Fortunately for Mayor John Clark, he will not be in office when it’s built. No, future generations will pin this label on whoever is elected mayor this May.
A white elephant is something whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness. It can be an object, a building, or a business venture. But in Kingsport’s case it’s sidewalks, more than two miles of them.
Sidewalks are a good thing, are they not? Most certainly they are when they are built in neighborhoods where they can provide a place to walk or jog other than the roadway so that residents are protected from vehicular traffic, and when they allow access to other neighborhoods or businesses a short distance away.
But that’s not where Kingsport will spend nearly $85,000 of local tax dollars and some $1.6 million of state taxpayer dollars to build a concrete path to nowhere. This sidewalk is going along the south side of one of the busiest highways in the region, scary even to drive on much less walk along.
There’s no question Kingsport needs sidewalks. There are many neighborhoods where they don’t exist, forcing folks to walk in the road to get anywhere on foot. And while there are some folks who do walk sections of Stone Drive, a sidewalk will be dangerous.
Few people walk along Stone Drive. Every business along Stone Drive has a parking lot, and unless you’re eating at a restaurant — and most of those are in the area of the Eastman Road intersection — there’s no reason to walk a mile or more to a business, purchase something, and then carry it home on foot, unless perhaps you work at one of them and don’t own a vehicle.
But let’s assume that building sidewalks along Stone Drive encourages more foot traffic and gives pedestrians a safe place to walk away from traffic. There are some 70 turnoffs from Stone into all those parking lots, and pedestrians will be in danger every time they step off the concrete and onto pavement from cars entering and exiting those lots.
Drivers are not accustomed to watching out for foot traffic on Stone Drive. As well, thousands of vehicles travel the highway every hour, leaving behind a toxic cloud of exhaust that’s not healthy to breathe, never mind the noise.
The city has had several years to think about all of this and has come to the conclusion that sidewalks along Strong Drive will be a good thing, even better apparently than using those 85,000 local tax dollars to build sidewalks in neighborhoods.
And in that vein, we suggest that this decision be honored with a large bronze plaque located in the very first segment of the sidewalk listing the names of the members of the BMA who will put this project to bid this fall.
That way, we won’t forget them.