Another Attempt at a Henley Solution: A Multiway Boulevard

Current Satellite View of Henley Street

Current Satellite View of Henley Street

Over three years have passed since I first took up the topic of Henley Street. The problem, as I see it, and I know some disagree, is that it is an unnecessary barrier between downtown and Ft. Sanders/UT. It’s far too wide and the traffic far to fast to encourage pedestrian crossing. We have one pedestrian bridge in the middle but, depending on your route and destination, it may be well out of the way. I first wrote about a proposal to fix the street by George Scott in January of 2011. That same month, Jack Neely wrote a piece for Metro Pulse simply titled, “Fix Henley Street,” in which he noted that every consultant ever utilized by the city suggested as much and that it would not be that expensive for the benefits provided. I wrote about it, again, in April and it all culminated with a City Council Workshop in May to consider the issue, and I included an interview with Dr. Lyons as to the city’s perspective at the time. Basically there was no interest on the part of the city to address it or acknowledge it as an issue.

In the space below, Just John makes his return to discuss it and to propose a very different solution to that suggested before.

Here’s Just John:

The Fort Sanders neighborhood and the conventional ‘downtown’ district are not well linked.  They are physically separated by Henley Street and by the World’s Fair Park. The complex series of interchanges along Western Avenue, the interstates, and Summit Hill there contribute to the difficulty of bridging these two otherwise complementary areas.  A reconfiguration of the streetscapes there would not only simplify the complexity, but would also create space for additional ‘place-making’ to draw people to the area.

Aerial Map of Knoxville, 1935

Aerial Map of Knoxville, 1935

Henley Street has been large since at least 1935 (as you can see in this historical aerial map from http://www.kgis.org), so it has a long history of ‘arterial’ traffic use. Henley Street is indeed a busy thoroughfare, with almost 50,000 daily trips, so it cannot be reduced below two lanes in each direction, with additional turn lanes – a wide right of way, difficult to cross quickly. As Knoxville’s downtown returns to vitality, though, the street blocks pedestrian travel, and the expansion of downtown energy, westward.  How can these two competing needs find happy co-existence ?

Map of Henley Street

Map of Henley Street

We can find a solution to this modern need by looking to the past.  An old street form, long dis-used in the U.S., is having its own renaissance in the consciousness of urban planners and of some DOTs: the multiway boulevard.  This type of street is a hybrid form combining fast transiting traffic and local access within one right-of-way and it is an ideal fix for Henley Street.

The multi-way boulevard form of thoroughfare existed for a century before World War Two, and worked well, but like Theseus in the bed of Procrustes, it simply didn’t ‘fit’ new rules for road design developed after the war.  Post-WW2 traffic engineering placed (and for the most part, still places) very strong emphasis on strict hierarchical functional classification, based on access and flow.  Local routes were to have good access to adjacent property but low flow; collectors increased flow but reduced access to the land nearby; and finally arterials were to have good flow but very limited access to local land-uses.  There was simply no room for a hybrid form, even one that already existed!

The multi-way boulevard hybrid contains high-speed arterial style traffic flow, combined with slower local travel, physically separated in the same right of way. Fast-moving through traffic flows in two to three central lanes for each direction.  This part of the roadway is flanked by planted medians, which provide separation from one low-speed local access lane on each side, where there is street parking, sidewalk activity, and the relative safety of a local street. A local-lane driver experiences planted medians on the left and parking on the right, which serves to slow that driver, calm the local-access part of the street, and provide refuge for street-crossing pedestrians.

View of Lanes on a Multiway Boulevard

View of Lanes on a Multiway Boulevard

View of Lanes on a Multiway Boulevard

View of Lanes on a Multiway Boulevard

View of Lanes on a Multiway Boulevard

View of Lanes on a Multiway Boulevard

Right of way can be a problem in some places, as multiway boulevards are wider than typical streets, but Henley Street already has a right-of-way up to 140 feet wide, which is easily large enough.  I think that conversion to a better form could be accomplished relatively quickly for that reason, and at far less expense than previous ideas of tunneled or overflying double-decker roadways. A multiway boulevard is by design more complex than a straightforward road, but contrary to some initial reactions, research has shown that safety is not adversely impacted.

