Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bridges, Boulevards and Beautiful Visions

Tugboat moves barge into position to catch the falling bridge, Tennessee River, Knoxville
While there have been more developments on the business front even since my last two posts, I'm going to leave the business arena, for now, and talk about the Henley Street Bridge. Work continues at a fast pace. I took these photographs recently from the Riverwalk on the north (Downtown) side.

View of the portions being removed, Henley Street Bridge, Knoxville, 2011

Machine destroying sides of the bridge and dropping them.
The work must be very dangerous. The side railing is being removed first and each piece is knocked off onto a barge below. There are people working the machinery, people guiding the machine operators from the bridge and people on the barge below where the pieces fall. The large pieces must weigh hundreds of pounds. Of course, one person has died already and it is easy to see how a moment of inattentiveness on any one's part could result in a disaster.

Sections of the bridge on the barge below after falling from above.
All this leads to a revisit of the idea of a boulevard put forth by George Scott. When last we tuned in - which I think was about three months ago - George's idea had met with little interest as far as I could see. Since then, there appears to be some momentum to at least discuss the idea at a high level.

For those of you who don't remember or are more recent readers, the basic idea is that Henley Street as it has become a problem in several ways. With its width, speed of traffic, volume of traffic and the fact that much of the traffic is passing through, it has become very difficult to cross, thereby making a very serious barrier between UT, Fort Sanders, the Convention Center and the World's Fair Park on one side and downtown Knoxville on the other. Further, as the map below illustrates, downtown is bounded by the River, James White Parkway and the Interstate on three sides and these will not be moved. Henley Street forms the other border and, with the closure of the bridge and the diversion of traffic we have a once in a lifetime chance to make it right. George wanted me to make clear that "time is not on our side."

Downtown barriers, River, Henley, Interstate, James White
The potential synergy between the components is seriously compromised. Meanwhile Henley Street is devoid of pedestrian traffic because it is dangerous and no businesses (except for the UT bookstore) face it. Visitors at the Convention Center have to take their life into their hands (unless they go out of their way to use the single pedestrian bridge) and trust that across that wasteland lies something worth walking to. It takes a leap of faith and perhaps more than a couple of leaps to avoid oncoming traffic.

Recently, George has addressed a number neighborhood groups in South Knoxville, the downtown Rotary Club and CBID making his point that "unrepeatable opportunity to make improvements that will bear fruit in the decades ahead, for Downtown and for South Knoxville." CBIB has requested a City Council Workshop. An engineering class at UT has adopted the project.

Please press your city councilmen to take up this issue. If you speak to the mayoral candidates during the election, press them on the issue. This may be the biggest possible accomplishment to help downtown we'll ever see in our lifetime.

I'll shut up and let the experts do the talking. You can read a great article on the topic by Jack Neely here, simply entitled "Fix Henley Street." I've posted two videos below. The first is George's and it's serious, but interesting. It explains the whole problem and possibility. And for a fun look at the vision that could be I'm posting a video of a song written about the most famous boulevard in the world with some shots of that boulevard and the surrounding sights. Maybe we should host a songwriting contest to make a song for our vision of a Knoxville Boulevard.

Enjoy and contact those councilmen and mayoral candidates.

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At April 13, 2011 at 9:42 AM , Anonymous Art Wagner said...

This is a very, very important topic, UrbanGuy. I am glad that you are continuing to beat the drum for it to keep it people's mind.

At April 13, 2011 at 10:12 AM , Blogger tthurman said...

Wow! Hard to believe they are just dropping big chunks down on the barge like that!

I'm constantly amazed that some people are brave enough to cross Henley Street. Many days on my way home there will be a small group testing the water, crossing from the Holiday Inn. If you've walked in downtown Knoxville much, then your surely aware that most drivers in Knoxville do not acknowledge "crosswalks".

Madeline Rogero

Marilyn Roddy


Mark Padgett

At April 13, 2011 at 12:19 PM , Anonymous Greg said...

For what it's worth, this is how an outsider and former economic developer (me) sees it: even a quick glance at Google Maps is enough to see that downtown and the UT campus geographically "should" function as one big downtown neighborhood. The economic impact of changing Henley Street to remove the artificial barrier between the two areas could be huge. The combination creates an economic market size that could support a much larger variety of retail and services than exists now.

Henley will instantly become a racetrack again when the new bridge opens unless physical changes are made to the street. Signage and speed limit changes are not enough to calm traffic.

I'm afraid that Mr Scott's hope that the opposite side of the river becomes a true part of downtown might be unrealistic. Will the new bridge include a wide space for pedestrians and bike riders? Even if it does, it's probably too long of a walk.

A question related to this issue: has UT ever been encouraged to build classrooms or student residences on Henley or on the downtown side of Henley? That's probably the best way to knit the campus and downtown into one neighborhood.

At April 13, 2011 at 12:22 PM , Blogger Andrea said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At April 13, 2011 at 12:49 PM , Blogger Andrea said...

I love the idea of turning Henley into a more pedestrian friendly boulevard. Love, love, love it! Because right now, quite frankly, I am terrified to walk or sometimes even drive down Henley because it is so congested, the traffic is too fast, and and it's just very stressful. I would love to see this plan take shape and be implemented. Then maybe I could get into South Knoxville more than once a year.

At April 13, 2011 at 2:17 PM , Anonymous Greg said...

A brand new online video about "Road Diets." Just what the doctor ordered for Henley?

At April 13, 2011 at 8:38 PM , Anonymous Knoxville Urban Guy said...

You guys are all about it on this post. I'm happy to see that. The last time I posted about it I don't think I got a comment - but the family has grown since then :-). Encourage everyone you know to contact those candidates and city council (thanks so much for the links, tthurman)and Greg, I've never heard mention of student housing downtown, which seems like a very logical one, and yes, I think they agreed to have expanded pedestrian space on the newly configured bridge. I've got to watch those streetfilms. Thanks for the link.


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