Sewanee Council Grapples with Bike-Lane Danger

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Oct. 24 meeting, the Sewanee Community Council grappled with how to address danger to cyclists, especially children biking to school, caused by frequent student parking in the University Avenue bike lanes. The council also took up questions about lease fee spending, reinstituting Lifelong Learning programs, the need for a walking path on Breakfield Road, and additional representation on the Sewanee Village Ventures board.

Residents and council members stressed the danger to University Avenue cyclists swerving out into traffic to avoid parked cars, as well as danger from car doors opening unexpectedly. “Parents fear for their children’s lives,” said council representative Marilyn Phelps. Sewanee Police Captain Dylan McClure said parking in bike lanes was illegal, and the police ticketed violators, but the verification process was time consuming. Acting Vice-Chancellor Nancy Berner speculated University Avenue bike-lane parking increased because during the pandemic students got in the habit of parking there when going to McClurg to pick up their green-box meals.

Council member Phil White proposed suspension of student violators in addition to the $50-$100 fine. Solutions proposed by residents included slowing traffic and a multimodal path on University Avenue. Others proposed eliminating the bike lanes if the no-parking law could not be enforced. One resident offered to help write tickets. Another resident observed the ultimate goal was “trying to change the behavior.”

Berner said she would make sure there was “follow up.” The new University master plan being drafted could be brought into service to address the parking-shortage problem, but Berner acknowledged the need for “something faster” and suggested a “working group” to come up with a short-term solution.

Taking a question about spending plans for the lease fee revenue generated by increased property assessments, Superintendent of Leases and Community Relations Sallie Green explained the lease fee had two parts: ground rent and the municipal services fee. The ground rent portion helps fund University operating revenue such as benefits and salaries. The University anticipates collecting $500,000 in ground rent this academic year. The municipal service fee funds police and fire protection and community services such as parks, lighting in commons areas, and the community funding project. In 2020-2021 the University spent $2.2 million on municipal services, with leaseholders responsible for 18 percent of the total (approximately $400,000).

Council member John Solomon asked about plans for the Lifelong Learning Academy program resuming. Berner concurred there was “a lot of enthusiasm” for the program. Although currently there was no director, the University was trying to “figure out a way forward.” Acting Provost Scott Wilson said he hoped some programming would be offered next semester.

Solomon also proposed the need for a walking path extending beyond the point where the Breakfield Road walking path ended. He cited dangers to pedestrians, cyclists, and horseback riders from motorists with poor visibility due to navigating a curve and driving directly into the sun at certain times of year. Solomon spoke with Domain Manager Nate Wilson about the University creating a gravel path in the wooded area to alleviate the problem. Acting Provost Wilson said the University was “looking into it.” Domain Manager Wilson had consulted with him about the possibility and facilities management had also joined in the discussion.

Raising a third question, Solomon asked why the community did not have “more direct representation” on the Sewanee Village Ventures board. University Vice President for Economic Development and Community Relations David Shipps acknowledged “the omission” and proposed forming an advisory committee composed of faculty, staff, business owners, council members and perhaps others. “[An advisory committee] would be a gentler, easier path than expanding board membership,” Shipps said. Affirming Solomon’s point, council member Lynn Stubblefield said, “The business community feels like they are not consulted.” Council member Eric Keen suggested also including the Roberson Project and St. Mark’s Community Center on the advisory committee.

In other business the council approved a constitution amendment clarifying the residential requirement for council membership and welcomed new Parks Committee Chair Charles Whitmer.

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