It is surprising when I consider that the State Street Parking Garage has been underway for over a year. This doesn’t include the planning stage, but it was a year ago July that the plans were discussed at a public meeting. Rick Emmett led the meeting and gave detail explanations of the various phases to expect during construction. Since that time he has written a very informative blog detailing the progress of the project.
The intention is to alleviate some of the constraints to parking experienced downtown. It is becoming common for the Market Square and Locust Street Garages to fill to capacity during events and sometimes even in the absence of an obvious draw downtown. Another garage is planned for the Locust Street/Summer Place/Walnut Street block, but construction hasn’t begun on that project, so it will be a long time before it offers any help.
The State Street Garage underwent more changes than simply adding an additional level. The most prominent change included the removal of the outdoor escalator (technically not part of the garage, but there because of it) which was a very cool, very impractical idea. It has been replaced with a pedestrian bridge connecting the third floor of the garage to the alley/entry to Gay Street beside the Regal Riviera. It’s a nice, covered bridge which should be helpful by keeping pedestrian traffic off the road and comfy and dry as they walk to the movies or elsewhere.
The elevator was replaced as was the primary stairwell. Landscaping will be forthcoming as will private parking spaces at a basement level. Those will not be available until later in the fall. Additionally, the Dogwood Arts Council will place a sculpture in the place of the old stairwell and it will be added to their list of locations to host a new work of art each spring.
One oddity of the new design pointed out by regular reader and friend, Greg, who has had garage safety on his mind lately, is that on the second floor, which is at ground-level with State Street, there is no direct exit to that street. A person may go up a floor and cross on via the bridge or may exit the second floor on the Clinch Avenue end, but despite the fact that State Street sits directly outside the wall of the garage there is no connection.
It seems odd at the least and unsafe at the worst as a person could conceivably become trapped on the Union Avenue end should someone wish to do them harm. There is a spot right beside the elevator which could easily accommodate steps, but it doesn’t appear to be in the design. This means that in order to park in the garage and to use the steps from State Street, the commuter would walk to the far end of the garage and exit onto Clinch Avenue, then reverse course walking in the opposite direction to the stairs.
Downtown can use more parking and when this project began I felt a little regret that it didn’t include additional floors, though that was deemed too expensive at this time. The increased support added during this project would allow for that at a future date. That said, my thinking has been evolving over the year or so since construction began.
The massive amount of destruction and devastation visited upon the city by the automobile has become increasingly apparent to me. I know I’m late to the party from some people’s perspective. I’d already noted downtown’s isolation in three directions by roads. I realized we had a lot of parking lots, but thanks to the efforts of John Weaver and others, I’ve come to see those as more than ugly spaces. They are absences of buildings which could have been functional parts of our revival, but which are lost forever.
We’ve also witnessed the continuing threat of demolition and, in fact, could see the buildings on Walnut destroyed any day. I learned that one way streets came about in the fifties to make traveling easier and they killed whole streets. I became more aware of the dangers cars pose to pedestrians. Downtown is the most walkable spot in the city, but it isn’t always safe.
Some of these conclusions have come to me via a great book that was recommended to me by Flossie McNabb at Union Avenue Books and by Mary Holbrook, my neighbor and friend. Ultimately, Mary loaned me her copy and I’ve devoured it. The book is Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One step at a Time by Jeff Speck. The book is available at the book store and Mr. Speck will speak at the East Tennessee History Center today at 1:30. His talk will be followed by a panel discussion, presumably centered around the ideas in the book with a particular view toward our downtown and city. He will then sign books.
The book is a must-read for people like the followers of this blog. For me, it gave form and clarity to vague suspicions and feelings I’d had all along. You’ll be seeing more of Mr. Specks’ ideas surface in this space as I have more time to digest it a bit. Buy the book and read it. Come to the East Tennessee History Center at 1:30 or later if you can’t make it right on time. The event is sponsored by the Community Design Center and they would appreciate an RSVP if you intend to attend (525-9945).