Today Just John takes us along the north side of the Tennessee River. It has long been a concern of mine that while we shift our focus to the south waterfront, which I think is important to do, we are overlooking the fact that our north waterfront is a very underutilized and underdeveloped part of our downtown. What should be a massive asset is prevented from making the impact it should due to natural barriers (the bluff), over-built roadways (Neyland Drive) and poor general connectivity to the river.
Should one make it down the bluff and across Neyland, there’s very little there to make the journey worthwhile. A number of cities have been much more successful in dealing with their waterfronts and have reaped huge rewards. We need look no farther than Chattanooga for inspiration. Here’s Just John:
There’s one side of the downtown core that we haven’t touched yet – the river side. We need to re-imagine the downtown segment of Neyland Drive as an integral part of the downtown cityscape, rather than as simply Game Day Road.
As it is currently configured, Neyland Drive exists to address two functions, and neither of these involves the downtown that it skirts. It allows driver access to the UT campus from the interstate highways (at its east end, where it is commingled with James White Parkway) and from Alcoa Highway and Kingston Pike (at its west end). The road is constructed almost as an arterial highway, with limited access and limited direction-changing capabilities at some points; but it has several stoplights, and it becomes terrifically congested during sports events, so it is not a high speed or high volume ‘Game Day Highway’ even as currently built.
It also allows the hurried non-game-day driver from Bearden or Sequoyah Hills a means to by-pass the UT campus streets and the busy commercial section of Cumberland Avenue there, on the way to–where, exactly?; but it has only limited interaction with downtown, which of course lies but a few feet to its north.
It travels along what could be a beautiful riverside, but hardly interacts with it. The average daily trip number for this street is therefore understandably low, near 10,000.
Even a quick glance at a map reveals the consequences of this isolation. The land along the fragmented remnants of Front Street lies fallow, as do several other large tracts–despite what would be incredible river, bridge, and mountain views. The riverfront has some attractions, such as the restaurants and boat docks at Volunteer Landing, but these are arrayed on strangely circuitous combination access/parking ways; and the rest of the riverfront has no pedestrian walk, or park, or green space.
This can be remedied with only small changes. Where Neyland Drive currently passes south of 11th Street / Estabrook Drive, there are a few small parking lots along the creek there. Whether the (current) driver’s use of Neyland Drive is game day access or is local-bypass of UT, we can accomplish the same goals by re-routing the central part of Neyland Drive, east of the stadiums, to Estabrook Drive. This allows access to Cumberland Avenue and from there to Henley Street and the interstates.
The rest of the current Neyland Drive, at the southern edge of downtown proper, then be ‘right-sized’ to three lanes (one in each direction, and a turn lane), the appropriate size for an ADT of 10,000. The ‘extra’ space thus created will allow re-establishment of intersection links to the north-south streets of downtown, as well as pedestrian/bicycle and park space. Development should be avoided on the river-facing side, but additional development could occur on the north face of the re-imagined pedestrian friendly street. The street would then be an integrated and beautiful part of the downtown.
Two of our Tennessee sister cities – Chattanooga and Memphis – have had great success.
What about the south end interchanges (near Calhoun’s and Ruth’s Chris) ? Since all the roads there are configured as limited-access arterial ramps, it is a difficult undertaking to navigate all the curved, looping, and un-reversible access overpasses near Volunteer Landing. If the James White Parkway is re-imagined as a multiway boulevard and Neyland is ‘right-sized’ (as above), then the interchanges can be placed at the same grade and can be simplified into simple intersections or a roundabout. This would make network legibility tremendously better, as well as improving local integration. A sketch of this improvement was included with the previous section.
Useful links–Chattanooga and Memphis Riverside Improvements: