Knoxville Gets Its Move On: Open Streets 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

It felt a little weird at first, didn’t it? I think maybe more so for those of us who are often pedestrians. Walking on a sidewalk and being very cautious when walking in the street are critical at a primal survival level. It’s hard to unlearn something that hard-wired, even if only for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. You could see it at 1:00 PM when people took that first tentative step into the street. It was if they were say, “I can do this, right? Right?”

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Mayor Rogero and Friends Dancing, ,Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

I opted to walk, as did the vast majority of the crowd. I really wanted to ride my bike and cruise up and down, but realized that would make photography that much more difficult. Still, there were many bikers. I saw several near accidents caused simply because such a cluster of bikes arrived simultaneously at the same spot in the street. It’s a scene I’d love to see repeated in Knoxville on a daily basis and was just one of many that made me smile.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Sara Griscom, Kelly Brown, Alisha Wilson, Jessica Gosney, Tinah  Utsman and Tracey McDonald, Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

The first thing I spotted after snagging my java from Java was the mayor dancing with a group of women while young girls colored with chalk in the edge of the street. Then I came upon the pop-up bike trail through the pop-up forest courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club. Crossfit followed, with people taking on various challenges. I encountered a game sponsored by a realty company that had adults running in circles carrying card-board homes and a Beck Cultural exhibit beside Knoxville High School.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

It was when I topped the hill looking down Central past Emory Place (which was hopping all day) that I caught my first glimpse of the numbers of people out walking, skating, biking, juggling, skateboarding, playing corn hole, modified tennis, getting bike training, dancing, doing Zumba and Tai chi, painting, drawing, playing games, getting massages, doing yoga, playing musical chairs, hanging from ribbons, walking a tight rope, making bubble, making magic, playing bagpipes and on and on. It was a breath-taking sight.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

The weather was cool and overcast, which worked out just fine. People were universally in a good mood. I spoke to merchants who were very happy. If nothing else, their businesses got a lot of exposure, but from what I heard, they actually made sales today. Adorn home furnishings in the Old City had lamps and other sundries outside their store. I never would have expected our mobilized citizens to buy a lamp while exercising, but that’s apparently what several did. I discovered shops I didn’t know existed and I suspect others did, as well.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

The police were helpful and as upbeat as everyone else, for the most part. Many of them rode bikes. Intersections with traffic lights were no problem as pedestrians simply walked on green. There was some congestion in spots where activities were clustered and sometimes bikes had a hard time getting through. I spotted some confused motorists who apparently had not gotten the memo and didn’t quite know what to make of this sudden encounter with so many pedestrians.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Most people, like me, seemed to encounter a number of friends and also had the opportunity to make new ones. I had several spontaneous conversations with people I’d never met before but simply fell in with at one point or another. Mostly what I heard in those conversations was how happy everyone was that Knoxville put on such an event. One couple from Portland, Oregon told me they’d missed this sort of thing.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

For a first event, it could not have been much better. It was a manageable size and, particularly for the time allotted to gather sponsors and activities, there was a great range and ample things to do. I did hear a few suggestions, such as more garbage cans and more allowance for biking than a one-mile pedestrian-filled street allows. I wondered afterward if there were enough restrooms, though I didn’t pay particular attention when I was at the event.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Mostly, people want to do it again and they want it to last longer. People talked about monthly, some talked about every Sunday. It turns out the cost for a one-mile route for three hours costs about $10,000, most of which goes for police support. ED NOTE: An update from Kelley Segars pointed out that the 10K only covered police and EMT support. She said, “The total budget for 2015 was more than $50,000, most of which was in-kind sponsorship in the form of donated staff time by the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and Visit Knoxville. We were able to raise more than $10,000 in cash from other sponsors to pay for the traffic control and EMT services.”

Could we find a major sponsor or several major sponsors to cover that cost? Are there ways the cost could be reduced? For example, did it turn out that we needed that many police? Would the city consider putting several such events in their budget? Would taxpayers support that expenditure? Would public health concerns and business exposure recoup some of those costs?

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Evidence has been presented to indicate that cities with routine events such as this have healthier citizens and businesses are strengthened. It isn’t so much because of what happens in one day, but rather what happens afterward. People remember the joy of biking and walking and continue to do both. People realize it’s not that far to bike or walk to certain businesses. Since they are moving more slowly during the events, they notice businesses they’d not seen before and they return.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

While I would one day love to see weekly events like the one we had this weekend and I’d love to see dozens of miles of roads closed on a regular basis, that’s probably not going to happen very soon in Knoxville. What does seem possible to me is a monthly event excluding December, January and February. I’d like to see it be all day and I’d like to see a mile of concentrated activity for everyone be connected to a loop running several miles for bikers, joggers and walkers. There are so many dead roads on a Sunday – James White Parkway, Hall of Fame and Neyland come to mind – that we could easily incorporate those and I’d like to see us add half the Henley Bridge and the Gay Street Bridge to make a big loop.

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

Open Streets Knoxville, Central Street, Knoxville, October 2015

If you enjoyed the event and you’d like to see more, say so. Say it to city council, the mayor’s office and anyone else who will listen. If businesses and citizens support it, we’ll probably see more such events. If today’s turnout – which had to at least be in the thousands – is any indication, the public support is there. How about a line item in the budget for nine events? It seems like a good investment to me.

I hope you enjoy the photos here. I’ll have more on Inside of Knoxville sometime soon.

 

Comments

  1. fay campbell says:

    Happened upon “open streets” by chance and loved what I witnessed! More of this kind of event is such a healthy, uplifting and relaxing opportunity for everyone. Reconnected with old friends and many places I’d not visited in years. Knoxville: you can make this happening an example!

  2. Help us plan for 2016! Open Streets Knoxville, in conjunction with the Center for Physical Activity and Health (CPAH) at the University of Tennessee, is conducting an online survey about your Open Streets experience. This voluntary survey is restricted to adults (18+ years) and your responses will be confidential.
    http://tiny.utk.edu/openstreets

    For more info or questions, contact Dr. Eugene Fitzhugh, PhD at (865) 974-0458 or fitzhugh@utk.edu.

  3. Flossie McNabb says:

    Alan, thanks for the great pictures. I was at the Old Gray booth and missed everything except the Emory Place area. I had a blast watching all the dancers and loved seeing so many happy people walking and biking down the carless street.

  4. More open street dates please! I love it!

  5. A.B. Monk says:

    It was such a great event! We were impressed with how many people showed up. I love that Knoxville is embracing this healthier lifestyle. More movement and less cars! I would love to see this happen on a quarterly basis at the very least. Then we can add more from there.

  6. As I biked around I kept thinking of additional things that could be done to flesh it out a bit more- such as more food trucks, a parade and competition for dogs in costumes, short street plays by a theater group, for example. It was great, but there was space for a bit more. Also, having the dancers right at Emory Place kind of blocked access to that little block area that cuts through to Broadway, and people missed what A1LabArts at the Center for Creative Minds was doing. All in all, it was fun and there was still plenty more parking under the cloverleaf off Williams.

    • Don’t compicate matters. The event was wonderful – everyone had a great time, no violence, just happy people… Keep it Simple for wonderful results….

    • A.B. Monk says:

      Sorry, I put this as a reply and I meant it to be a comment. I can’t figure out how to delete my reply.

      Anyway, in actual reply to your comment, I agree there were some rough spots. Hopefully as more events happen those will be worked out. I would also love to see some street theater. That would be great!

  7. I was extremely pleased with this event and would love to see more, and agree that more events of this nature would benefit the community more than Boomsday. I felt the police presence to be quite excessive and unnecessary in terms of blocking off the street access. Is putting up a blockade not sufficient I wonder? Anyway, I loved the community vibe and had a fantastic time. Learned about some new stores and drinking/dining venues. And best of all, my two Boston Terriers slept very well after their adventures last night! 😉

  8. My son and I had a great time yesterday. It was nice to walk/bike on the street, slow down and see new places to visit that you miss speeding by in your car.
    Unlike Boomsday this was a day to raise awareness on a healthier way of living such as exercise, nutrition & community interaction. Boomsday is a wonderful family event that I enjoyed for many years, but is full of unhealthy choices and drunkenness that I prefer my kids not witness.

  9. My family and I had such a great time at this. We found an online tutoring program that we didn’t know about, and a fantastic restaurant we had never been to (Holly’s). I loved the atmosphere. It was exciting, interesting and memorable. It seemed like everyone really enjoyed it.

  10. Sue Groves says:

    I loved this funfilled event! People were upbeat and really polite to one another. More closed street days, please!

  11. Chris Eaker says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed it. I even mentioned to my wife that we should buy a condo and move downtown and rent out our west Knoxville house. I was partly serious and partly kidding, but more of these events would make me more serious about it.

  12. If monthly is too expensive, how about seasonally, with the Winter one having a holiday theme? I had a great time yesterday and would love to see this continue.

  13. It was great. Saw many folks we knew, enjoyed checking out several businesses we had seen but not had time or opportunity to visit. Heard many people say this would be a great monthly event and it should last longer. Having never walked it, I was amazed at how close things actually were.

  14. Marshall Stair says:

    Thanks Urban Guy!! I agree, it was a great event and we need to do it more often!!

    Marshall Stair

  15. Excellent coverage of an excellent event. People seemed to be universally amazed by how much fun it was.

  16. I hate to be pessimistic, but your figure of $100, 000 to fund nine monthly open streets events is, coincidentally, the very same dollar figure that was needed to fund the now-defunct Boomsday, which passed on since no person or business interest stepped up to offer to sponser or pay the annual bills in that amount. Sad! And even sadder was a quick and dirty survey done by the local daily newspaper, which determined that while a huge majority of respondents wanted Boomsday to continue, some 60-odd percent said they would not be in favor of providing any financial support to make it happen. Double sad!! So much for the state of bread and circuses in Knoxpatch.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      You are probably right. I would argue – probably a minority opinion if the same newspaper did a survey – that a series of events like this would be far, far better for the citizens in several important respects than Boomsday. But I can’t say you are wrong.

      • Great you made new friends. Kind of the idea behind public parks. Can you put a dollar amount on that? Enjoyed the comment from the couple from Portland. Interesting question: can Knoxville sustain this level of quirkiness across 9 events?

    • Chris Eaker says:

      Nine Open Streets events would be far better for the City than one Boomsday was. I’d say the City would get more “boom” for their buck with Open Streets. 🙂

      • Agreed.

      • The key is to keep it simple. Boomsday kept on adding bells and whistles until it was too bloated to remain sustainable, and subsequently jumped the shark.

      • A.B. Monk says:

        I completely agree!

      • Open streets and Boomsday are two different things. Open streets isn’t something that will draw people in from the region. Boomsday will. Open Streets is something that helps bring people in the local community together , something Boomsday really didn’t do given it’s scale.

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