George Brock Scott on Urbanizing Streets in Knoxville

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 The following post was written by George Brock Scott:

When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, one primary access from the west was through downtown Knoxville across the Tennessee River, and on to the Smokies on Federal Highway 441. When the interstate system was built faster park access became available on a different route, and the wide highway became an interstate-fed channel through Knoxville to suburbs and points south. Most of the traffic is bound more than two miles from the exits.

Knoxville‘s Downtown is bounded on the north by Interstate 40, the east by a wide new express parkway, and the south by the Tennessee River. Henley Street (U.S. 441) on downtown’s western edge is the only boundary that could change and allow growth beyond the restricted center of the city of 180,000.  Because of the width of the road and the nature of traffic driving through the city the six-lane highway became a barrier, part psychological and part actual, to pedestrian and other local traffic trying to move between the campus of the University of Tennessee, the redeveloping downtown, and the south shore of the river.

The state began repairs on the roadway’s aging, iconic river bridge January of 2011. For at least two years traffic is rerouted around downtown. This space of time permits citizens to “look beyond the bridge” and reflect on how things can be made better when the bridge is reopened.

For most drivers the detour is actually superior to the original highway. Though three times as long in distance, it is faster for several reasons. From the interstate to the end of the detour, this route has only two of signalized intersections versus nine on the original roadway. It also has fewer driveway connections, and uses a newer, broader bridge across the Tennessee River.

One plan under examination is to redesignate the detour as the permanent Federal Highway 441, and Henley Street as Business 441. The faster traffic would reach South Knoxville more quickly, and Henley would then be more local-traffic and pedestrian friendly.

As the city sees fit to afford it, the road could become a boulevard with wider sidewalks and tree-planted medians. Restaurants and retail could develop in the mostly deserted buildings as downtown expands. Drivers will find easier travel to and from the University, the Knoxville Convention Center, the South Knoxville Waterfront, and Downtown. Another idea is a city greenway on this road, connecting with the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness Corridor Park and the more than 40 miles of existing greenways and other parks throughout Knoxville.

When this PowerPoint ( was posted on YouTube in January of 2011, it got more than 1200 views in the first weeks. Since then, an engineering class from the University of Tennessee has adopted the concept as a class project, and the Central Business Improvement District Board of Directors, made up of property and business interests has requested a City Council workshop (scheduled for May 12, 2011) to review this and other ideas.

Though there is some resistance, the overwhelming majority of feedback is very positive. Public discussion of how Knoxville should develop is the goal. In the past, engineers designed roadways to move as many cars as possible. More recently, there is the realization that we want a nice city, too.  





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