It felt a little weird at first, didn’t it? I think maybe more so for those of us who are often pedestrians. Walking on a sidewalk and being very cautious when walking in the street are critical at a primal survival level. It’s hard to unlearn something that hard-wired, even if only for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. You could see it at 1:00 PM when people took that first tentative step into the street. It was if they were say, “I can do this, right? Right?”
I opted to walk, as did the vast majority of the crowd. I really wanted to ride my bike and cruise up and down, but realized that would make photography that much more difficult. Still, there were many bikers. I saw several near accidents caused simply because such a cluster of bikes arrived simultaneously at the same spot in the street. It’s a scene I’d love to see repeated in Knoxville on a daily basis and was just one of many that made me smile.
The first thing I spotted after snagging my java from Java was the mayor dancing with a group of women while young girls colored with chalk in the edge of the street. Then I came upon the pop-up bike trail through the pop-up forest courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club. Crossfit followed, with people taking on various challenges. I encountered a game sponsored by a realty company that had adults running in circles carrying card-board homes and a Beck Cultural exhibit beside Knoxville High School.
It was when I topped the hill looking down Central past Emory Place (which was hopping all day) that I caught my first glimpse of the numbers of people out walking, skating, biking, juggling, skateboarding, playing corn hole, modified tennis, getting bike training, dancing, doing Zumba and Tai chi, painting, drawing, playing games, getting massages, doing yoga, playing musical chairs, hanging from ribbons, walking a tight rope, making bubble, making magic, playing bagpipes and on and on. It was a breath-taking sight.
The weather was cool and overcast, which worked out just fine. People were universally in a good mood. I spoke to merchants who were very happy. If nothing else, their businesses got a lot of exposure, but from what I heard, they actually made sales today. Adorn home furnishings in the Old City had lamps and other sundries outside their store. I never would have expected our mobilized citizens to buy a lamp while exercising, but that’s apparently what several did. I discovered shops I didn’t know existed and I suspect others did, as well.
The police were helpful and as upbeat as everyone else, for the most part. Many of them rode bikes. Intersections with traffic lights were no problem as pedestrians simply walked on green. There was some congestion in spots where activities were clustered and sometimes bikes had a hard time getting through. I spotted some confused motorists who apparently had not gotten the memo and didn’t quite know what to make of this sudden encounter with so many pedestrians.
Most people, like me, seemed to encounter a number of friends and also had the opportunity to make new ones. I had several spontaneous conversations with people I’d never met before but simply fell in with at one point or another. Mostly what I heard in those conversations was how happy everyone was that Knoxville put on such an event. One couple from Portland, Oregon told me they’d missed this sort of thing.
For a first event, it could not have been much better. It was a manageable size and, particularly for the time allotted to gather sponsors and activities, there was a great range and ample things to do. I did hear a few suggestions, such as more garbage cans and more allowance for biking than a one-mile pedestrian-filled street allows. I wondered afterward if there were enough restrooms, though I didn’t pay particular attention when I was at the event.
Mostly, people want to do it again and they want it to last longer. People talked about monthly, some talked about every Sunday. It turns out the cost for a one-mile route for three hours costs about $10,000, most of which goes for police support. ED NOTE: An update from Kelley Segars pointed out that the 10K only covered police and EMT support. She said, “The total budget for 2015 was more than $50,000, most of which was in-kind sponsorship in the form of donated staff time by the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and Visit Knoxville. We were able to raise more than $10,000 in cash from other sponsors to pay for the traffic control and EMT services.”
Could we find a major sponsor or several major sponsors to cover that cost? Are there ways the cost could be reduced? For example, did it turn out that we needed that many police? Would the city consider putting several such events in their budget? Would taxpayers support that expenditure? Would public health concerns and business exposure recoup some of those costs?
Evidence has been presented to indicate that cities with routine events such as this have healthier citizens and businesses are strengthened. It isn’t so much because of what happens in one day, but rather what happens afterward. People remember the joy of biking and walking and continue to do both. People realize it’s not that far to bike or walk to certain businesses. Since they are moving more slowly during the events, they notice businesses they’d not seen before and they return.
While I would one day love to see weekly events like the one we had this weekend and I’d love to see dozens of miles of roads closed on a regular basis, that’s probably not going to happen very soon in Knoxville. What does seem possible to me is a monthly event excluding December, January and February. I’d like to see it be all day and I’d like to see a mile of concentrated activity for everyone be connected to a loop running several miles for bikers, joggers and walkers. There are so many dead roads on a Sunday – James White Parkway, Hall of Fame and Neyland come to mind – that we could easily incorporate those and I’d like to see us add half the Henley Bridge and the Gay Street Bridge to make a big loop.
If you enjoyed the event and you’d like to see more, say so. Say it to city council, the mayor’s office and anyone else who will listen. If businesses and citizens support it, we’ll probably see more such events. If today’s turnout – which had to at least be in the thousands – is any indication, the public support is there. How about a line item in the budget for nine events? It seems like a good investment to me.
I hope you enjoy the photos here. I’ll have more on Inside of Knoxville sometime soon.