Multiway Boulevard Intersection

Multiway Boulevard Intersection

Example of a New Mulitway Boulevard

Example of a New Mulitway Boulevard

More Examples of Multiways

More Examples of Multiways

A multiway boulevard intentionally includes local traffic needs. Not an impediment to through-traffic, a multi-way boulevard can carry heavy traffic loads without difficulty.  One recent, and American, example:  an elevated highway in San Francisco collapsed in the 1989 earthquake, and the residents voted to re-build it, not as a freeway, but as an at-grade multiway boulevard. The new Octavia Boulevard currently handles 55,000-60,000 daily trips, in two lanes in each direction, yet since the local access is restored, the fabric of the neighborhood is restored around it. (For comparison, TDOT predicts a maximum of 53,000 ADT for Henley Street at 2022.)

Although Henley Street carries many travelers, it also has many traffic lights, so it is already not a ‘quick way’ to anywhere.   And the beauty of the multiway boulevard form is that the faster central traffic can carry the same 35 MPH limit as the current street.  Indeed, if the turning in- and out-flow traffic that currently slows things down is restricted to the access lanes one can easily imagine it would actually improve flow.

As I mentioned, this ‘type’ of thoroughfare is relatively unfamiliar to American residents and planners.  However, importantly, the City’s consultant group is well aware of the form:  Kimley-Horn and Associates led the consortium (including the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Congress of New Urbanism) to create a great document on the subject titled “Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: a Context-Sensitive Approach” (2010), and has planned and developed several boulevards of this exact type in recent years.

TDOT approval has been cited as an obstacle to previous plans, however this conversion would not require a new highway designation, addition of a new highway, conversion of another road to a highway, or creation of a business route, each of which sank a previous attempt.  Importantly, the multi-way boulevard type is now in fact an ITE-recommended practice.  Further, the Tennessee DOT is actually a member of a “Context-Sensitive Design” group, which emphasizes placing the right road in the right place, in the local context, and in my own personal conversations with the local TDOT office they emphasize that they are willing to work with local agencies for local needs.

Henley Satellite View with Addition of Boulevard

Henley Satellite View with Addition of Boulevard

 

How about giving it a try? In my next installment I’ll discuss how to handle the complex interchanges at the head of Henley Street.

 

Useful Links–Multiway Boulevards and Context-Sensitive Solutions:

 Thoroughfare Designs for Walkable Urban Areas

American Multiway Boulevard Examples

Converting a Stroad to a Modern Arterial Mulitway Boulevard

Build the City: Multiway Boulevards

 The Grafton Gully Multiway Boulevard

Multiway Boulevard on Twitter

The Boulevard Book (via Amazon)

Building a Boulevard

Multiway Boulevards (Better Streets San Francisco)

A Multiway Boulevard on 135th Street?

The Boulevard Study: Eugene Oregon

Walkable West Palm Beach: Mayor Supports Multiway Boulevard

Great Streets Academy Boulevard: The Multi-Way Boulevard as an Option

Multi-way Boulevards, Transit Avenues (Philadelphia)

Context Sensitive Solutions (Wikipedia)

Context Sensitive Solutions.org

Context Sensitive Solutions in Transportation Planning (Federal Highway Administration)

 

Contact:

 

Rick Emmett, Downtown Coordinator:

remmett@cityofknoxville.org

Room 470B, City County Building

865-215-3837

Fax: 865-215-232

 

Bob Whetsel, Director of Redevelopment:

bwhetsel@cityofknoxville.org

Room 655, City County Building

865-215-2543

Fax: 865-215-3035

 

William Lyons, Chief Policy Officer, Deputy to the Mayor:

wlyons@cityofknoxville.org

Room 655, City County Building

865-215-2029

Fax: 865-215-3035

 

Thomas Strickland, Jr., Community Relations Director & Special Assistant to the Mayor:

tstrickland@cityofknoxville.org

Room 645D, City County Building

865-215-2048

Fax: 865-215-2085

 

Dawn Michelle Foster, Deputy Director of Redevelopment:

dmfoster@cityofknoxville.org

Room 655, City County Building

865-215-2607

Fax: 865-215-3035

 

Mayor’s Office:

Room 691, City County Building

Phone: 865-215-2040

Fax: 865-215-2085

TTY: 865-215-4581 (for all depts)

Do Cars Eat Buildings? Ask Whitney Manahan!

