizabethton and Jonesborough, there are roughly 29 miles of bicycle lanes and multi-use paths.

City commissioners plan to meet April 11 for a strategic planning workshop.

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