City Council Workshop on Henley Street Options
|The barely-there view of City Council from the small meeting room.|
|WBIR was the only local television affiliate present.|
|Mr. Scott makes his presentation.|
|Ms. LaLonde represented Shoney's opposition to the plan.|
|Steven King from the City Engineering Department expressed skepticism.|
|Mr. Cochran, South Knoxville Businessman, expressed opposition.|
What followed was a series of citizens and business representatives who opposed the idea. Annie LaLonde representing Shoney's in south Knoxville indicated it would be bad for their business, as did Tom Cochran and John Johnson who pointed out that Arby's has been on Chapman Highway for forty one years and has lost twenty percent of their business since the closure of the Henley Street Bridge.
What seemed unclear to me throughout these presentations was how much the specific plan would truly impact these businesses. In the case of Shoney's, Ms. Lalonde talked about the community groups that gather there, but this change would not impact that, as far as I can tell. The same is true with Arby's. If twenty percent of their business is lost due to the closure of the bridge, wouldn't much of that return when the bridge is opened even if the traffic was reduced? Disk Exchange was also mentioned in this discussion, but who wouldn't drive across the newly re-opened bridge to disk exchange simply because the traffic on Henley had been calmed?
|Sylvia Woods, Moody Avenue resident objects as Mr. Scott looks on.|
The meeting concluded with Councilmen Woodhall and Grieve thanking Mr. Scott for opening up the dialogue and with Councilman Grieve acknowledging that "Henley Street is one of our ugliest streets." Former councilman Joe Holquist expressed an interest in having further discussion about "big ideas" such as this one, seeming to echo the earlier comments by Mr. Grimac.
After the meeting, Mr. Scott expressed disappointment only that others didn't present alternative ideas designed to accomplish some of the same goals as his proposal, feeling the meeting instead was a series of explanations of a litany of reasons his idea will not work.
For further understanding of the apparent staunch opposition, I spoke with Bill Lyons who helped me gain some insight into the city's perspective and, not so incidentally, a personal one since he has regularly crossed Henley Street as a pedestrian for thirty years. He re-iterated the concern that any similar solution to the one being proposed would be very expensive and suggested "the portion of traffic wanting to go far south will resist being routed 2.5 miles out of the way."
|Bill Lyons provides background to the Council.|
He suggests that the Henley Street barrier is more a psychological than physical and that the World's Fair Park is a dividing area which the city is addressing or planning to address in several ways, including "a high priority to calm the traffic on Cumberland, create a pedestrian area there," and enhancing the World's Fair Park itself. He pointed out that other plans in the works would unify the area, such as " . . . a pedestrian bridge in the planning stage from the Art Museum into the park . . . a greenway extension planned to connect Jackson to the World's Fair Park from the north" and "enhancing trolley service from downtown to UT." He feels the monetary costs and negative impacts to other areas of the city are much lower by pursuing these approaches to the connectivity problem.
"In short, and unfortunately, Henley is a corridor that we just have to live with in pretty much its present state because the costs - financial and otherwise, drastically overwhelm the benefits. The changes we make there reverberate around the system with a lot of negative outcomes to counterbalance what I think are relatively modest gains."
I wish all of that had been said at the council meeting. It makes sense and I would have like to have heard George or others respond. I would have like to have heard Jack Neely speak as he has written about this more eloquently than anyone I've read. I wish we could have had a presentation by the UT class that Mr. Scott said is studying the issue. I wish others had presented ideas which might have offered less expensive alternatives.
As it was, the conversation was less than fulfilling. At the least, it was a conversation, and unlike councilman Pavlis, I feel it is one worth having whatever the conclusion. Also, I'd prefer nothing had to happen over anyone's dead body, but rather that we might acknowledge the difficulties presented by Henley Street and jointly pursue solutions that minimize its damage. I still fear crossing it on foot and I continue to wonder how many people come into town, stay at the Holiday Inn, attend a convention in the Convention Center and leave thinking what an ugly city we have, oblivious to the fact that just a few blocks east is one of the coolest up-and-coming urban centers in the region.