Lost Knox Street Project, Knoxville, Winter 2014

Lost Knox Street Project, Knoxville, Winter 2014

I often hear from visitors to our city that Knoxville has done a good job keeping its old building stock. It’s interesting to consider since, for those of us keeping an eye on such matters, it seems as if we are losing it faster than ever in recent years and every block has a gaping hole. Just yesterday we talked about the Pryor Brown Garage, for example.

Acuff Building, Knoxville, 1920s

Acuff Building, Knoxville, 1920s

Acuff Building Site, Knoxville, 2013

Acuff Building Site, Knoxville, 2013

Sometime last winter I got a message from Whitney Manahan. Whitney (who didn’t directly say, “cars eat buildings,” I said that, but she did in so many words) has an interior design degree and is working toward her graduate degree in architecture while working part time for Dewhirst Properties on a design team with Mark Heinz and Aaron Pennington. She said she was onto something related to our downtown buildings for one of her classes at UT and she thought I’d be interested. I was very interested but, unfortunately, I was unable to follow-up.

Whitney Manahan, Lost Knox Street Project, Knoxville, September 2014

Whitney Manahan, Lost Knox Street Project, Knoxville, September 2014

I recently heard her, and project partner Jared Wilkins, present at Pecha Kucha, during which they talked about their work together. The project focused on what has been lost in downtown Knoxville, mapping the shift in urban density over the previous decades. To be clear from the outset: Greater urban density results in more sustainable growth and encourages economic development. The response to their presentation was immediate and positive.

Cumberland Hotel, Knoxville, 1933

Cumberland Hotel, Knoxville, 1933

Cumberland Hotel Site, Knoxville, 2013

Cumberland Hotel Site, Knoxville, 2013

I met with Whitney last week to discuss the project and its impact. In short, the project involved posting small laminated signs at key intersections around the city. The signs included photographs of the view from that intersection from the first half of the twentieth century. They provided an often jarring contrast to the current view from that spot. Generally, where once there were buildings, some magnificent, there are now parking lots or gaping holes in the street-scape. After the project ended, she and Jared started Lost Knox on Tumblr, essentially using the content as a starting point for explorations of our loss of urban density in Knoxville.

Hotel Arnold, Knoxville, 1920s

Hotel Arnold, Knoxville, 1920s

Hotel Arnold Site, Knoxville, 2013

Hotel Arnold Site, Knoxville, 2013

The shocking heart of the work can be seen in the following three diagrams, displaying downtown Knoxville’s density in 1935 and now. The second diagram includes parking garages and the third includes parking lots.While we can – and should – talk about individual buildings lost, it’s truly heartbreaking to see the scope of the loss. The downtown area has gone from nearly solidly developed to a very small percentage of area currently utilized for anything other than cars. It makes the point better than anything I or anyone else could say. This is why we are concerned when additional buildings are demolished.

Density Diagram, Knoxville, 1935

Density Diagram, Knoxville, 1935

Density Diagram with Parking Garages, Knoxville, 2013

Density Diagram with Parking Garages, Knoxville, 2013

Density Diagram with Parking Structures and Lots, Knoxville, 2014

Density Diagram with Parking Structures and Lots, Knoxville, 2014

Some people have mentioned making the signs a permanent fixture on downtown streets. Clearly, the signs would show our historical structures, but they also make it clear what has been lost. On the one hand, this would lead to a more educated populace. People might actually begin to understand what we lose in demolitions. On the other hand, it doesn’t make us look so good, does it?

