A Road Diet to Save Pedestrians, Businesses and Parking (Maybe)

Summit Hill Drive Today
Summit Hill Drive Today

Here’s another guest post from my friend Greg Manter. He’s the one who brought you sailboats in the park and, more related to this post, suggested that we close James White Parkway – at least for a day. This seemed timely, given the post yesterday about the closure of another business on the 100 block. It’s not to say that if Summit Hill was fixed no businesses would fail, but there is a serious disconnection between that block and the rest of what is happening downtown.

How to Create 85 Parking Spots Downtown and Make Summit Hill Drive Pedestrian-Friendly Without Hardly Trying – by Greg Manter

It’s generally accepted that Summit Hill Drive is a detriment to the pedestrian environment downtown. It’s a wide road with relatively fast-moving traffic. You have to hustle to make it across the expanse of the intersection before the light changes if you’re walking from the 300 block of Gay Street to the 200 block. And the walk signals are confusing (as documented previously by Knoxville Urban Guy). The road is a barrier between the 100 block to the rest of Gay Street, which isn’t good for business or for the possible future northward growth of downtown.

In short, Summit Hill Drive is a suburban-style through-road in an urban neighborhood. It’s incompatible with a pedestrian-oriented downtown. Can anything be done about it?

I think something could be done, and quite easily. Put the road on a diet, reducing it from 4 lanes to 2.

An improved design for Summit Hill Drive is as simple as changing the two outside traffic lanes into parallel parking between Locust Street and Central Street. This would create new parking spaces downtown at almost no cost (as opposed to the huge cost of building or expanding parking garages). It would also narrow the road by 40%, making it much easier and safer to cross.How many parallel parking spaces could be created? I paced it off for a very rough estimate of 85 spaces. I was conservative in my measurement, so the real number might be closer to 100 new parking spaces. Our city management is obsessed with parking downtown, so hopefully that sparks their interest.

Summit Hill After Weight Loss
Summit Hill After Weight Loss

Will a narrower road be much easier to cross on foot? Yes. A reduction from 5 lanes (2 lanes in each direction plus the left turn lanes) to 3 lanes is a 40% decrease. That’s significant. To maximize the benefit, sidewalk extensions like the ones on the 100 block of Gay Street would be added, and they would be the only construction required by this “road diet”. Otherwise all that’s needed is paint to delineate the parking spots and some parking meters.

Cars parked along Summit Hill Drive would make walking along that road more hospitable too. Parked cars form a needed barrier between pedestrians and moving traffic.

Would the change cause traffic jams? Not likely. There isn’t that much traffic on Summit Hill Drive to begin with, and the changes would only be on a short stretch of the road (from Central to Locust). It might add 30 seconds to the average time to travel the short distance.

This small change would add to the ongoing development of downtown Knoxville as a true pedestrian-oriented urban neighborhood. It could be tested by putting out temporary barriers and signage, and painting parking space stripes. If the change is deemed a failure, it could be quickly and easily reversed by removing the temporary barriers and painting over the stripes. No harm, no foul.

Here’s a video that explains the idea:

Here’s a video about getting rid of highways altogether:

Finally, here’s a video of Jeff Speck talking about walkable cities, which is a very related issue: