Shut Down James White Parkway (at least for a day)


James White Parkway, Knoxville, October 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Greg Manter)
James White Parkway, Knoxville, October 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Greg Manter)

I get lots of emails. So many that I find it difficult to respond to them all. Some of them are quite lengthy and provocative. I received one earlier this week from Greg Manter, who is a long-time reader of the blog. I’m pretty sure he goes back to the first summer when I was just getting to know downtown as a resident. He made comments and mentioned the fact that he lived in New York City.

Eventually he moved to the city and he has become a friend. He also guest blogged once before, the summer my mother was ill and I was out of town more often than not. He went to the Rosinni Festival when I couldn’t, so you could enjoy it on the blog. When he sent me the email earlier this week about shutting down James White Parkway, I suggested it was more than an email, it was an article and I’d love to publish it. So here it is. I’ll let Greg introduce himself and his concept. If you have an idea for a post you’d like to write, let me know and we’ll try to work it out. Happy First Friday everybody. I’ll see you on the other side.

Here’s Greg:

Get to know your guest blogger: I lived in an itty-bitty town on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia for many years (interrupted by one year in New York City) before moving here. My sister lives out by Norris Lake and I’d visited a few times and liked what I’d seen of this area. While researching Knoxville I discovered this blog and it helped convince me that downtown is the lively, interesting place to be. Thanks Urban Guy! I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a masters in urban and regional planning from Virginia Tech (hence the ongoing interest in urban issues) and worked as an economic developer for a long time, but now I make my living running several travel websites (mostly about cruises), which I can do from anywhere. I’m a downtown Knoxvillian by choice.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a safe, no-traffic way to ride a bike from downtown to the “urban wilderness” in South Knoxville? Maybe there could be, at least for one day.
My idea is to close the James White Parkway (Useless Parkway to Nowhere) to vehicular traffic for a day, and open it up to bicyclists, joggers, skateboarders, and roller skaters. The parkway is a fairly direct connection between downtown and the wilderness area, so it’s ideal for the purpose. Closing the parkway won’t greatly inconvenience anyone, because there are alternate routes for traffic and no businesses or homes front on it.
James White Parkway, Knoxville, October 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Greg Manter)
James White Parkway, Knoxville, October 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Greg Manter)
I think thousands of people would come out for the unique experience of playing on the highway. The view from the tall bridge would be a big attraction. Costs would be minimal: a few police to block the entrances to the parkway, some volunteers to keep an eye on things along the route, maybe a bandstand or two on the parkway to serenade people with music. Let food trucks set up along the route too.
One minor difficulty is access to the parkway from downtown. Quick: if someone asked you how to get from Market Square onto the parkway headed toward South Knoxville, could you give them directions? Probably not! There is no on-ramp to the parkway from downtown. Isn’t that amazing? Traffic engineers are the strangest people on earth. But because we’re planning to close roads anyway, there is a fairly easy work-around. Our bike path could go from Market Square, south on Market Street to Cumberland Ave, then proceed the wrong way down the Cumberland Ave ramp, and make a sharp turn onto the parkway. The route would be well marked and closed to traffic, so it wouldn’t be as confusing as it might sound.
It would be nice to connect to Ijams on the South Knoxville end of our route. I’ll leave it up to more knowledgeable people than me to figure out which streets are best to get the bike riders safely from the highway to Ijams or some other portion of the urban wilderness.
Summer Streets, New York City (Photo Courtesy of Greg Manter)
Summer Streets, New York City (Photo Courtesy of Greg Manter)
You may be thinking, “This whole idea is crazy. We can’t close a road just so people can ride bikes on it.” My answer is that it’s done in other places often and with great success. Every summer New York City closes Park Avenue from Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge for 3 or 4 Saturdays. They call it Summer Streets and lots of people come out to ride bikes, roller skate, jog or walk. I’ve been twice and it’s so fun to ride a bike on the avenue without fear of traffic. You can view the video of the 2008 event at the end of this article and you can learn more about how other cities do it: . I like the Guadalajara video. “Sustainable happiness.”
I sent this idea to the Mayor and to Visit Knoxville, but I really don’t expect a response. They don’t know me from Adam and they probably get loads of emails daily. Fortunately the Urban Guy let me share my idea here. If the idea is popular, maybe something will eventually come of it. It would be fun. It would be healthy. It would promote the city’s two main tourist attractions. It’s something the whole family can do together, free. If you like the idea, you might want to email the Mayor and Visit Knoxville too.


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