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.