Park Hotel, Knoxville, Early 1900s

Park Hotel, Knoxville, Early 1900s

Park Hotel Site, Knoxville, 2013

Park Hotel Site, Knoxville, 2013

With the goal of making people realize what we’ve lost and what we continue to lose, comes the need for education as to the assistance available to renovate, rather than demolish, the buildings. Many tax incentives, grants and other supports are in place, particularly for historic buildings, if people will use them.

Ross Flats, Knoxville, 1920s

Ross Flats, Knoxville, 1920s

Ross Flats Site, Knoxville, 2013

Ross Flats Site, Knoxville, 2013

She points out something I’d not considered before: Many of the lost buildings in downtown Knoxville were hotels. Once they aged a bit, they tended to change to tenements, which came to be seen as blight on the city. This may explain whey so many of them were torn down, rather than re-purposed: The demolition was likely viewed as an improvement to the city.

Sprankle Building, Knoxville, Early 1900s

Sprankle Building, Knoxville, Early 1900s

Sprankle Building Site, Knoxville, 2013

Sprankle Building Site, Knoxville, 2013

Jared and Whitney hope that as people realize what is lost they will not only be interested in preservation of what remains, but in filling in the gaps we’ve created. It’s a phase of redevelopment we’ve only recently begun to dabble with, particularly in the form of Marble Alley, which is being built on a long-time parking lot behind Mast General Store, but was once the site of a beautiful police station, I believe. It’s the first time in many years an open spot is slated to become a building, not the other way around.

Union Bus Terminal, Knoxville, Early 1900s

Union Bus Terminal, Knoxville, Early 1900s

Union Bus Terminal Site, Knoxville, 2013

Union Bus Terminal Site, Knoxville, 2013

Whitney, meanwhile, has a lot going on. She and Jared present their project to the Historic Zoning Commission, an arm of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, on Thursday and later to Knox Heritage. She’s casting her eyes about the city and thinking big thoughts. Like how about something dramatic at Holston Gases once the silos are empty? Perhaps housing, or perhaps, this. She’s also in the early planning stages of an Emory Place block party, as she feels this neighborhood has tremendous potential (email her at  emoryplaceblockparty@gmail.com if you want to help).

Vendome Apt. House, Knoxville, 1889

Vendome Apt. House, Knoxville, 1889

Vendome Apt. House Site, Knoxville, 2014

Vendome Apt. House Site, Knoxville, 2014

As we finished our conversation, she mentioned that Knoxville could use a little height with its redevelopment. I wouldn’t bet against her being the one who designs it. She’s going to be someone to keep an eye on in the future and Knoxville is fortunate to have her working in our city.

Whitney Manahan, Lost Knox Street Project, Knoxville, September 2014

Whitney Manahan, Lost Knox Street Project, Knoxville, September 2014

I should also mention another excellent on-line resource: My friend John Weaver has a similarly-named blog called “Knoxville Lost and Found,” in which he covers similar terrain, often in a very detailed manner. Some of the same buildings pictured on this post (like the Vendome) have been explored in depth on his site. It’s worth your time to read it.

 

Saying “Goodbye” to Pryor Brown Parking Garage

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

The end of the line appears imminent for Pryor Brown. The struggles to save the building have been well documented and I'll not add much to that, here. It was just over a year ago that Josh Flory reported that a demolition permit had been requested … [Continue reading]

The Downtown Knoxville Week Ahead (9/14 – 9/20/2014)

If you see an event I've missed and you'd like to plug, please comment below or e-mail me (knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com) and I'll try to add it. The list may, accordingly, be expanded through the week. Staying true to the scope of the blog, I'll only … [Continue reading]

A Little Trolley Talk

Trolley Stops are well labeled: Urban Girl and a slightly nervous Jiminy Cricket Wait for the Trolley on Locust Street, Knoxville, August 2014

I mentioned the trolley when I wrote about the opening of Publix, but I've never really talked much about them, so I wanted to give them a little more space. Of course, for those of you reading this who have never been to downtown Knoxville, we don't … [Continue reading]